That sharp dip in air quality across the nation Sunday night? It was likely due to audiences across the country collectively lighting up cigarettes following what was one of the steamiest, kinkiest, dirtiest sex scenes on TV, airing during an episode of...a CW historical drama?
Yes, jaws dropped and cheeks blushed as The CW's new series Reign staged a explicit masturbation scene in a stairwell during Thursday night's premiere. Viewers’ gasps could be attributed as much to the scene’s raciness as it could to the shock that it wasn’t being played out on HBO, Showtime, FX, or another cable network—certainly, explicit sex is de rigueur for series on those channels. This was CW, the channel best-known for series aimed at tweens and young teens. It’s a surprise it even squeaked through the network censors.
Of course, it’s not like network TV has always been entirely prudish. Settle down and prep a cold shower while viewing this survey of some of broadcast television’s most scandalous sex scenes. (WARNING: Some videos NSFW.)
Reign's controversial masturbation scene
Leave it to Americans (aka Parents Television Council) to be more concerned about someone pleasuring themself than historical revisionism. Reign's pilot turned heads at this summer's TCAs because of an explicit masturbation scene. After the Queen of Scotland and her handmaidens witness bedding ceremony, their passions are aroused and they all seek some form of relief. One handmaiden, however, cannot wait to find a suitable male and finds an empty stairwell to take matters into her own hands. The scene in question, however, did not air in its entirety on Thursday. It was edited to merely imply the act of masturbation.
The Good Wife Goes for Ice Cream
Kalinda—The Good Wife’s sexually ambiguous, bed-hopping, leather-clad investigator—has always been one of TV’s more progressive characters. Still, most viewers weren’t prepared when her estranged husband began pleasuring her at a counter in an ice cream parlor during the show’s recent episode. When he fails to make Kalinda, um, melt, he sticks his fingers in her vanilla cone and tries again.
Grey’s Anatomy's Racy Prom Night
The post-prom hookup may be a rite of passage for many teenagers—and teenage dramas. But leave it to an adult soap like Grey’s Anatomy and its hot-and-cold central couple, Meredith and Derek, in Season 2 to raise the bar and turn the cliché into a scene so hot that it had office water coolers boiling the next morning. Seattle Grace Hospital throws a prom for a teen patient, all the doctors, attend, Meredith and Derek slip away, and the rest is TV sex history.
Moonlighting Breaks the Table
If Meredith and Derek were hot-and-cold in the earliest seasons of Grey’s, their tortured-romance predecessors, Bruce Willis’s David and Cybill Shepherd’s Maddie on Moonlighting, were scalding and frigid. Never was that tension so evident, or erotic, as it was when, after a typically heated argument, Maddie slaps David. Their eyes lock. Those iconic intro beats to “Be My Baby” kick in. They begin making out. Maddie’s stylish glass coffee table? Collateral damage.
Ally McBeal Gets Her Car Washed
“Why are you so wet?” The first line of this Ally McBeal sex scene is dripping with innuendo, as Peter MacNicol’s John Cage encounters Calista Flockhart’s Ally after she returns from the unlikeliest of trysts: in a drive-through car wash with a complete stranger. As a flustered Ally regales the encounter, a flashback reveals the entire, surprisingly explicit soap-and-squeegee affair. It wasn’t making love, she assures John. It was “that other word…that vulgar verb.”
Without a Trace Stages a Teen Orgy
Defunct CBS crime procedural Without a Trace may be the only TV drama to have the distinction of staging a $3.6-million sex scene. After CBS aired an episode that featured a lengthy teen orgy, the FCC fined the 111 stations that aired it a total of $3.6 million. And yes, that is Kat Dennings getting her breast sucked by two men while a third pours liquor down her throat.
90210’s Surprising Reveal
The Parents Television Council’s recent raging against broadcast TV shows has become a Pavlovian response to anything more objectionable than an episode of Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood. But a scene in the premiere of The CW’s 90210 reboot raised more than just watchdog groups’ eyebrows. The episode, which aired during the 8 o’clock “family hour,” featured a scene in which one high school girl goes to have a conversation with a high school boy who appears to be sitting in his SUV. A beat later, a girl’s head pops up from his lap, he looks embarrassed, and young audiences tuning in to see the next generation of Kelly and Dylans have just seen implied teen oral sex.
