In 1993, Bailey, Barbato and RuPaul came up with the idea of a reality TV show competition featuring drag queens. "In 1993, no one was ready. People thought it was a joke," Barbato tells CNBC Make It. "We had pitched the idea of a drag competition to a few cable outlets I won't disclose, and they found it entertaining but did not think it was a serious pitch."
It wasn't that different in 2009, says Barbato. "We went to the same outlets who felt the same way. We were very fortunate there was a young gay network, Logo, that took a chance on us."
Logo had experimented with different kinds of gay programming when it launched in 2005, says Barbato. "I remember early on when we were pitching 'Drag Race' hearing that they weren't looking for drag. It was not part of their early notion of what that network would be. I think they finally arrived at a place where they thought, 'We should try this.'"
"Drag Race" was a success from the get-go, says Barbato.
"People were interested in it out of the gate. It found its audiences, and audiences found it, right away," he says. "Logo was not a network that could be found all over the country. So the audience that found it was small, but they were loyal."
Fast forward to today, and "I think if you put heels and a wig on any pitch, people will take it seriously. That's really where the landscape has shifted" and, he says, the show has had something to do with that.
It spawned a spinoff, "RuPaul's Drag Race All Stars," in 2012, where fan-favorite queens from previous shows compete in a similar setup (though the top two contestants for that week lip sync in a battle, and the winner sends a contestant home). The season 3 premiere in January drew 895,000 total viewers per episode, making it the most-watched "All Stars" to date, according to Deadline. "Drag Race" season 10 this year drew 469,000 viewers per episode in the 18-to-49 demographic and overall viewership of 723,000 per episode, making it the most-watched season in "Drag Race" history, the site reported.
Barbato says "Drag Race" has a huge global presence now.
"There are local versions of the show starting to happen in more and more places, like 'Drag Race Thailand,'" which has a welcoming LGBTQ community, according to Barbato, "and one in South America, and many more that will be announced quite soon." Barbato declined to comment further. World of Wonder has no affiliation with the South America show. Drag Race Thailand is under license and available on on Wow Presents Plus.
"I'm aware of other drag TV projects in development here in the U.S. and abroad. Those are the result of the popularity of 'Drag Race' across the world not just in the U.S. It's impacting the popularity of drag all over the world. Our World Tour, where drag race contestants and winners tour the world doing shows, sell out theaters all over the world. It's kind of crazy, like The Beatles," says Barbato.
In fact, like all the members of The Beatles, RuPaul received a star on Hollywood's Walk of Fame on March 16. He is the first drag queen to get a star.
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