Feature

The demise of Cinemax After Dark: How the internet killed softcore porn

Cinemax's shift from softcore flicks to classy dramas signals the death of the porn genre

Relying on late-night cable television to access porn is as foreign and archaic to millennials as listening to cassette tapes in a DeLorean. And with the latest death knell, it looks more and more likely that cable will not regain its reputation as a purveyor of porn.

After almost 30 years, the end has come for Cinemax After Dark, a “block of late-night, softcore porn that is better known to a generation of former teenagers as Skinemax,” writes Sam Grobart at Bloomberg Businessweek.

Michael Lombardo, the president of programming for HBO (which is the parent company of Cinemax) said he plants to shift the content to more original shows (and specifically ones that don’t involve pantomimed intercourse). Instead of movies like Hotel Erotica and The Bikini Escort Company, Cinemax is launching respectable series in 2014, like The Knick, a drama starring Clive Owen that’s directed by Steven Soderbergh.

“The hope is that I don’t hear ‘Skinemax’ any time after our original programming starts to really takeover the (lineup)” Lombardo told Variety.

It’s hard to remember that long before it carried Emmy winning shows like Weeds and Nurse Jackie, Showtime was also softcore porn central. Boardwalk Empire-classy HBO featured its own set of smuttier fare in the early days of pay-cable.

And then came the internet, technology that would forever revolutionize the activities of our daily life, not least of which the way we masturbate.

In 2011, one-third of Time Warner Cable Inc.’s $14 million drop in revenue was credited to the “shrinkage in the adult category” (feel free to fill in your own pun) reported Sam Schecner and Jessica E. Vascellaro at the Wall Street Journal. Even Playboy Enterprises Inc., which includes the far more explicit Spice and Playboy TV, fell from $75.8 million in 2007 to $44.4 million in 2010. In 2010, television and telecommunications companies brought in $899 million in revenue from adult films, “down from a peak of $1 billion in 2008.”

It’s no shocker that internet has completely stolen cable’s thunder when it comes to porn, but has it also altered porn’s landscape? There are many, many flavors of porn online, but the kind that is easiest and cheapest to access is graphic, hardcore porn that is worlds away from what was shown on Cinemax and (formerly) the like.

Grobat reminisces that the porn on Cinemax was more innocent and thoughtful, at least in comparison to what's out there now:

Skinemax movies were created to arouse and titillate, but the ratio of skin to script always hovered around 50/50 (OK, maybe 60/40). It was, in retrospect, quaint. There was no doubt what the purpose of these movies was, but like the earlier film era of porn captured in Boogie Nights, there was still at least some effort made to create a plot with some characters in it. [Businessweek]

With the demise of cable porn, wither the soft-core genre?

It's actually pretty ubiquitous still on premium cable networks; just don't expect to find it labeled "porn." Sexual acts considered softcore are already featured in critically-acclaimed series like Game of Thrones, True Blood and Masters of Sex. “The softcore fare that established Cinemax is tame by comparison to some of what can be seen in originals on HBO and other pay TV channels,” writes Brian Steinberg at Variety. So even though Cinemax has explicitly ditched After Dark, it's safe to assume there will still be plenty of explicit scenes on the channel.

There just may not be a market for softcore porn on its own, however. And that, writes Sean O’Neal at the A.V. Club is “news sure to produce a lot of balled-up tissues that are actually filled with tears for once.”

Recommended

Kourtney Kardashian and Travis Barker are engaged
Travis Barker and Kourtney Kardashian.
love kardashian style

Kourtney Kardashian and Travis Barker are engaged

Succession seems to think it's still 2019
Brian Cox.
Picture of Jeva LangeJeva Lange

Succession seems to think it's still 2019

The daily gossip: October 15, 2021
Hannah Gadsby.
Daily gossip

The daily gossip: October 15, 2021

An ode to Adele's hands
Adele.
Picture of Jeva LangeJeva Lange

An ode to Adele's hands

Most Popular

The American 'Great Resignation' by the numbers
Help wanted sign
Help Wanted

The American 'Great Resignation' by the numbers

Madonna makes Jimmy Fallon sweat, remove coat in 'disturbed' interview
Jimmy Fallon and Madonna
'Life is not just about interviewing kitties'

Madonna makes Jimmy Fallon sweat, remove coat in 'disturbed' interview

Queen expresses irritation with world leaders talk but 'don't do' on climate change
Queen Elizabeth II
God Save the Green

Queen expresses irritation with world leaders talk but 'don't do' on climate change