SEX

Australian Talk Show

Sex, also known as Sex with Sophie Lee, was a "lifestyle" show launched in Australia in 1992. Produced by Tim Clucas for the Nine Network, the show went to a second series in 1993 with a new presenter, the comedian Pamela Stevenson. Sex can be seen as the first show on Australian TV to try to modernize sexual attitudes and make sex a vital topic of mainstream public discussion in the HIV era; or it can be seen as an attempt by commercial television to consumerize sex itself, making sexual preference into supermarket choice, and use public education as an excuse for exploitative television.

The show was launched to phenomenally high ratings (a 32 share), largely on the lure of its presenter Sophie Lee's own reputation for sexiness. But the early episodes succeeded in mixing straightforward advice about common problems, with some noteworthy firsts for primetime television, especially by showing human reproductive organs, both male and female, on screen. Most notably, even though its own format comprised the most traditional magazine-style journalistic and "expert" segments linked by a studio anchor in glamorous evening-wear, Sex crossed one of television's most policed generic boundaries: characters (fiction) can have sex while people (fact) can only talk about it. The presentation of ordinary people being sexual on screen, and the screening of sexualized bodies (even if only in bizarre slow-motion "reconstruction" mode) was enough to give the show an unsettling, innovative feel, and to ensure that Sex provoked widespread discussion in the press and popular magazines as well as rating highly. Not all reaction was positive; for instance General Motors president Holden announced that the giant car company would not advertise during Sex because it wanted its products to be associated with "wholesome" topics.

Sophie Lee became progressively more disenchanted with the lack of control she had over the items she was contracted to introduce, segments which began to interpret "sex" in terms of ratings-potential rather than public utility. She left the show at the end of its first season, to be replaced by Pamela Stevenson, the Australian-born comedian best-known for the 1970s BBC series Not the Nine O'Clock News. Stevenson recorded her links for Sex in a studio in Los Angeles, clearly regarding it as her brief to supply the "nudge, nudge, wink, wink" element. After the departure of Sophie Lee, without anyone on or behind the screen to argue for the show's importance in changing public attitudes to sex, the series slid from interesting experiment to unstylish exploitation and was canceled by the Nine Network after two seasons, to be replaced by safer lifestyle shows about money, home improvement, tourism, and gardening.

-John Hartley


Sex
Photo courtesy of TCN Channel Nine

HOSTS

Sophie Lee, 1991
Pamela Stevenson, 1992

PRODUCER Tim Clucas

PROGRAMMING HISTORY 20 Episodes

Nine Network
May 1992-July 1992                           Thursday 8:30-9:00
February 1993-May 1993                  Thursday 9:30-10:00

 

See also Lee, Sophie