Meanwhile, health advocates say the social-networking system that they have long relied upon to preach the gospel of prevention has fallen apart.
But many gay bars where prevention specialists used to do their networking are now just bars, marketed to all, and you're as likely to stumble on a bachelorette party as a gay mixer. One gay club recently became a tapas restaurant, another a straight bar that draws starlets and scenesters.
Gay publications, meanwhile, are less reliably read, health advocates say. To young men, many messages plastered on bus stops and billboards are as quaint as the public service announcements they were once forced to watch in health class.
In other words, at a worrisome and vulnerable time, many young gay men aren't thinking much about HIV or AIDS -- and have little communication with the advocates who ought to be reminding them to do so.
"So we've had to find new ways to engage," said James Key, the Gay & Lesbian Center's chief public affairs officer. "Times have changed. And we've had to change with them."
O'Brien, a filmmaker who recently completed a documentary on U.S. colleges that expel gay students, wrote the scripts with real West Hollywood gay men in mind -- men whose lives are not a daily tragedy, even if they are HIV-positive, but can be complicated. The question is not whether they know how to use a condom, he said, but whether they decide to use one once real-world X factors come into play: body image, self-esteem, the dynamics of their relationship.
More than 80,000 people have viewed the shows at http://inthemoment.ning.com. Advocates are pushing the show as a portal to discussions about safe sex and relationships, from whether Steve should have moved out when he learned Mike cheated to whether unprotected sex is ever OK. Wrote one viewer:
"It is amazing how much one moment of silence, of inaction, of pleasure, can change your life [be aware]."
Almost everyone who works on the show is a volunteer, including actors who are cast through a formal process akin to that of regular TV programming. The short "webisodes" have a high-quality appearance, propped up by people such as the supportive owner of a crane who charged $50 to allow for the complex overhead shot of Edgar lying under the tree. Each of the two shows completed so far cost just $17,000 to produce.
Most of the money has come from West Hollywood City Hall, which is expected to fund new episodes soon. The show has struggled to land more government money, largely because the federal government is squeamish about funding images deemed "explicit."
That may have a different definition here than it does in Washington. One federal agency recently rejected funding for an ad campaign designed to foster discussion among recovering addicts about sober sexuality. The reason? The campaign showed images of two men kissing; the agency suggested the men hold hands instead.
"So, 27 years into this epidemic, we're still restricted from showing images that would be effective," Cohen said. "That's what we're up against."