Mentioned the trend toward “reprehensible protagonists” — a la “Breaking Bad’s” Walter White, “Boardwalk Empire’s” Nucky Thompson or “Dexter’s” serial killer — Showtime Entertainment chief David Nevins offered a surprisingly frank solution.
“It’s license, ” he or she told reporters at the TV Critics Assn. tour in July. “Pay cable, you take license. Your licenses are sex, violence plus bad behavior. ”
Nevins omitted the other obvious 1 — salty language, and those couple of words (thank you, George Carlin) that still can’t be enunciated on most of TV — yet otherwise, he was right. There are many less-ostentatious attributes that differentiate pay out cable in particular and to some extent basic’s raciest hours from broadcast TV, including the expanded running time of episodes, and nonexistent (or diminished) marketer scrutiny. But it’s sex, with regard to better or worse, that frequently generates headlines or provokes debate.
Granted, part of that may have to do with sex and nudity providing a clearer point of distinction from less liberated alternatives, since broadcast networks brave more explicit violence in programs like Fox’s “The Following” or NBC’s “Hannibal. ” By contrast, the U. S i9000. ’ perceived puritanical streak in accordance with Europe has always made research of sexuality dicier, unless of course the particular material is being wielded as a sitcom punchline.
Another incentive to flaunt some skin might be that frontiers regarding violence have been shoved, some would suggest, about as far as they can go. After the “Red Wedding” on “Game of Thrones” or the artful blood splatters of “Spartacus” (which, to be fair, knew the way around a Roman orgy, too), it’s less a question of leading what’s been done than simply locating creative ways to push the same control keys.
Historically, violence seldom triggers the level of outrage from the normal suspects that sexuality does. The particular exception would be when entertainment collides with real-life events like final year’s horrific Newtown school capturing, which inevitably produces fleeting hand-wringing but little concrete action from your entertainment biz and others about contributing to societal violence.
Running after the boundaries of TV sex involves something of a moving target; seldom does a season go by without some newcomer braving uncharted territory, or at least finding a way to place old wine in a new container. HBO’s “Girls, ” certainly, provides drawn attention with its blunt portrayal of awkward sexual encounters among twentysomethings, including a sequence last season in which a male character ejaculates upon
his new girlfriend after she specifically asked that he not. (An HBO spokeswoman had to show nosy media outlets that the sequence was “nothing more than a use of stage sets. ”)
Showtime provides tackled the topic head on with “Masters of Sex, ” a just-launched dramatic look at the career of real-life sex researchers William Masters plus Virginia Johnson. The nature of those research are depicted in graphic fine detail, with more nudity and simulated sexual climaxes than you can shake a stress-test-wired dildo at.
“It was an irresistible topic for any premium television series, ” Nevins states.
Permit also helps account for why cable applications regularly push sexual bounds during shows where the situations may be lower than organic or central to the premise — precisely because sex is usually something that can poke at overstimulated nerve endings and arouse a response.
This casual inclusion of sex and nudity — almost in a “because we can” manner — hasn’t gone undetected. Los Angeles Times critic Mary McNamara, for example , chided esteemed dramas such as “Game of Thrones” and “Boardwalk Empire” a few years ago for their habit of setting scenes in brothels, deeming it a gratuitous exercise for the sole purpose of showing women flesh. “Maybe it’s time to strengthen down the tits, ” she published.
On the other hand, a series such as Showtime’s “Homeland” has featured intimate encounters but also gone weeks at a time without them, the fundamental matter of thwarting terrorism trumping such dalliances and offering little time to stop for them. (The new season does incorporate a liaison involving the central character’s adolescent daughter, another provocative area. ) And full-frontal male nudity is surely a more common sight in pay Television shows than it was just a few years ago.
Tellingly, some of these graphic depictions of sexuality are being overseen by women, including “Girls” creator Lena Dunham and Michelle Ashford, the particular showrunner on “Masters of Intercourse, ” which is based on a book by Thomas Maier.
Yet the fact that explorations of sexuality are not limited to a male perspective is not universally hailed as progress.
“I think women can objectify women just as easily since men can, unfortunately, ” states Martha Lauzen, executive director from the Center for the Study of Women in Television and Film at North park State U., who has studied TV employment for women — both in front side of and behind the digital camera — since the late 1990s. “Quite a bit of (that objectification) is coming from the indie film world and seeping over into television. ”
Indie film, of course , continues to explore sexual themes. But the permit exercised in pay cable — closer to the feature arthouse compared to broadcast networks, certainly, but still a relatively mainstream medium — comes at a time when studios frequently soften sex in major releases, feeling the warmth to avoid R ratings and thus broaden the box office potential of their main releases.
