'Californication,' 'Tell Me' to bow in August & September

Basic-cable shows like FX’s “Dirt” and TNT’s upcoming “Saving Grace” continue to push the line on edgy fare. But the pay nets have an answer.

HBO and Showtime are prepping what could be the two most sexually explicit primetime shows in their recent history, debuting them (coincidentally?) within a month of each other.

In August, Showtime will bow “Californication,” a halfhour comedy in which David Duchovny plays a hard-drinking writer who soothes his battered ego with one-night stands.

Even the teaser spots are salacious. Net, which is giving it the coveted slot behind “Weeds,” has a trailer in which Duchovny’s pre-adolescent daughter, stumbling upon one of his conquests, muses, “She doesn’t have hair on her vagina; do you think she’s OK?”

HBO’s drama “Tell Me You Love Me,” which bows in September and chronicles the love and sex lives of three couples, also gets in your face — literally. Sources say there are scenes that show male and female genitals at decidedly, uh, familiar angles. While the series may get toned down significantly before its September debut — it was named “Sexlife” at one point — it certainly won’t win points from the Family Research Council.

Both series rep shifts of a sort. HBO and Showtime, for all their reputations as envelope-pushers, have been more likely to take on taboos like drugs or violence –think Nancy Botwin of “Weeds” or Tony Soprano choking a hitman on a college tour.

Even Samantha’s antics on “Sex and the City” were usually tempered with humor, while the sex scenes on “The L Word” are often shot from a distance.

“Tell Me You Love Me” exec producer Gavin Polone says the goal is to have the series depict sex as authentically as TV does other taboos.

“When you see violence on a show like ‘The Sopranos,’ it seems very realistic. But usually when you see sex in the movies or on television it looks phony,” he says. “What we want to do is show sex the way people really experience it.”

Part of the motivation for the pay nets in airing these scenes is that the rest of cable can, and does, air edgier fare. But with the broadcast nets now more careful to avoid FCC fines, pay nets may also see an opportunity to woo subscribers.

“There’s not a sex scene on this show that isn’t an integral part of the story being told,” one “Tell Me” actor says in a promo.

Maybe not. But conveniently, there also isn’t a sex scene on TV that isn’t an integral part of getting someone to tune in.

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