×

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.”

More TV

  • annaleigh ashford rocky horror fox

    Annaleigh Ashford to Star in Chuck Lorre CBS Comedy Pilot 'B Positive'

    Annaleigh Ashford will star in the CBS multi-camera comedy pilot “B Positive.” In the show, faced with finding a kidney donor, newly divorced dad Drew is at the end of his rope when he runs into Gina (Ashford), a rough-around-the edges woman from his past who volunteers her own. Together they form an unlikely bond [...]

  • Paley Center Reveals First Slate of

    Paley Center Reveals First Slate of L.A. Events Without a Museum (EXCLUSIVE)

    Even as the Paley Center vacates its Beverly Hills museum, the org is still planning a full slate of L.A.-based events in the first half of 2020. As Variety previously reported, the Paley Center will no longer have a physical location on the west coast, but instead will hold events at a variety of locations [...]

  • Paul Rudd Will Ferrell

    Paul Rudd, Will Ferrell to Star in 'Shrink Next Door' Series Adaptation for MRC Television

    Paul Rudd and Will Ferrell are reuniting to star in a series adaptation of the Wondery and Bloomberg Media podcast “The Shrink Next Door,” Variety has learned. The series is in development at Media Rights Capital (MRC) Television with no network or streaming service currently attached. Inspired by true events, “The Shrink Next Door” is [...]

  • TV Decline Pay TV Placeholder

    Traditional Pay-TV Operators Lost 6 Million Subscribers in 2019 as Cord-Cutting Picks Up Speed

    The U.S. satellite and cable TV business declined at an unprecedented rate last year — with traditional pay-TV providers dropping a staggering 6 million customers, a 7% year-over-year decline. In the fourth quarter of 2019 alone, traditional TV distributors lost around 1.5 million subs, dropping to about 83 million total at year-end, according to estimates [...]

  • A+E Networks Renews Focus on Lifetime

    Listen: How A+E Networks Bucked the Trend and Fell Back in Love With Lifetime Movies

    In an era of overflowing choice, focus is more important than ever for traditional television executives. On the latest episode of Variety podcast Strictly Business, A+E Networks’ president of programming Rob Sharenow discusses how the cable giant pulled its flagship brands out of the ratings trenches over the past two years, thanks in large part [...]

  • Sarah Schechter David Madden

    Berlanti Productions Names Sarah Schechter Chairwoman and Partner, David Madden President

    Greg Berlanti, the prolific founder of Berlanti Productions, has promoted Sarah Schechter to the newly created role of chairwoman and partner, where she will continue to oversee both television and film at the company. And David Madden, the former AMC and Fox executive, will be Berlanti Productions’ new president, reporting to Berlanti and Schechter, overseeing [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content