Sure, HBO’s Emmy nominated ”Sex and the City” and ”The Sopranos” are favorites with critics and cable subscribers alike. But don’t expect the Emmy voters to celebrate the scantily clad stars of ”G-String Divas” (Thursdays at 11 p.m). Though HBO’s top rated long running documentary series like ”Real Sex” and ”Taxicab Confessions” have already pushed the soft porn envelope, network executives say that a new ”docusoap” about the employees of a Pennsylvania strip club will attract its target audience of men aged 18 to 45, and bring in some female viewers as well. ”Women will discover this show, because the strippers are not victims,” says Julie Anderson, HBO’s director of original programming. ”They’re the power brokers here. These women are smart.”
When the first episode previewed on Saturday night, the ”Divas” delivered a 7.7 share, or 3.4 million viewers – a Nielsen rating on par with that of ”Sex and the City.” (The premiere will be shown again tonight at 11 p.m., followed by a new episode at 11:30 p.m.) Producer/ director Patti Kaplan, whose ”Real Sex” series is now in its 10th season, says she ”searched the country” for ”vibrant” performers before deciding to film ”G String” at Divas International, a Briston, Pa., strip club. One of the regulars there is Jordan, a bisexual Brazilian emigre and ”lapdance virtuoso” who tells HBO.com that to excel in her area of specialization, ”You actually have to pretend you’re having sex… but without nobody there.”
The show’s most memorable figure could turn out to be Ginger (profiled in the first episode), who is billed by HBO as the ”Queen of the Jungle” because she’s the club’s most financially successful performer. Ginger boasts of her talent for luring men into the bar’s expensive Champagne Room, where the ”simulated sexual stuff,” as she puts it, earns her as much as $800 in cash a night. Ginger tells EW.com that she got into sex industry because she believed she ”had the ability to manipulate men.” Exotic dancing isn’t her first career: She’s a college graduate and former publicist who says that working in the gentleman’s club is no more demeaning than the less lucrative office job she abandoned seven years ago. ”I think the corporate world is its own jungle,” she says. ”Except you’re wearing more clothes.”
Kaplan wasn’t surprised that each of the women profiled in ”G-String Divas”’s 13 episodes chose to share the sometimes sordid details of their lives: ”I find that women who work in this business are usually more candid, open and vulnerable, because what they’re doing is so exposed.” The women discuss everything from breast implants (which appear to be common) to career goals (Ginger hopes to save enough money to open a bridal shop) to their offstage relationships (several of the dancers are lesbians).
What did come as a shock to Kaplan was the openness of the strippers’ customers. (One of them, a lovesick, middle aged man named Carl, spends nearly $1,000 on a private lap dance with Ginger – then never returns to the club.) ”That was a boon to me, that it wasn’t all set up with false guys,” says Kaplan, who didn’t spice up this show with staged scenarios as she did with her previous series ”Real Sex. ”
In any case, those who might think ”Sex and the City” is little racy should avoid tuning in. At least a third of the first episode is devoted to loving close-ups of the strippers doing what they do best – removing their clothes. But the mixture of sex and voyeurism is a formula that continues to work: Last year, according to a study published by Marketing Evaluation, ”Real Sex” was the network’s third most popular series among males after ”The Sopranos” and ”Boxing After Dark.” And HBO executives make no apology for the strategy. ”When you look at the demographic of who’s got HBO, we have a very high viewership among 18 to 45 year old males,” says Anderson. ”We have to keep them happy.” Maybe the network should put Ginger in charge.