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Intimacy and Marriage: A Network Mismatch, Study Says

It all started about a year ago, Winter told The Reporters Who Cover Sex on TV during a phone conference call, when PTC's staff of six full-time TV watchers held one of their twice-weekly meetings to discuss their findings. One of them joked to the others, "Gosh, everybody is having sex on TV except for married couples."

A new PTC study was born, joining the pantheon of PTC studies with such titles as "Dying to Entertain: Violence on Prime Time Broadcast Television 1998-2006," "The Rap on Rap" and, of course, "Wolves in Sheep's Clothing: A Content Analysis of Children's Television."

After four weeks of intensive prime-time broadcast-TV viewing at the start of the last season -- Sept. 23 through Oct. 22, 2007 -- "we were confirmed in what that initial gut reaction was," Winter said. "Everybody is having sex on TV except for husbands and wives."

Speaking of NBC, Winter spoke nostalgically about the 1980s Steven Bochco NBC drama "Hill Street Blues," in which nearly every episode ended with Capt. Frank Furillo and Joyce Davenport -- a married couple -- in bed together.

"Very intimate moment, talking, and it was a very powerful portion of the show, showing the intimacy of the husband and wife," he said. "It seems that that scene has all but disappeared . . . on prime-time broadcast TV today. And it's disappointing. It's unfortunate."

It's also surprising, at least for the Veteran Reporters Who Cover Sex on TV, who remember how knicker-knotted some self-appointed TV watchdoggers got over the "Hill Street Blues" bedroom scenes and other bedroom scenes with married couples when those were all the rage -- "McMillan & Wife," that cute "Mad About You" couple who loved each other so much they'd have sex in the kitchen while their dinner guests wondered what had become of the first course, etc.

Winter said he hopes the study "is something that can be used as a lever for more public scrutiny on what the networks are doing, to perhaps step back and ask a better question about where did intimacy go in the context of a husband and wife."

The networks decided they'd rather not comment.

"Happily Never After" is chock-full of examples for your reading pleasure of non-conjugal sexual shenanigans. Look, here's the "Dirty Sexy Money" episode in which Patrick Darling, married candidate for the U.S. Senate, is shown in bed with his transsexual girlfriend. And there are the horny doctors of "Grey's Anatomy," Meredith and Derek, in bed together, discussing the rules of break-up sex. Here's an episode of "30 Rock" in which a network honcho explains the hit reality series "MIL[WaPo letter of shame] Island" is about "25 super-hot moms, 50 eighth-grade boys -- no rules." (Of course, that "30 Rock" episode was savaging both reality competition series and the spate of reality shows featuring "cougars" looking to attract younger men, but PTC does not distinguish skewering from endorsing in its study.)

Ripped-from-the-headlines stories about high school teachers impregnated by male students appear to have been a favorite with TV writers at the start of last season; PTC includes one from "Law & Order: SVU" and another from "ER."

But, our personal fave is the Sept. 24 episode of NBC's "Journeyman," in which time-traveling journalist Dan has traveled back to a time when his now-presumed-dead wife, Olivia, was still, um, alive:

Olivia comes home and begins to change clothes. She is shown in her underwear. Dan and Olivia lie down on the bed and begin to kiss. Dan, who travels through time, notices his wedding band, apparently considering the fact that he is married to another woman in the future.

Parents Television Council has it filed under "Infidelity/Adultery."


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