Sunday, May 18, 2008

in response to EW's "Skin Games",,20199443,00.html

Well, Entertainment Weekly apparently polled somebody about the most gratuitous nudity on television, Not that there's anything wrong with it, as nearly all their respondents were quick to point out. Aside from being at least as heavily weighted toward beefcake as cheesecake (good in terms of fairness, if somewhat lacking in visceral appeal for me), it did put me in mind of

The most integral (and obviously intentional) nudity (mostly if not entirely female) that comes to mind from US broadcast television (because cable's too easy) viewing over the years:

1. CBS Reports episode "The Japanese" (1969). Edwin O. Reischauer hosted a Peabody Award-winning hour on CBS giving us a look at Japan, including a brief tour of the Tokyo red light district, and one illuminated sign sign displayed a woman utterly nude, although her hands covered only her pubic area, in accordance with Japanese obscenity law of the time (everything goes except clear view of pubic hair or genitals). Rather startling on broadcast at that time, and I'm sure someone in the Nixon White House hoped to make some hay with it. But I suppose it was taken as a sort of National Geographic-style bit of anthropology.

2. PBS Hollywood Theater episode "Steambath" (1973). Everyone remembers Bruce Jay Friedman's play, even if they only remember it for Valerie Perrine.

2a. National Geographic episode "The Incredible Machine" (1975). The first episode of National Geographic to appear on PBS (after stints on all three of the other national networks) was the highest-rated broadcast on PBS for some time, was released cinematically and nominated for an Oscar, and, most startlingly to me at the time, begins with a nude artists' model on display before getting around to its more revolutionary inside the body photography. Perhaps it's worth noting that with the exception of Perrine, nearly all the women cited here up till the mid-'80s are not Caucasian (the model is of East Asian ancestry) or are hapa in "City Lovers" (or "Coloured" as South Africa used to be careful to note). And the photography all but pioneered in this documentary would later be refined for another, later source of occasional, if utterly unsexy (except to a very specialized audience), US network nudity, CSI (even as late a several years ago, unclothed cadavers were surviving in syndicated repeats of the early episodes...I suspect this is not the case any longer).

3. Roots (1976). ABC and Wolper Productions must've decided that slaves fell under Nat Geo anthropology aegis, as well, given a few scenes in this miniseries.

4. Nadine Gordimer Stories episode "City Lovers" (1982). A syndicated package to US public broadcasting stations, this was only the most sexually-explicit of the episodes I saw repeated throughout the 1980s...and a devastating one, as one could correctly infer about the abuses of power that were part and parcel of South African apartheid (and sadly not that insane system alone).

5. Great Performances episode "The Ebony Tower" (1984). John Fowles's story is given ham-handed treatment here (and might only deserve such), with Laurence Olivier not quite at his The Betsy nadir, but not actually good, either...but the display of Toyah Willcox and particularly of Greta Scacchi is, shall we write, memorable. I note belatedly that John Mortimer directed this imported telefilm...I suspect the story demands a rather obvious treatment, but I haven't read it yet. (I suppose some mention of such earlier imports as the Eastern Educational Network's syndication to public stations starting in 1975 of Monty Python's Flying Circus, with Carol Cleveland's occasional relevant scenes and Terry Gilliam's intentionally campy animations [and, to be evenhanded, the tendency of the two Terrys particularly to shed clothing], and of the various bits of James Burke's Connections [imported by PBS in 1980] that pertain here.)

6. Masterpiece Theatre episodes "The Fortunes and Misfortunes of Moll Flanders" (1996). Not to be confused with the Moll Flanders theatrical film released the same year, this is the miniseries, imported like much of PBS's programming from the UK, featuring Alex Kingston in the title role, not long before her turn on ER. Perhaps the most sexually explicit of the Masterpiece Theatres, apparently uncut from its UK run, and precisely the sort of thing that PBS is terrified of displaying today, with a predatory FCC still in power (one of the smaller crimes of the current Bush Admin).

Such incidental bits as the actually gratuitous display of a young woman's bare breasts on Chicago Hope (CBS, 1996) or even the emergence of from the bathtub of a young adolescent girl in an episode of PBS's anthology series Visions (which was telecast when I was about the actress's age, and it was much appreciated by me at the time, sometime in 1978) were comparitively fleeting or singular. And, of course, there was NYPD Blue; despite the comments of one of my less charitable colleagues at TV Guide, Charlotte Ross, subject of the last and only FCC-pursued example of nudity on that series, looked fine.


Randy Johnson said...

I remember a biopic years ago starring David Carradine as the artist Paul Gauguin that showed some of models he used topless. It was titled Gauguin The Savage; sometime in the early eighties.

Todd Mason said...

I shall have to look into that...I suspect the commercial nets thought they could "get by" with such things in telefilms and miniseries (such as ROOTS) much more easily than they could in continuing series, till NYPD BLUE.

Doc Quatermass said...

If Valerie Perrine (Steambath) appeared nude the bar was set pretty high. Dyan Cannon's Ally McBeal's Judge Cone was pretty hot in glimpse we saw (don't know if it was a body double).

Todd Mason said...

GAUGUIN THE SAVAGE was first broadcast in 1980, I see. The TVG listing makes it clear that this was a Prestige production, and might also have hoped to get the NAT GEO pass:

Portrait of artist Paul Gauguin, who left his job and family for a painting career. David Carradine\, Lynn Redgrave\, Flora Robson.\ Van Gogh: Barrie Houghton.\ Degas: Ian Richardson.\ Ruel: Michael Hordern.\ Schuffenecker: Emrys James.\ Madame Jeanette: Carmen Mathews.\ Directed by Fielder Cook.

Todd Mason said...

Perrine is briefly completely nude, though shot mostly from behind. That, and the rest of the play, definitely made an impression (the Steambath is a sort of Purgatory, God is an unprepossessing super whom the steambath customers/prisoners, dressed only in towels, complain to incessantly).

Juri said...

One couldn't do such a list of European TV, since nudity is so common in here. There's lots of nude people every night on telly.

Even my father's wife appeared nude in a short TV film she played part sometime in the seventies (or the early eighties; haven't seen it myself and don't really know if it's any of my business).

Brent McKee said...

What Juri mentioned is basically true in Canada as well, although there is far less nudity broadcast simply because we as a nation produce so few of our own shows. Still Canadian networks can - and have - aired both The Sopranos and Nip/Tuck uncensored. In fact, as I discovered a while ago when I had occasion to look up Canadian broadcast regulations, you can show nudity on Canadian TV at any time of the day so long as that nudity is not in a "sexual context." The Charlotte Ross scene on NYPD Blue could have been shown at four in the afternoon in Canada, and faced no sanctions.

Todd Mason said...

Indeed. And one can do so in the US on cable, and no legal consequences will ensue, though we have Forces in the US trying to get the FCC to change that.

It is remarkably foolish that our northern border states can see uncensored films and cable series on broadcast from Canadian stations, to say nothing of CITY-TV's broadcast softcore, without rampant orgies of violence nor of the good kind breaking out in the public squares. But those northerners must just soldier on, unprotected from you vicious Subjects of the Queen, with no First Amendment to traduce. I feel so protected.

I see, Juri, that the Nude Beach rule can tend to apply, though...everyone's naked, but no one should actually look.

Todd Mason said...

And, of course, today's Supreme Court decision might well make PRETTY BABY and THE LITTLE GIRL WHO LIVES DOWN THE LANE, possibly PRIME CUT as well, actionable as kiddie porn.