The Good Wife Listens to NPR
Forget 50 Shades of Grey. For The Good Wife’s Alicia (Julianna Margulies) and Peter (Chris Noth), all it takes to get in the mood is some easy-listening NPR music. With some jazz playing in the background, Peter surprises Alicia in the bathroom, shocks her, really, as his kisses travel further and further down, leading to one of the most blatant broadcast oral sex scenes to make it to air.
Lost Cages Its Stars
It’s hard to resist a bad boy. No one knows that more than Lost’s Kate (Evangeline Lilly), who couldn’t help but fall prey to the raw allure of Sawyer (Josh Holloway). When the two are captured and placed in polar-bear cages, Kate finds a way to break them out. When Sawyer says he doesn’t want to go, they argue, kiss, and, well, make that cage rattle.
Buffy the Vampire Slayer Brings Down the House
It’s David and Maddie with more martial arts. And destruction. And a vampire. On Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Sarah Michele Gellar’s slayer Buffy and James Marsters’s vampire Spike are sworn enemies who fight through their sexual tension. During a particularly acrobatic fight in the episode “Smashed,” the two become so aroused that they begin making love—as a house literally falls down around them.
The Thorn Birds Blasphemes
Based on the novel by Colleen McCullough, The Thorn Birds starred Richard Chamberlain as a dashing young priest who breaks his celibacy vows at the allure of Rachel Ward’s Meggie. The love scenes themselves befit all the romantic clichés typical of a story so soap operatic in nature. But the idea of airing a sex scene between a priest and a young woman—and ABC’s decision to launch the miniseries on a Sunday—was scandalous in its own right.
Scandal Gets Scandalous
“Go in your room,” Tony Goldwyn’s married President Fitz instructs Kerry Washington’s strategist Olivia Pope at a hotel when it became clear that their sexual tension became too much to deny. So cue the “OMG!” exclamations when Pope instead boldly walks herself over to his hotel room. The next instruction we hear from Fitz: “Take off your clothes”—which we then see them do, right down to the pair of lacy panties that get tossed onto the floor.
NYPD Butts…er, Blue
Butts on TV: Considering how commonplace it seems these days, it’s hard to imagine a time when there were hardly any tushies shown at all. Credit, then, NYPD Blue creator Steven Bochco for being a trailblazer. He reportedly required all actors who joined the program, which first began its parade of rear ends in 1993, to sign a nudity clause, allowing him to show their goods at his whim. Among the illustrious actors to show their backsides on the show: David Caruso, Charlotte Ross, Dennis Franz, and even Zack Morris himself, Mark-Paul Gosselaar. But it wasn’t just all exhibitionism. As this clip shows, NYPD Blue may be the most erotic shows about cops to ever air.
The Gossip Girl Threesome
Lizzie Maguire, is that you? Kids grow up so fast these days—far too fast in the eyes of parents groups who protested a scene from Gossip Girl featuring a threesome among Penn Badgley’s Dan, Jessica Szhor’s Vanessa, and guest star Hillary Duff’s Olivia for weeks before it aired. But fans from Duff’s Lizzie Maguire needn’t have worried too much about childhoods being lost. The episode, which had the trio agree to a threesome because it’s on their “college-y” things to do bucket list, cuts away before things get too naughty.
Downton Abbey Kills a Turk
Sure, there’s no nudity, FCC-baiting explicitness, or even much sex shown at all. But the season one late-night tryst between Lady Mary (Michele Dockery) and visiting Turkish diplomat, Kemal Pamuk (Theo James), is scandalous by its very existence in the neutered girdles-and-corsets, post-Edwardian drama Downton Abbey, which aired in the U.S., of all places, on PBS. Of course, the ramifications were drastic—the pre-marital sex killed poor Pamuk, and haunted Lady Mary for nearly two seasons!