Showtime's 'Sex Sells' Shows How Far Foreign Ads Sometimes Go

Posted: May 22, 1993

If you think there is too much sex in American television advertising, take a look at the commercials in Europe and Australia. They're much more frank and racy.

Sex Sells, an hour-long sampling of overseas commercials at 11 tonight on cable's Showtime, is a randy romp that does not pretend to be significant or uplifting. As narrator Harry Moses says at the top of the show, "If you've got lust in your heart and an hour to kill, enjoy."

In Europe, nudity in commercials goes back at least to 1908, as illustrated tonight by the figure of a naked woman rising up out of a pasta box. These early commercials were shown only in movie theaters, as many of the more daring ones still are today.

The first nude commercial on TV, advertising a cologne, appeared in 1978. ''By 1986," says Moses, "there wasn't much of anything you couldn't show on European television."

Some of the commercials shown are so explicit that they resist description in a family newspaper. But summaries of several should be sufficient for you to decide whether you want to stay up late enough to watch:

* "To Americans," says Moses, "mineral water is just another drink. To Europeans, it's a reason to get naked." While he talks, a nude woman in a commercial for a Spanish brand of mineral water falls into quicksand, exercises beside an active volcano and swims underwater.

* As in America, animals often join in the fun. In a commercial for an Australian brand of lingerie called Antz Pantz, a women lies in bed in her underwear, with many ants crawling over her. "Sic 'em, Rex," she says to her pet, an Australian anteater, and he eagerly goes after the ants.

* In Europe, unlike America, homosexual themes are not avoided in TV advertising. In a commercial for a Danish newspaper, a man caresses and kisses another man in a kitchen. In this case, they are both fully clothed, although male nudity is shown in other commercials tonight.

* There are some censorship standards in Europe, however. In a French commercial, a woman's hands stroke and caress a bottle of Perrier water, which grows taller until its cap pops off and it sprays. Moses says this commercial aired only once.

* Unlike in America, condom commercials are common in Europe, particularly in anti-AIDS campaigns. In a typical ad, aimed at prevention of the disease in Britain, a middle-aged woman is shown at work in a real-life condom factory. The narrator concludes, "Keep Mrs. Dawson busy: Use a condom."

* Humor is deftly used in many of the commercials on Sex Sells, notably in one that skewers three former rulers who became unpopular in their latter days: England's Margaret Thatcher, Panama's Manuel Noriega and Romania's Nicolae Ceausescu. The ad shows the parents of each one and then says, "If only they'd used a Jiffi condom."

If you don't want to stay up long enough to watch all of this show, be advised that the first half is the more amusing.

BIG "CHEERS." As expected, Thursday's finale of Cheers scored monster Nielsens for NBC.

The episode had a 45.4 national rating and a 64 percent audience share from 9:22 to 11 p.m. (Each rating point equals 931,000 homes.) With an estimated Nielsen audience of 93,050,000, it was the second-most-viewed episodic broadcast in TV history, behind only the 1983 M*A*S*H swan song, seen by 121.6 million.

The Cheers segment ranks No. 20 on the tube's all-time ratings list, which includes many Super Bowls.

Meanwhile, ABC's Wild Palms was a major Nielsen disappointment. Oliver Stone's mondo-bizzaro six-hour mini-series averaged a 10.8 rating/18 audience share Sunday through Wednesday. It finished well behind CBS, with a 13.0/21 for the same period, and NBC, with a 12.9/21.

MORE "CHEERS." NBC (Channel 3) will rebroadcast the Cheers finale from 7 to 9 p.m. tomorrow. The network had kept the ending secret, so for those who didn't watch it and won't catch the rerun, here's a summary:

Sam Malone (Ted Danson) and Diane Chambers (Shelley Long) rekindled their romance and nearly as quickly realized that they could never make it together. Rebecca Howe (Kirstie Alley) married a plumber. Woody Boyd (Woody Harrelson), newly elected to the Boston City Council, gave a patronage job to Norm Peterson (George Wendt).

In the low-key, bittersweet final scene, Sam and the regulars sat around smoking cigars and comically mused on the meaning of life. Everyone left except Sam. Then a customer knocked at the door. Sam said, "Sorry, we're

closed."

SEX SELLS

Written by Harry Moses and produced by the Mosaic Group for Showtime. Telecast at 11 tonight on Showtime.

Narrator: Harry Moses

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