At Showtime’s late-afternoon TCA session, the cable network let critics take a breather after the Nurse Jackie panel before starting up their session on “Sexuality and Television: A Female Perspective.” Before the panel began, the network ran a, well, sizzle reel — with folks making seductive whoopee from such shows as Shameless, Masters Of Sex and The Affair. Discussing the gravitas behind the sex scenes on these shows were executive producers Michelle Ashford (Masters Of Sex), Nancy Pimental (Shameless) and Sarah Treem of last night’s Golden Globe drama TV series winner The Affair as well as thesps Emmy Rossum (Shameless), Shanola Hampton (Shameless), Maura Tierney (The Affair) and Caitlin FitzGerald (Masters Of Sex). Of course, the male critics in the room had a lot of questions.
One asked the female panel how they weigh the reasoning of a sex scene in a script. “As a critic, we’re always debating what’s exploitative, if scenes in shows like (HBO’s) Girls and Game Of Thrones are used for mere titillation,” he said.
Tierney, who plays Helen Solloway on The Affair, didn’t think it was a critic’s choice to decide what was exploitative. “You have to be in the scene to decide if a scene is exploitative,” she said. “It’s up to the actor to decide.”
Added Treem, “I don’t think anyone is trying to be exploitative; that would be strange.” The creator also mentioned that on The Affair, “we use sex as communication in our show. We hope our sex scenes move the story forward.”
Chimed in Rossum, whose character Fiona Gallagher is known for her promiscuity on Shameless: “We don’t do the scenes unless they’re necessary. If they’re not furthering the story, they can be emotionally exploitative. The obvious thing to do is to find the honest thing to do.”
At the top of the sesh, Rossum set the panel in motion by saying: “We show sexuality as a part of art. It’s no different from showing any other part of life. It’s interesting that the women who write on these shows get to explore different facets of sex: Sometimes (as humans) you have sex for reasons that have nothing to do with sex. It’s about power, insecurity or maybe to feel good. These women don’t show it in a gratuitous way.”
Said Pimental about her m.o. with dicey scenes on Shameless: “We keep a high watch on everyone. We’ve never taken the attitude of, ‘We’re on Showtime and we gotta show some titties!’ It’s about a nucleus and a base, and it grows from there.”
Pimental shared a moment during Shameless where she “monitored” herself, in terms of taking a topless scene and making it smarter. “We introduced a character Estefania. One of the characters was bound to have a sexual experience with her.” The scene called for Estefania to be topless and ironing clothes. A number of women “in sexy outfits where auditioning,” said Pimental. It then hit the creator: “What have I done?” In order to change the energy in the scene, and give Estefania the power, Pimental gave her a line.
The EP expounded on the authenticity of the sex scenes in Shameless, saying, “The location for our show is in a low-income place, and sometimes when people don’t have money, they pass the time by having sex.”
In addition, the EPs on the panel said that they engage in long discussions with the crew when it comes to sex scenes, especially actors. Fitzgerald mentioned she had a two-hour conversation with Ashford and writer Amy Lippman about “how to get a girdle off.” Long conversations on process “become very unsexy,” added the actress who plays Libby Masters, the ignored wife to Dr. William Masters (Michael Sheen).
Ashford asserted, “If you don’t have (long conversations), that’s when you’ll have surprises on the set and that can be unpleasant. We learned this the hard way. We had a guest actress who didn’t want to wear any protection of any kind (in one scene). She got down on all fours and there was an ample of view of things that no one wanted to be looking at.”
Quipped Rossum, “That’s what you call committed to the character!”
Further care is taken with younger actors who are growing and showing maturity on shows. On an upcoming episode of Shameless, the character of Debbie (16-year old actress Emma Kenney) has forceful sex with the pizza boy. Again, it’s all about the truth, Ruth.
“It’s crazy what kids are doing nowadays,” said Pimental. “It’s a scary topic to broach, but we want to be real and authentic. We had a sit-down with Emma Kenney’s parents, gave them the weekend to look at the script and to ask any questions. The whole key is to just keep the lines of communication open with the parents. The parents have been great, and they know what they’re signing up for.”
Rossum further flew the flag for the writers of Shameless, but in whole, her expression could have also doubled for all the female-driven Showtime series repped on today’s panel. “There’s no lack of balls on behalf of our writers to write a female character who is gutsy,” she said. “We’re not confined to showing the most culturally acceptable part of the character. We show everything about them.”