Who among us can resist the allure of the face-eating tumor? The lady with lobster claws for hands? The stomach-churning habit of the girl who couldn't stop eating her hair? As the baritone announcer says: "Science fiction? Think again!"
Yes, it's another episode of "Medical Incredible" from the Discovery Health Channel, which features, literally, a descendant of circus freaks.
"Is this medieval madness or a miracle of microsurgery?" Cut to the shot of the leeches.
Available in 57 million homes, the Discovery Health Channel is TV that offers the kind of voyeuristic fix you usually have to visit sick relatives in hospitals to attain.
The DHC prime-time lineup includes shows such as "Archie, the 84-lb. Baby," "The Man Who Slept for 19 Years" and "Plastic Surgery Beverly Hills." People, it's Health Class Gone Wild.
"Those do extraordinarily well from a ratings perspective." This is from Eileen O'Neill, general manager of Discovery Health Channel, who bills her network as "TV That Matters." Indeed. The network has grown 25 percent in prime-time viewing this year (it's now in 40th place and averages 229,000 pairs of eyeballs on a weeknight).
"We are positioned," O'Neill says, "to take the network to the next level."
And, naturally, that position would be sexual.
Because the network that brings you "Birth Day Live!" featuring 10 hours of "live human births" (cue to announcer in hushed golf tournament voice: "She's fully dilated and ready to go," and then Dr. Wong urging "push, push, push, push, push") is going to tell you where those babies come from.
At midnight Wednesday, DHC will premiere "Strictly Sex With Dr. Drew," which the press kit describes as "a fearless look at sexuality with frank talk and honest answers . . . exploring America's favorite pastime."
The sexpert's debut marks a slightly new direction for Discovery Health. The network has done sex before -- with "Berman & Berman," featuring the sex therapist/urologist sisters (now canceled). That show, and a lot of DHC programming, skews toward a female demographic (O'Neill lists their competitors as Oxygen and Lifetime). The corporate thinking is that Dr. Drew might bring in more guys.
Doc's first show? "The Orgasm." Later: "Masturbation." Future episodes are titled "Was It Good for You?" and "Sex, What Scares You?"
O'Neill has high hopes for Drew Pinsky, and so she's on hand to watch her Pasadena sexpert tape an episode of the new talk show. Pinsky, a working internist who daylights at the Las Encinas psychiatric hospital (specialty: addiction medicine) is famous in some circles from his two decades doing the late night call-in radio show "Loveline" (and the now-canceled MTV show of the same name) that is, by turns, useful, hilarious, raunchy. If you are of the preteen female persuasion, you may recognize the doc from his 2004 role (playing himself) in "New York Minute," the Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen vanity flick.
Apparently, becoming a sexpert does not require board certification. Pinsky became one when, as a 24-year-old third-year medical student, he was asked to show up at a Los Angeles rock radio station to do "Ask a Surgeon," which quickly morphed into "Loveline."
"Strictly Sex" is taping on a recent Saturday afternoon before a live studio audience, a hundred chair-warmers wrangled into the Burbank sound stage. They look sexually active enough. The set is not subtle. It contains an S-shaped desk, a bowl filled with red apples, a carpet whose color could be described as a flushed, rosy, engorged pink and a couple of glass vases that look either like bongs or phalluses, depending.
Before he goes into makeup, Pinsky pulls up a chair and offers us some background. The first thing you need to know about Dr. Drew is that he drives a cherry-red BMW. The second thing: He's married with triplets who play Little League (he whips out a family photo from his wallet). Trim and silver-haired, bright-eyed and California casual, Pinsky comes across as more suburban doc than pervy tipster.
Asked if Americans, always branded as repressed but oversexualized puritans (especially by the French), are ready for another live sex show, Pinsky says, "Actually, I don't see it. Where are the Puritan attitudes? How can people keep saying that? I think it" -- he means sex in the media -- "needs to be more contained."
For example, Pinsky thinks sex ed in schools is generally a good idea, "but abstinence should be the goal," and that too much "plumbing lesson" too soon could be traumatizing to younger children. As for teens, "what they want is real," he says. The straight dope. "And they need a parent, too, who shapes their values and behaviors to get them safely through adolescence to become a productive adult," and not the kind of parent "who wants to be their best buddy."
Say whoa. This is some serious public health message from a man whose radio show (co-hosted by Adam Carolla, most recently of "The Man Show") features guys asking about three-ways, but Pinsky says that every question about sex is almost always a question about relationships.
Asked what will be different about his TV show vs. his radio show, Pinsky smiles and says, "Well, there's no Adam Carolla now, thank God."
He says he hopes the show will serve as an adult antidote to the twaddle served up by men's and women's magazines.
To wit: He points to a cover of Glamour magazine on the coffee table with its cover tout, "Your Top 15 Sex Questions."
"What the women's magazines teach is that their job is to make men happy," Pinsky says. And the laddie rags? "That women are sexual objects."
Okay, what is the question people ask most?
Without a beat, Pinsky says, "Guys ask, are they adequate? Are they man enough? And women worry about what men think."
Fascinating. Pinsky and O'Neill say the show will be "clinical" in the sense that the discussions about sex will be offered by a medical doctor. "We know the FCC has concerns about the show," Pinsky says. "They've put everyone on notice that they'll be watching." This frustrates Pinsky because, he says, "I want to be more Catholic than the pope," but the FCC stubbornly refuses to say what is out of bounds when it comes to community standards for cable sexpert shows.
Dr. Drew excuses himself to prepare for the taping. Out in the studio, one of the show's managers is warming up the audience by reading from the "Condom Wheel," which gives women advice on how to persuade their partners to wear protection. Example: He says, "It doesn't feel good." She should say: "The safer I feel, the wilder I get." Then the warm-up act asks the audience about adult toys and self-love. A show of hands? People? Anyone? A guy in a leather jacket raises his hand, vigorously.
The taping begins. It's funny, but for all the show's titillating potential, it is rather chaste.
In one segment, Dr. Drew quizzes the co-authors of "The Hookup Handbook" about the popularity of no-strings-attached make-out sessions among the twenty-something generation. He is clearly skeptical. The co-authors, a pair of New York gals, believe it is all just flirty fun.
Okay, bye-bye to New York gals and hello to newlywed couple flush with randy abandon. Meet Dave and Becky, a regular looking pair (she's in shorts with black socks and sneakers) in the Barry White stage of marriage. She says, "We're never very far out of the mood." Then Dr. Drew brings out a psychoanalyst to explain to Romeo and Juliet that their physical ardor may wane, and that it's only natural. Then we learn that Becky is now preggers, and there ensues helpful information about how her body will change and that Dave needs to be sensitive and cool about that.
It's all very nice, very normal. Not kinky at all. There is no need to avert one's eyes. "It's about being a human being," Pinsky says. Strictly sexually speaking.
Next up on Discovery Health: "Skinned Alive!" ("By this point, Sarah was in agony.") Now that is disturbing.