TV Preview

Original Skin

Her dad peddles sleaze; his is all law and order. But to the naked eye, Fox's drama about star-crossed lovers is surprisingly wholesome.

SKIN FOX. 9-10 PM DEBUTS OCT. 20

Clearly, a mistake has been made. The new Fox series Skin is supposed to be filming its third episode here at the Millennium Biltmore Hotel in Los Angeles. As the latest quicksilver-paced, cinematically glossed TV drama from CSI magnate and movie producer Jerry Bruckheimer, Skin is a soapy, sprawling saga about two warring patriarchs (one an adult-entertainment magnate, the other a district attorney) that can be summarized thusly: Law and Porn. But here on the set, the series you were salivating to see is nowhere to be found. The problem? Somebody forgot to bring the porn!

Oh, there are bare shoulders, spaghetti straps, and high heels aplenty -- but they all belong to women in formal gowns, not good-time girls in kinky getups. The scene is the Latino Leadership Conference gala, where crusading district attorney Thomas Roam (Nothing Sacred's Kevin Anderson), seeking reelection, is expecting an endorsement from the mayor. Just as Roam's dreamy cute son Adam (newcomer D.J. Cotrona) is about to proudly introduce his dad, Adam's girlfriend Jewel (another newcomer, Olivia Wilde) arrives in a gilded dress and promptly overhears the DA vow to bring down the porn king of L.A., Larry Goldman (Ron Silver) -- who happens to be her beloved daddy. It's a sobering, pivotal moment for Skin's star-crossed Romeo and Juliet, but shouldn't there be a cheesy, sleazy Muzak soundtrack? A pizza-delivery guy with extra hot pepperoni? A hottie-next-door and her come-hither twin?

Actually, no. Skin, it turns out, has many things on its mind, but very few of them are dirrrrty. ''Thematically, we're dealing with love,'' says Skin creator Jim Leonard, a veteran TV writer and producer whose credits include ABC's short-lived Cracker and Thieves. ''True love versus lust, passion, desire, and purity, all set against a world of naked ambition, corporate malfeasance, political witch-hunts and scandals. And in the midst of that, we have two kids discovering who they are. Together.''

Sigh. Well, moving on...

Skin was conceived two years ago while Leonard was in his kitchen, tossing out spam -- the kitchen being where the Leonard family keeps its computer, the spam being those junk e-mails that have subject lines like ''HOTBIKERGIRLS!'' There he sat, delete, delete, delete, when suddenly -- boing! Inspiration! What if he combined porn with two other ideas for TV shows -- an interracial Romeo and Juliet; a DA who investigates sex crimes -- that had long been loitering in Leonard's brain like lonely singles at a dimly lit bar? So he put those ideas in bed, watched them mate, and out popped Skin. And that, children, is where TV shows come from.

''I said, 'I'll watch that. Let's do it,''' says Bruckheimer, who heard Leonard's pitch last summer after another project they were working on, a pilot with actor Jimmy Smits, fell apart. ''It was as if [ex-NYC mayor Rudy] Giuliani's son fell in love with the owner of [porn company] Vivid's daughter. The crossing of these two worlds really got my juices going.'' The series, coproduced by Warner Bros. Television, proved a quick sell. NBC nibbled on the bait, but Fox -- aroused by the prospect of an edgy drama with adult and teen appeal -- swallowed it whole. Naturally, there was much discussion about how the adult-entertainment business would be depicted, and it was quickly agreed Skin would focus on exactly that -- the business: conducting billion-dollar deals with direct satellite services (which occasionally requires a tabletop striptease, as viewers will see in the pilot); controversial marketing practices (sex spam: Is it protected free speech?); and the workaday rituals of a porn shoot (newcomer Cameron Richardson will arrive in episode 3 as an aspiring adult-entertainment actress). Says Bruckheimer's TV partner Jonathan Littman: ''As long as we didn't start making it about how you use sex toys, the network was fine.'' Still, notes Leonard, ''if people are watching this expecting an HBO experience...well, people are going to be disappointed.''

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