If sex sells, TV programmers are adding inventory to an already humongous sale.
Viewers are about to see full-frontal male nudity, heterosexual, homosexual and group sex, and graphic scenes rarely — if ever — seen on mainstream TV. And that's just on pay-cable Starz's fornication-heavy, 13-episode Spartacus: Blood and Sand (premieres Friday, 10 ET/PT), a 300-meets-Caligula epic about the Roman Empire's notorious slave/gladiator.
MTV plans a June launch of The Hard Times of RJ Berger, a scripted comedy about a nerdy 15-year-old whose cool quotient heats up when his anatomical gift is accidentally exposed. And basic-cable network Spike's just-launched raunchy college-sports comedy Blue Mountain State (Tuesdays, 10 ET/PT) showed a masturbating school mascot on the Jan. 12 premiere, while last night's episode featured a scene suggesting oral sex between a coed and jock before the opening credits.
TV's latest sexually charged offerings add to the current wave of attention-seeking — if less visually explicit — reality and scripted programs filled with frank themes and content, such as MTV's hookup-focused reality hit Jersey Shore.
ABC's Cougar Town — which had a memorable scene that implied Courteney Cox's character administering oral sex to her date — premiered last fall. Also new in the past year: HBO's Hung, a dramedy about a well-endowed teacher moonlighting as a prostitute; National Geographic TV's adult-themed documentary series, Taboo; and VH1's titillating Sex Rehab With Dr. Drew.
Critics such as the Parents Television Council decry the mushrooming sexual content. "It's become downright ubiquitous," says council president Tim Winter. "Families are under siege, teenage girls are under siege. You don't know what the cultural impact will be down the road."
Others, such as Fordham University media observer Paul Levinson, say TV merely mirrors life. "It sounds radical, but this is healthy for popular culture," Levinson says. "Mainstream TV has been frozen in a very puritanical position by Congress, the FCC and the Supreme Court — all who don't seem to understand the First Amendment. Sex is part of life. If people are offended, there's a simple remedy: Don't watch."
Says Doug Herzog, president of MTV Networks entertainment group: "The line moves every day, so you got to move with it. You can't put the genie back in the bottle."