Network, Films Go Adult to Launch New Season

Christopher Karwowski
HOLLYWOOD — Adult producers have new competition besides online pirateers and low-budget reality content: mainstream media.

As the nation's major entertainment studios line up to premiere their new films and television shows this fall, one theme is evident — hardcore sex, or its thinly veiled double, sells.

The recent news that Showtime's "Californication" star, David Duchovny, entered rehab for real-life sex addiction seems like a natural evolution of his sex-addicted character on the cable network's highly rated show. Even box office draw George Clooney has started to use porn's appeal in the recently released "Burn After Reading." Clark Gregg's "Choke," follows a sex-addict who preys on naïve sympathies.

Additional adult-related plot lines in current film releases include "Zack and Miri Make a Porno," opening Oct. 31. The new release portrays two friends who seek to end their money problems by producing a porn movie. The film does follow true Hollywood formula by having the two fall in love, which does differ from most adult offerings.

Not to be left behind, broadcast television has jumped into adult's bed with shows that reach well beyond the standard sex appeal that we've come to expect. Women's Entertainment network plans to air "Secret Lives of Women: Sex Addicts," and a new reality series, "Sex Change Hospital," as part of their fall lineup.

Even the normally staid world of publishing has gotten into the sexual act. Chuck Palahniuk's (author of "Choke") "Snuff" details an aging porn star's marathon attempt to have sex with 600 men in a single day.

Subject matter that crosses the line from "adult" to "adult entertainment" is not new to everyone, especially European viewers. Standards for showing simulated or explicit sexual acts are relaxed on the continent's television and cinema screens. Historically, straitlaced American broadcasters have attempted to catch up with sexual plot lines and themes while abiding by strict regulatory oversight.

Pay channel giants such as Time Warner's Home Box Office and Viacom's Showtime have a long and award-laden history of producing sexually charged material. HBO's "Sex and the City" and "Cathouse" have often featured episodes that rival adult entertainment's offerings. Similarly, Showtime's "Queer as Folk" and "Secret Diary of a Call Girl" further push cable programs into the realm of explicit sexual content.

But the liberal use of such sexual material worries government regulators and self-appointed private "watch groups." Robert W. Peters, president of Morality in Media Inc. thinks the growth of soft-core material on television and in general media is continuing at too fast a pace. "There used to be a courtship between the porn business and television. There now is an incestuous marriage between the two," Peters told XBIZ. "Television can't get enough of it. They have the moral intellect of a rabbit."

Not everyone sees the use of sex as a bad thing. Nancy Robinson, a consumer strategist with trend-watcher Iconoculture offers some perspective.

"This isn't a quick lurch left to 'free love-ville.' But it is a different direction. Consider it a shame change. After decades of talk shows, self-help seminars, Dr. Ruth, Dr. Drew, Dr. Phil and a plethora of positive esteem-builders — not to mention years of Viagra ads — America is learning to talk about sex."