Company Pictures, the Brit production company which makes Skins for MTV, is “extremely surprised” by the show’s U.S. furor. Especially as the first three seasons of the raunchier Brit version aired on BBC America virtually without controversy — albeit with nudity pixillated and swearing dipped. The Brit version has just started its 5th season. The UK original has also been freely available on the Internet. Execs has been scratching their heads because the first U.S. episode of Skins was almost a shot-for-shot remake of the UK original — but with the bad language and drugs references toned down from the British version which was far stronger in its depiction of drugs, sex, abortion, and self-harm. The show has never been that controversial here. A psychiatric charity complained about the depiction of a counsellor beating one teenager to death with a baseball bat. But Channel 4 only received 11 complaints. Not the show itself but the promos for the show have caused a little consternation. The UK broadcaster showed a pub brawl in a promo that sparked criticism. And the advertising watchdog Advertising Standards Authority banned a poster promoting the show, showing teenagers taking part in an orgy. The ASA said the image “could cause serious or widespread offence” and shouldn’t be seen by children.

The UK version’s insiders point out that that child pornography laws are just as strict over here as they are in the U.S. So the show was not allowed to show nudity or simulated sex with under 18-year-olds. And, as in the U.S. version, the nudity is mostly an illusion. In America, the PTC seems especially exercised about a shot due to air January 31st of actor Jesse Carere, 17, walking down a Baltimore street showing his bare ass. Again, the same shot was in the British version although the actor was over 18. “What they don’t seem to grasp is that the character is not naked. His genitalia are completely covered, the shot only showed his bare backside. It was the climax to a funny scene,” one show insider tells me. On set actors are covered up and genitalia is on show even off camera. Teenagers who appear in the show may have their modesty protected by nipple pads and flesh-coloured underwear.

Bryan Elsley, the show’s creator, came up with the idea for Skins back in 2005 after his then 19-year-old son Jamie complained there was nothing worth watching on TV. His son dismissed the then 45-year-old Elsley’s ideas for TV shows as “middle-class crap.” Why not do a show about teenagers as they really are, Jamie suggested. “As a dramatist you are looking for wonderful ideas, and I gradually realised they were there, under my nose. I was sitting in kitchens discussing them with other parents,” Elsley said. What was fresh about the UK Skins (the phrase “Skins party” is used to describe all-night parties where teenagers get drunk and trash the place) was that the average age of the writers’ room was 22. It was going to be teenage life written by those barely out of their teens. Channel 4 had been looking for a youth drama for its youth channel E4 and jumped at the pitch. Elsley said it was the fastest commission of his life. The first episode aired in January 2007 and was watched by 1.6 million, then a record audience for E4. “The characters are so drug-addled, sex-obsessed and vacuous that most parents would consider them a grotesque parody of modern British youth,” fulminated the Daily Mail. But even the similarly right-leaning Daily Telegraph had to admit this new show was “great fun.”

However, Company Pictures is amping up the shock value on the latest 5th season which just began. Actress Laya Lewis told newspaper The Independent that it contains its most graphic sex scene yet. Lewis, aged 18, said she was asked to simulate an orgasm on her 2nd day on set. “The next thing I’m hearing from the director is, ‘In 15 seconds, Laya, we’d like you to climax’. I was like, ‘Sorry, what?’” Currently, this promo is running on Channel 4: