×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

CW Pushes Limits of Sex on Network TV With ‘Reign’

Sex on Broadcast TV Needs Plot: Networks that use intimacy merely to titillate are stripping themselves of integrity

Who among us hasn’t wanted to find a way to honor the spirit of “Porky’s” and “Caligula” within the narrow confines of a broadcast-television drama? The CW may be on the verge of success.

Reign” is the network’s promising new entry centered on a teenage Mary, Queen of Scots. Set to debut Oct. 17, following the CW’s flagship “Vampire Diaries,” the pilot contains scenes that could mash even the most hardened couch-potato.

In an eyebrow-raising sequence set in the episode’s second half, Mary and friends peep at a newly married couple consummating their union in front of an audience (a practice at the time for royals who wanted to prove their line would continue). So flummoxed is one of the group that she rushes up a staircase to pleasure herself. While she is in the midst of doing so, the King happens upon her and the two become so caught up in desire they immediately proceed to have at it.

Naturally, this is still network TV, so the money shots are suggested rather than shown, but the intent is clear. And let’s be blunt: This is all kinds of ridiculous. While such elements are bound to drum up extra attention for a program that might not normally get it, they also call into question when and how broadcast TV should play the sex card in an era when rivals on cable, and especially on pay-TV can — and do — get away with nearly anything. Fans may flock to this stuff, but some advertisers will run the other way.

If you think some of these suggestive scenes don’t belong on network TV, well, you should have seen the pilot before new, tamer, scenes were added. The self-pleasure scene is now much shorter, though the camera makes sure viewers know exactly what is going on: hiked skirts, rustling hands, etc. By the end of this oddball tableau — the King asks “May I?” as he begins to clutch her — it’s unclear whether we are watching a clever teenagers-in-wayback-times drama or an expertly cut riff on a scene from a ’70s porn pic.

The CW, jointly owned by Time Warner and CBS, has developed a flair for this sort of thing. Isn’t this the network that in 2008 suggested a teenage boy receiving oral sex in the front seat of a parked car in the debut episode of “90210”? Last season, the CW even pushed the limits of TV language in the now cancelled “Emily Owens, M.D.” by having one character refer to the protagonist as a “krunt.”

So this is part of the network’s DNA, and why not? The CW has been trying to broaden its audience with superhero and sci-fi dramas. Surely a medieval orgy has some pull.

With MTV generating reams of social chatter thanks to an off-color performance by Miley Cyrus in its recent Video Music Awards, and with HBO’s “Game of Thrones” winning acclaim with nudity at its core, what’s a broadcast network that promotes itself as airing “TV to talk/tweet/Bing about” to do?

Even so, there’s pushing the envelope, and there’s dunking that envelope in a sink full of bourbon and trying to light it on fire.

There has always been a place for intimating sex on broadcast TV, no matter how many groups of concerned citizens profess to get the vapors when they encounter it. In retrospect, much of the flesh-baring on ABC’s “NYPD Blue” was gratuitous, but it certainly helped create the notion of a grittier police drama at a time when cable was making inroads with more mature stuff. A 1999 scene featuring Fox’s Ally McBeal (strategically clothed) having sex with a random stranger in a car wash emphasized the character’s single-and-looking personality.

A 2010 episode of CBS’ “The Good Wife” may have played it best. In a torrid scene, wayward husband Peter Florrick (Chris Noth) prepares to engage in oral sex with his estranged wife (Julianna Margulies). The camera artfully slips away at the appropriate moment to focus on Margulies’ blissful face. The scene may have shocked, but it also underscored how much the character wanted to be back with his spouse. No word on what advertisers whose products appeared right after the scene felt about how it affected the perception of their pitches.

All of which is to say: CW, let your characters emulate as many moments from sexy cinema as they like. But put the hot-and-heavy in the service of the story, not as a means to generate empty buzz. Heard any clamor for a remake of “Porky’s” or “Caligula”? There’s a reason why.

More Biz

  • Variety Cord Cutting Placeholder Cable

    Fox, Charter Strike New Carriage Deal

    Fox Corporation and Charter Communications, Inc. on Monday said they struck a new “long term” carriage deal for Fox’s suite of TV networks, the latest in a recent series of agreements Fox has struck with various distributors. Financial terms were not disclosed. The pact covers distribution of Fox Television Stations, Fox News Channel, Fox Business [...]

  • netflix debt

    Netflix to Raise Another $2 Billion Through Debt to Fund Massive Content Spending

    Netflix, burning boatloads of cash with a projected $15 billion content budget for 2019, is adding to its debt load once again. On Monday (Oct. 21), Netflix announced plans to offer approximately $2.0 billion aggregate principal amount of junk bonds, in both U.S dollar and euro denominations. As of Sept. 30, Netflix reported $12.43 billion [...]

  • Luciano Bernardini de Pace, Pietro Peligra

    Variety Announces Launch of Variety Italy

    Variety has announced the launch of Variety Italy, a new Italian-language international edition that will feature original as well as syndicated Variety content geared towards an Italian audience. The partnership marks the publication’s second international edition, following the announcement of Variety China earlier this year. Variety has partnered with Web Magazine Makers, led by president [...]

  • Alan Horn Bill Tanner

    Alan Horn to Keynote Variety Business Managers Elite Breakfast, Bill Tanner to Be Honored

    Bill Tanner will be recognized with Variety’s 2019 Business Managers Elite Award at the annual Business Managers Elite Breakfast presented by City National Bank, which takes place in Beverly Hills on Nov. 13. Co-chairman and chief creative officer of The Walt Disney Studios Alan Horn will be the keynote speaker in conversation with Variety editor-in-chief, [...]

  • Smoke haze covers the Sydney Harbour

    Australia's Seven West to Merge With Affiliate Prime Media

    Australia’s Seven West Media has agreed a deal to acquire regional broadcast group Prime Media. The move is a further step in the consolidation of Australia’s traditional media industry. The two companies announced on Friday that Seven will make the acquisition entirely through the issue of new shares to the owners of Prime. Both companies [...]

  • Ron Meyer

    Ron Meyer Files $10 Million Suit Over Forged Rothko

    NBCUniversal Vice Chairman Ron Meyer has filed a $10 million suit against two art dealers, claiming they sold him a forged Mark Rothko painting in 2001. Meyer accuses Susan Seidel and Jaime Frankfort of duping him into buying the work. According to the suit, he was told that it would be included in an official [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content