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8 of the raunchiest TV shows in network TV history

By / 01.19.14
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Raunchy TV shows have long been a hallmark of cable TV, which has always sort of been the Wild West of entertainment given that the law – AKA the FCC – is not allowed to interfere. But that hasn’t been the case with network TV, which has managed to maintain a much tamer environment, safe for mom and grandma, the church lady, and everyone else who gets the vapors whenever there’s an exposed ankle beamed at them through the magic idiot box. Still, there have been a few shows in the long, mostly boring history of network TV that have managed to shock and offend, and while they may not be as cutting edge or as debauched as their cable TV counterparts, they have still managed to be eight of the raunchiest TV shows in network TV history. Let us salute them.


Up until Melrose Place most TV soaps had been about the drama with just enough sex sprinkled in to keep grandma titillated while she watched her stories. But Melrose Place changed all that by deciding to make the drama secondary to the sex. Actually, I should rephrase that: the drama was caused by the sex. Everything in Melrose Place revolved around sex. I’m pretty sure the entire apartment complex was just one big Herpes sore. If you searched for it on Google Street View you would have seen an apartment complex being attacked by giant mutant pubic crabs. It says something that when they decided to resurrect the series a couple of years ago that the two characters they brought back were Michael, a sex-obsessed serial philanderer who was degenerate number one in the original series, and Sydney, the scheming prostitute. That’s who they felt best embodied the show’s core values, and, well, there you have it.


It’s pretty tame by today’s standards but back in the day Three’s Company was the raunchiest thing that had ever been aired on network TV. Just about every episode was built on ridiculous sex-related hijinks and the whacky misconceptions that sometimes ensue. The show also featured perhaps the first legit sex addict sidekick character in the sleazy Larry Dallas and wasn’t shy about just replacing one hot blonde with another whenever it became necessary. Three’s Company wasn’t just the first show to take on sex directly, it existed in some alternate universe that was absolutely sex crazed. Okay, so maybe that’s a lot like this universe but still, as far as Three’s Company was concerned, sex wasn’t just an obsession, it was as if it was the only thing in the world that existed.


Sure, a lot of shows aren’t shy about following the Melrose Place model and just having their characters bang all the time. But at least those shows usually feature adults. Not Gossip Girl which decided to up the ante by having a bunch of teenagers bang all over New York City. Yes, the actors themselves were adults – well, most of them anyway – and we’ve become desensitized to that sort of thing over the years with high school shows like Beverly Hills 90210 and The OC, but those shows featured high school kids who sometimes had sex. Gossip Girl was about high school kids having sex. That’s a critical difference, and a crucial one that separates Gossip Girl from the pack and earns it a place on this distinguished list.


Unhappily Ever After was the show that existed solely to be a shameless rip-off of Married… With Children, so naturally it was raunchy as hell. Of course, it makes total sense given that it was created by the same raunchy minds that came up with Al Bundy and the gang, but still, they didn’t even try to pretend that it was anything other than a cheap excuse to make sex jokes and get Nikki Cox to dress like a stripper as some sort of even bigger boobed Kelly Bundy and… wait, what am I complaining about? Anyway, Unhappily Ever After existed solely in service to the noble ideals of raunch, and as a professional arbiter of the raunchy arts, I have no choice but to salute it here.


Yes, Two and a Half Men is awful and completely irredeemable and its fan base should probably be shot into the sun, but we’re not here to discuss show quality, we’re here to discuss the shows that care the most about boobs, butts and boners and if you’ve ever actually seen an episode of Two and a Half Men, you know that the show’s writers really, really care about those things. I mean, my God, I’m not sure they care about anything other than that. The show is absolutely filthy, like I’m shocked they actually put this on CBS kind of filthy. Every joke – every single one – is about sex somehow. Every episode is about sex. The only thing every character cares about is sex. I’m not even sure if Charlie Sheen realized he was on a television show. They probably just told him to be himself and let the cameras role. That’s how ridiculous raunchy this show managed to be.


Most reality shows are shamelessly raunchy, so you know that you’ve got to be really, really raunchy in order to make people take special note of your abilities in the field of raunch. And yet, Temptation Island managed to do just that, which makes sense given that the entire premise of the show is that a bunch of couples get let loose on an island designed to get them all to bang their brains out, cheat on their partners and, well, that’s about it really. That’s the show. Plus Marky Mark was the host so you know it was raunchy.


When Seth McFarlane shocked and offended everyone at the Oscars it was hard not to give the whole fiasco a massive roll of the eyes. I mean, after all, what in the hell were people expecting from him? Anyone who’s seen Family Guy had to know what was coming, and that’s because there’s probably not a show in history that delights more in offending people and pushing the boundaries of good taste. The show’s history is filled with jokes and moments that make people say “Did they really just say/do that?” I mean, come on, Quagmire is pretty much a legit rapist and one of the show’s most enduring and popular side characters is the creepy old man who wants to molest Chris. Do I really need to go on?


Married… With Children will always be the Godfather of raunch. It is the eternal king. For an entire decade, it was just relentlessly raunchy. It was hated by uptight mothers and absolutely worshiped by horny teenage boys. It inspired protests and public hearings, sponsors were boycotted, shows were banned from airing on TV, and the whole time Al Bundy just kept getting filthier and filthier, Bud became more of a sex-crazed degenerate and Kelly wore less and less clothes as she bounced her way through the house and into our hearts and boners. Married… With Children didn’t just have some raunchy jokes. It made being raunchy a whole new genre and for that as well as so many other things, we lovingly honor it here today.

(Previously published on July 22, 2013.)

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