Media Relations: media commentary and criticism

Monday, August 05, 2002

not returning to the pines after all

HBO cans new gay reality TV series: Cable channel HBO has stopped production on a planned reality TV series about five gay men sharing a summer house on Fire Island after complaints, according to New York Observer columnist Rebecca Traister. --PlanetOut, apparently via

HBO’S Gay Series Stops Shooting After A Letter: According to the subjects of the film, HBO executive vice president of original programming Sheila Nevins halted production on the project—which was being helmed by the Emmy-winning directors of The Celluloid Closet—because she felt that negative community reaction to the project had prevented the filmmakers from getting access to Fire Island’s "real" gay social scene. (Rebecca Traister, New York Observer, August 5, 2002)

So, so, so.

We won't get to see scantily clad young and middle aged men cavorting about the Pines, having public sex, partying like it's 1999 (or rather, 1979), and showing the nation just how hedonistic a few relatively wealthy white men can be.

Too bad. So sad.

Oh, wait ... I'm not.

Frankly, I suspect that the reason cited in the Observer article itself is more likely to be true than any spillover from the letter. HBO's parent company, AOL Time Warner, has shown itself to be supremely unconcerned about such trifling things as "unintentional outing" in its MTV subsidiary's "Real World" program. (Remember "Paul", Danny's military boyfriend from the New Orleans season? Now there would be concern over outing, if ever there was one, but they just sailed on.) They'd have just slapped pixellation over faces, and cut scenes if someone got really truculent and aimed lawyers at them, and that would be that.

Ms. Nevins has earned a reputation as an executive with a taste for the salacious (see Real Sex and Taxicab Confessions). as well as a nose for quality reality programming, and at a time when the envelope-pushing Queer as Folk continues to earn attention for rival Showtime and ABC’s "reality miniseries" The Hamptons seemed to prove only that Long Island’s East End is as vacuous as Christie Brinkley, some of the documentary subjects wonder whether it was actually a lack of sensational material that was at the root of HBO’s decision.
    "There’s a question about whether they wanted something less wholesome than what we were giving them," said Robert Kushner, who was one of the aborted documentary’s subjects. "HBO is saying ‘not enough access,’ but that might be a thinly veiled way of saying that they didn’t get the red meat they wanted, that it wasn’t sensational enough to justify a million dollars. So much for the thinking man’s channel." The HBO spokeswoman denied that this was the case.

Well ... they would deny it, now wouldn't they? The organization that just received 93 nominations for excellence in television could not very well just say, "Frankly, we wanted more fucking in the sand, more drugs in the parties, more naked men everywhere, and we just weren't getting it. We decided to cut our losses and look for something sexier."

Along those lines, the most amusing part comes later in the article: "Four of the original eight housemates were apprehensive enough that they dropped out of the project before contracts were signed. Sources said that one, a senior official at AOL Time Warner, the company that owns HBO, refused to consider the project. An attorney, an investment banker and a developer at one of Manhattan’s largest real-estate firms also dropped out."

Now let me get this straight-ish: One of the company's own executives was so distrustful of how he would be portrayed that he refused to particpate, right off the bat. Yes, that just does argue for a program full of wholesomeness, doesn't it? It's especially noteworthy that HBO didn't really start getting grumpy until people started including "no erections" and "no sexual acts" clauses in their contracts. HBO was upset because they'd never had to negotiate clauses like that, but then look at HBO's previous "reality" series, such as they are: Taxicab Confessions. Real Sex. In "Taxicab Confessions", the people are usually drunk, usually NOT engaging in sexual acts, and in no position to state which things should and should not be included. (I still marvel that HBO hasn't been sued into the next century for having clearly drunken people signing contracts. Their lawyers must have ulcers the size of canyons.) In "Real Sex", the entire point is to show sexual explorations, so having a contract that said, "no erections" or "only these positions" would be totally ludicrous. The documentaries produced by various people and then brought under HBO's "America Undercover" series banner, for the most part, don't count precisely because they were conceived and primarily produced by independent people and organizations. It's startlingly apparent that HBO and the house's residents had quite different agendas; the residents wanted to show how normal they were (and all you radical types out there, do not EVEN start with me), and HBO wanted ... well, they wanted "The Pines: Even MORE Sexual Depravity and Drugs!" And they weren't getting it.

It's also not even vaguely surprising that most of the businesses shut out the cameras. Although a great many of them would deny it, part of their appeal is that you can do things in the dark that nobody outside gets to see. Being out of the closet is one thing; discovering that the camera caught you tucking money into a dancer's g-string or, heaven forfend, fondling the contents of said g-string ... well, that's something else again, isn't it?

Clearly, I can't say that I'm even vaguely sorry that the series won't be produced. It would be nice if it had come off the way the residents had intended, but then, it's not likely that would ever have happened, is it?

Posted by iain at 02:22 AM in category