HBO’s popular drama series “The Deuce” is set in Times Square in the 1970s before the New York neighborhood was purged of its X-rated movie houses and adult book stores.
But the cleanup of the cable network’s own red light district is already complete.
Earlier this summer, HBO quietly removed erotic adult movies and TV shows from its channels and streaming services.
It means racy reality shows such as “Taxicab Confessions,” the documentary series “Real Sex” and “Cathouse,” which chronicled life in a Nevada brothel, and specials featuring adult film star Katie Morgan are no longer available to HBO subscribers. The adult feature films are gone as well.
Soft-core erotic movies and sexually explicit unscripted programs had long been a staple of the premium cable channel, which became part of AT&T in June after the company completed its acquisition of HBO parent Time Warner Inc.
While adult content might not have been a favorite of the new, strait-laced owners, HBO said the decision to move away from the programs preceded the AT&T deal as they had become less popular.
“Over the past several years HBO has been winding down its late-night adult fare,” an HBO representative said. “While we’re greatly ramping up our other original program offerings, there hasn’t been a strong demand for this kind of adult programming, perhaps because it’s easily available elsewhere.”
Viewers who want sexually explicit video content no longer have to subscribe to a premium cable TV service as previous generations did. The internet has made adult content widely available to anyone with a broadband connection.
HBO developed and launched most of its adult programming in the early 1990s when the internet was still nascent and the network was not yet a major producer of prestigious scripted series such as “The Sopranos.” Soft-core films were so prevalent on its sister channel Cinemax, it was nicknamed “Skinemax.”
Jeffrey Jones, director of the Peabody Center at the University of Georgia, said the inclusion of erotic material in HBO’s program offerings was once a significant draw for subscribers who wanted sexually oriented content, without having adult channels or pornographic pay-per-view movies showing up on their monthly cable bills.
“It really is a vestige of a previous era,” said Jones, co-author of “The Essential HBO Reader.” “Especially the more soft-core stuff that gave HBO its mantle of ‘It’s not TV, it’s HBO.’ You weren’t finding those shows unless you subscribed to the Playboy Channel, and most people did not want their wives to know that they watched that stuff.”
HBO has not produced new episodes of its adult series in recent years, although previous seasons were still getting late-night runs on its channels and were offered on demand to streaming video customers who subscribed to HBO Go. The programming was listed under the tab labeled “Late Night.”
While HBO’s adult documentary series showed explicit sex and extensive nudity, they had the journalistic imprimatur of the network’s award-winning documentary division. Sheila Nevins, the unit’s longtime head who developed many of the shows, retired from HBO in April after a 38-year run.
Jones said the programs likely lost their last protector when Nevins departed.
“With her gone, I can see that change,” he said. “She very much saw sex as a central part of human beings and therefore documentaries should treat it with respect. She carved out a space for this type of programming.”
“Taxicab Confessions” was innovative in its use of miniature cameras to capture conversation — and other activities — of nocturnal passengers. The series won an Emmy for outstanding informational series or special in 1995 and was nominated twice in the reality programming category.
HBO’s premium cable competitor Showtime, a unit of CBS Corp., still carries an array of adult films and reality series such as “Gigolos,” which shows male escorts at work, and erotic films. The content runs on its channels in late night and on its over-the-top streaming service under the category “After Hours.”