×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Is John Waters the Next Robert Osborne? Filmmaker to Host Playboy’s Classic Porn

Playboy is hoping it can do for old porn what Time Warner’s Turner Classic Movies does for the best cinema of yesteryear.

The adult-entertainment company’s premium cable outlet, Playboy TV, will on Saturday night start a series called “Groundbreakers,” which will feature film director John Waters presenting and commenting upon some of the porn industry’s earliest commercial film successes.

“Porn classics are another extreme element of show business,” Waters said in an interview. Playboy reached out to him to host the series, and he was immediately interested, he said, having a strong interest in the history of cult cinema. “It’s an educational opportunity. You learn about the shows that you masturbated to for the first time.”

Others have tested the format. Showtime enlisted comedian Dave Attell to make fun of clips from old porn movies as part of “Dave’s Old Porn,” and he is often joined by comedians as well as actors from the films.

Waters will host five viewings of porn films including 1972’s “Deep Throat,” 1978’s “Candy Stripers,” 1973’s “The Devil In Miss Jones,” 1976’s “Tell Them Johnny Wadd Is Here” and 1978’s “Debbie Does Dallas.” The first will be shown Saturday, January 17, at 10 p.m., with the others following on four more Saturdays, skipping Valentine’s Day, which is reserved for other programming.

“Some porn is obscene,” said Waters, whose own work has often walked a line between cult and mainstream. (He is best known for films like 1981’s “Polyester” and 1972’s “Pink Flamingos” that often explore subjects once believed to be too taboo for quotidian moviegoers. Yet two of his later movies, 1988’s “Hairspray” and 1990’s “Cry-Baby,” were adapted for Broadway.)

Even so, some of the genre’s earliest work became part of popular culture, he said, recalling press reports of Jacqueline Onassis and Truman Capote seeing “Deep Throat.” He will offer comments on the five films in segments that appear before and after the movie starts and also in three segments that will appear between segments of the films, said Wendy Miller, vice president of development and current programming at Playboy TV.

These relics may be dusty, but the controversy these films sparked when they were unspooled in theaters in the 1970s strikes a chord in 2015. The movies, which show graphic sexual scenes and other elements not deemed appropriate for mainstream audiences, spurred a huge debate over freedom of expression, much as the recent killings of staffers at the French satirical weekly Charlie Hebdo have done. Waters said he has issues with some of the heterosexual porn presented today, but noted “that is the extremes of free speech that we have to put up with.”

The director said the films created a milieu he still remembers today: Theaters in his old stomping grounds of Baltimore that would show the movies, and the people and organizations who were outraged by them. “I pretended I owned a dirty movie theater. That’s how I played as a child,” he recalled.

It’s the history that might attract viewers, suggested Miller, the Playboy TV executive. “You might think of them as just old smut, but each of them has a really interesting story,” she said. She came up with the idea a few months ago, and found that January had room in the programming schedule. “Why don’t we really do something, run the movie and give some history, and show why they are actually important movies that played a role in history?” Playboy TV does not run commercials and is viewed only by subscribers.

Procuring the films for the network posed a small challenge, Miller said. While some of the movies are now part of the public domain, in other cases some companies claim to control the rights, and that had to be navigated.

In other cases, getting a high-quality print of the films proved difficult. “Some of them were hard to find,” she said. For “Deep Throat,” for example, executives actually examined Playboy founder Hugh Hefner’s 16-milimeter copy of the film before chancing upon a digital print, said Miller. Despite the search, some of the movies “are a little worse for wear,” she said. “These are movies that never were protected. Why would you?” she asked.

Both Miller and Waters are interested in continuing the effort, providing the initial foray is received well. “I’m ready to film the sequel,” said Waters. “Let’s put it that way.”

Popular on Variety

More TV

  • Topic Studios

    Layoffs Hit Topic Studios as TV Division Relocates to West Coast (EXCLUSIVE)

    A small round of layoffs has hit Topic Studios this week in the television division, insiders familiar with the company told Variety. One of the insiders said three executives at the New York-based producer and distributor are out: senior vice president of scripted programming and Viacom alum Lisa Leingang, vice president of development Mona Panchal [...]

  • Peter Weber and Mike Johnson

    'The Bachelor's' Mike Johnson on Diversity and New Leading Man Peter Weber

    ABC named its newest star of “The Bachelor” this week, officially making Peter Weber the leading man for Season 24 of the long-running dating show. Social media backlash ensued following the announcement due to ABC’s selection lacking diversity, yet again. Since the dating franchise began in 2002, there has been only one “Bachelorette” of color [...]

  • ABC Studios Logo

    ABC Studios Head of Alternative Fernando Hernandez Exits

    ABC Studios’ head of alternative Fernando Hernandez has departed from his post at the Disney-owned television studio, a source familiar with the situation told Variety. The Hollywood Reporter first reported the news. Hernandez’s exit follows an executive shuffling at the top in recent months that has included the departure of Amy Hartwick, ABC Studio’s head [...]

  • Rob Cowan, Greg Silverman'The Conjuring 2'

    Greg Silverman’s Stampede, School of Rock Team for Unscripted Series (EXCLUSIVE)

    Former president of Warner Bros. Pictures Greg Silverman is partnering with School of Rock through his content creation company Stampede. The collaboration with the music school will create exclusive content, starting with the development of an unscripted series.  School of Rock operates a network of performance-based education franchises that offer students of all ages guidance [...]

  • TV Roundup: Erica Durance Reprises 'Smallville'

    TV News Roundup: Erica Durance Reprises 'Smallville' Role in 'Arrowverse' Crossover

    In today’s TV news roundup, Erica Durance reprises her “Smallville” role in the CW’s annual “Arrowverse” crossover, and Showtime shares with Variety an exclusive sneak peek at the return of “The Circus.” FIRST LOOKS “2020 is the most important election of our lifetime,” Alex Wagner says in a new trailer for the fourth season of [...]

  • Patrick Whitesell and Ari Emanuel WME

    Endeavor Targets Sept. 27 for Stock Debut, IPO Video Tells Company's Origin Story

    After years of preparation, Endeavor is set to make its formal Wall Street debut on Sept. 27, when its stock will begin trading on the New York Stock Exchange. Endeavor has targeted Sept. 26 for the final pricing of its shares. The stock will trade publicly the following day. Earlier this week, Endeavor said its [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content