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The Week in Documentaries: From Alien Life to Porn

There are two relatively pleasant surprises in the documentary space next week, which both do creditable jobs of exploring their topics despite the salacious titles.

Melissa_lee04 CNBC’s “Porn: Business of Pleasure,” airing July 15, is a reasonable smart look at the porn industry and the challenges that the business faces in the digital age. Granted, the producers couldn’t resist a few juvenile double entendres — “Coming up next: Women on top,” the narrator says, referring to women in executive positions in the industry (groan) — but correspondent Melissa Lee approaches porn as the multi-billion-dollar industry that it is, one at a technological crossroads.

On the opposite end of the spectrum there’s “Are We Alone?,” a July 16 Discovery Channel special about the possible existence of life elsewhere in the universe. Instead of another “The X-Files”-style bug hunt, though — with grainy images of flying saucers — this two-hour doc explores the issue from a scientific perspective, diving elbow deep into the factors that would be necessary to produce life elsewhere in the galaxy by experimenting with various environments on Earth.

The narrator is Gentry Lee, chief engineer for Jet Propulsion Laboratory’s Solar System Exploration Directorate, and he approaches the topic with bubbling enthusiasm that’s virtually contagious. Along the way, Lee and other scientists explain nuts-and-bolts stuff, like how “Only planets at least the size of Earth have the internal heat necessary to … support life,” whereas a “giant gas ball” like Jupiter would be too big.

No one will confuse the Lees — Gentry and Melissa — but these two docs offer a reminder of the rich assortment of life that’s out there and easily taken for granted in the over-populated cable universe. And oddly enough, when you think about the primary consumers for science and porn, I suspect there’s room for considerable overlap between the two audiences.

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