Network TV shows get racy and risky during the new fall season

By Frank Spotnitz and Casey Davidson
October 08, 1993 at 04:00 AM EDT

Let’s talk about sex. Especially since network TV shows can’t seem to get enough of it this season. While the U.S. Senate and the television industry have been busy discussing ways to curb violence on television, the sexual content of prime time has emerged as the hottest trend on the tube. Although network officials deny they have loosened the reins, the new season is teeming with titillating tales-and not just on Steven Bochco‘s steamy NYPD Blue. TV’s top-rated sitcom characters are also getting into the act. Witness:

* On the season premiere of Seinfeld, which makes the now legendary masturbation episode seem almost tame, the word orgasm pops up 13 times in 22 minutes, Kramer (Michael Richards) admits that he once faked it—and by the end of episode, Elaine (Julia Louis-Dreyfus) and Jerry (Jerry Seinfeld) hop into bed to save their friendship.

* On NBC’s Mad About You, Paul Reiser and Helen Hunt‘s happily married couple spend their half hour trying to get into the mood. And this was at 8 p.m. on a school night.

* In a throwback to the swinging ’70s, Roseanne‘s sister Jackie (Laurie Metcalf) tells Roseanne she’s just had meaningless sex with a virtual stranger.

The comedic sexual encounters haven’t raised many eyebrows (both ABC and NBC say they have received almost no complaints from viewers). NYPD Blue, however, continues to feel the heat. On Sept. 21, 57 ABC affiliates refused to air the first episode, which featured two graphic sex scenes, one of which showed a drunken cop (Dennis Franz) dropping his pants in anticipation of sex with a prostitute. The critically acclaimed show still managed to come in No. 14 in the ratings and has not lost any advertising yet. Nonetheless, only seven of the 57 affiliates have since agreed to pick up the show. ”If there is the same type of nudity in future episodes,” warns Ken Schreiber, general manger of WTVW, Evansville, Ind., ”we probably won’t air it.” Dallas’ WFAA-the largest ABC affiliate to boycott the show-claims it will not broadcast NYPD Blue under any circumstances. The network says it respects its affiliates’ decisions-at least for the time being. ”Obviously, there is discussion between the network and these stations, but in no way are we strong-arming them,” says ABC spokeswoman Janice Gretemeyer.

Blue executive producer David Milch insists the show’s R-rated sex scenes are here to stay. ”Some future shows will have more sex, some will have less,” says Milch. Observes one insider, ”The audience is dwindling, so the networks have to figure something out. They can’t go to violence, so maybe the only angle left is sex.” Sounds like we ain’t seen nothing yet.