In addition , a few critics point to a double standard at the ratings board, saying intimate content is more likely to push a movie into a more restrictive tier, while wholesale violence and mayhem could earn a PG-13 designation.
Dunham cut her the teeth in independent film with her breakthrough movie “Tiny Furniture” prior to bringing “Girls” to TV. And while the show has generated intensive media scrutiny, it’s actual ratings remain relatively small — providing a reminder that attempts in order to probe sexuality haven’t always been fulfilled with open arms by audiences.
“Tell Me You like Me, ” a 2007 play that delved into the romantic life of various couples, is one of the rare HBO series that didn’t survive into a second season. Creator Cynthia Mort opted not to do more episodes after changes were sought when management shifted at the network.
“It was a polarizing display, ” Mort explains. “The integrity I needed to portray sex, because it related to intimacy, made everyone unpleasant. ”
Mort adds that she still sees the troubling double standard in terms of sex and violence, contending the way a few shows incorporate sex simply to feel “edgy” is akin to another type of violence. “I still find it hard to believe, ” she says. “Everything’s acceptable when it comes to violence. ”
For her part, Ashford defined herself as “oddly sort of prudish” about showing nudity on her new Showtime series, suggesting that the underlying goal on “Masters of Sex” was to approach the subject within an honest, non-glamorized way, while acknowledging some of the baggage that such a depiction entails.
“I discovered it very daunting because of the tropes that have built up surrounding sex via all the years of watching movies plus television, ” Ashford says, citing the sex scene in the film “Don’t Look Now” — considered shocking for its rawness 40 years ago — as a touchstone.
“I decided no matter what we did, we had to have the story pulling via every sex scene. … We don’t present a really glossy, idealized version of sex, either. ”
The expansion of outlets producing original programming for any premium audience has only heightened both the pressure and opportunities to deal in “various forms of transgression, ” as Nevins puts it. In regard to sex, they range from Starz’s “Da Vinci’s Demons” and “The White Queen” (two bodice-ripping period pieces) in order to DirecTV’s “Hit & Miss, ” which starred Chloe Sevigny being a transgender assassin, equipped with a prosthetic penis.
HBO, at the same time, plans to shoot a pilot titled “Open” co-written by Thomas Murphy, who took basic-cable sex to the edge a decade ago with FX’s “Nip/Tuck. ” An advance explanation from HBO has promised the newest show will offer a “provocative hunt for modern sexuality, ” as strained through a handful of characters.
More frank and graphic libido can raise concerns for some stars, and in the case of pay wire — which other than a proscription against erect male genitalia, operates largely without clearly delineated guidelines — leaves producers to go by their own gut instincts. It’s a long way returning to “NYPD Blue, ” when maker Steven Bochco and then-ABC Enjoyment chief Robert Iger (now Disney’s CEO) found themselves drawing nude people on a sketch pad, trying to determine how precisely far their digital camera angles could venture.
“Masters’ ” Ashford says the particular show has shied away from frontal male nudity simply because it’s shown so rarely that to include this “feels like it’s making a statement, ” and thus risks taking audiences out of the drama.
With regards to performers, Ashford notes that Allison Janney, who plays a continuing role as the provost’s unhappy spouse, originally didn’t want to do nudity — and even included contractual language to that particular effect, with Ashford saying, “That’s fine; we’re not hiring you for that. ” But later she changed her mind, the maker says, because she knew it was not salacious. “We try to be very respectful. You don’t want people to be uncomfortable in any way. … We can’t imagine pushing nudity because of its own sake. ”
Of course , the assumption that “sex sells” is by no means a slam dunk. While Showtime went with the name “Masters of Sex” in what Ashford calls “an obvious scheme to get people in the door, ” initial ratings on Sept. twenty nine were modest (admittedly on a very tough night, with “Breaking Bad” concluding its run), despite extremely positive reviews.
Although “Masters of Sex” can boast a higher degree of authenticity, more-informed viewers may notice the conspicuous lack of physical similarity between star Michael Sheen plus William Masters, who was bald but not terribly attractive. Sheen contemplated shaving his head, Ashford, notes, but the idea was quickly vetoed.
“We’re trying to do the real deal here, ” she says, “but this is still television. ”