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A candle sputters. A curtain sways. A woman arches her back, her limbs bathed in a golden light. Th...

Showrunner Ronald D. Moore on How ‘Outlander’ Avoids Formulaic Sex Scenes

By 18:33:00

A candle sputters. A curtain sways. A woman arches her back, her limbs bathed in a golden light. The angles, the body parts, the visuals are all familiar.

That’s because viewers of TV and film have been subjected to this kind of rote sex scene innumerable times. There are variations, but the outlines are generally the same: A compliant woman’s body is displayed in soft focus as a curtain sways and a triumphant man makes her writhe in grateful ecstasy.

“The curtain drives me berserk,” sighs Ronald D. Moore, executive producer of Starz’s “Outlander.” “Why is there a candle in the foreground? Why is the curtain [moving]? Where’s that wind coming from? Why is she always on top of him like that?”

These are only a few of Moore’s complaints about how sex scenes are typically shot and edited, and he has a point. Looking across the landscape of television, no matter what kind of show is under discussion — a premium cable drama, a broadcast network potboiler, a basic cable thriller — sexually charged scenes between characters too often follow a numbingly familiar script.

There are exceptions, of course, and many of them (“Master of None,” “Catastrophe,” “Transparent,” “Orange Is the New Black”) have one or both feet in the comedy realm; the hybrids are often far more comfortable with the idea of subverting or ignoring conventions. There are dramas that occasionally use sex as a perceptive storytelling device, among them “The Americans,” “Billions” and “Mr. Robot.” But all too often, supposedly adult dramas resort to banal cliches borrowed from porn or feature sensationalist moments that bear little relation to the sex lives of most human beings.

When he set out to adapt Diana Gabaldon’s series of “Outlander” novels, Moore says, he told the show’s directors, “‘We’re not doing TV sex. TV sex is not real sex. No one has sex like that.’ And they would all laugh and say, ‘Yeah, that’s true. So what do you want to do?’ I said, ‘Just do it like the real deal.’ ”

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