Sex and the survey

To TV executives, it wasn't really a surprise that Fox's Temptation Island
would become such.well, a lure for viewers. The networks must have gotten the idea by now that that sex sells.

According to research released last week compiled by The Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation (a nonprofit health philanthropy, not related to Kaiser Permanente), the number of shows featuring some form of sexual content, either physical or verbal, jumped from one-half during the 1998-1999 season to two-thirds in 1999-20000. Two years ago, about 67% of prime time series featured sex. Today, this survey says, 75% do.

Kaiser's "Sex on TV: Content and Context" examined 1,114 broadcast and cable programs, airing between 7 a.m. to 11 p.m. from October 1999 to March 2000. It looked for the following behaviors: talked-about sex, flirting, intimate touching, passionate kissing and "sex depicted or strongly implied."

Under that last activity-Kaiser cites the infamous car-wash/sex scene in Ally McBeal
as an example-the study found that sexual intercourse was firmly suggested in 10% of all shows. That's up from 7% during the 1997-1998 season.

Some advertisers are looking to shower TV with a strong blast of cold water. "At Procter & Gamble, as with most advertisers, we have guidelines as far as what we will and won't sponsor. The guidelines say that we don't want to associate with excessive or gratuitous sex," said P & G's global-marketing officer Robert Wehling at a panel discussion in response to the study.

Advertisers are also apparently skittish over portrayals of safe sex on TV, and that upsets Kaiser. Currently, just 10% of all shows with sexual content make even a passing reference to the risks of sex.

"There is an interesting juxtaposition that the networks aren't resistant to putting on scenes of a sexual nature but are resistant to putting on advertisements about condoms," said Kaiser Vice President Vicky Rideout.

Darlene Lieblich, formerly an executive with Beverly Hills 90210, now director of Fox Broadcasting's standards & practices, recalls trying to write episodes about the treatment and prevention of sexually transmitted chlamydia but was told no because "the advertisers would drop out like flies."

Temptation Island
refused to make room for an ad for a condom maker, but Fox's Roland McFarland, vice president, standards & practices, said that request was made on too-short notice and Fox couldn't fit the company in. But "if they resubmit, we'd be glad to reconsider it," he said.

Technically, Fox can charge advertisers a hefty rate with Temptation Island, which regularly tops nearest Wednesday rival, NBC's The West Wing, in adults 18-49, according to Nielsen Media Research. But sources indicate Fox has had to bargain with advertisers.

"We have had ratings for Temptation Island, but there has been some advertiser fallout," said one Fox source. "But every show is a negotiation [with the numbers] unless you're a Friends. And more-controversial reality shows get slightly lower rates with advertisers."