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When I was a kid there was a show called Love, American Style, and that was only on once a week, but it was the same kind of idea, with three storylines intercut.
So, people getting undressed to get into bed, people getting undressed as they get out of bed, or people in the act of lovemaking.
And there would be three stories that would bracket MTV’s age group, so that every episode would have one teenage story, one college story, and one post-college story.
Neil Landau (head writer, season 1-2): It’s what’s called a strip show: You take a story, break it down into small pieces, and edit it together so it can run over five nights.
C.’s Adam Brody, One Tree Hill’s Chad Michael Murray, New Girl’s Max Greenfield, Buffy the Vampire Slayer’s Marc Blucas, Battlestar Galactica’s Katie Sackhoff, Marvel’s The Agents of S. Roland Joffé (creator and co-executive producer): I’d lived in America for some time, and I just began to feel like Americans, particularly the young people, had no real language for expressing their questions about human sexuality.
It either was approached in a rather kind of cold scientific way, or it was ignored, or it was seen as sleazy.
There was no way in which one could really deal with the topic in a way that I thought was interesting and freeing.
And I was just thinking about that and thinking, “Gosh, that’s what television should be doing.” Dale Roy Robinson (co-executive producer, seasons 1-5): Roland Joffé wanted to change the sexual mores of American television, and MTV wanted to make a show where kids took their shirts off in the first 20 seconds.
MTV’s Undressed, with its distinctive opening credits sequence featuring porn-y bow-chicka-bow-bow music and hot young things floating in cut-out circles across the screen, aired five nights a week from 1999 to 2002. August Richards, the 2004 movie Superman’s Brandon Routh, Parenthood’s Jason Ritter, The League’s Katie Aselton and Saturday Night Live’s Taran Killam, among many others (see this video for glimpses of Sackhoff, Brody, and Greenfield — can you spot any others? But the show provided a jumping-off point for writers, too.
The low-budget scripted comedy took a light-hearted, open-minded look at the sex lives of teenagers and young adults. Staffers who went on to later success as TV showrunners include Damon Lindelof (Lost), Steven S.
The oddity of Undressed — other than its creator being English-French filmmaker Roland Joffé, the two-time Oscar nominee who directed decidedly unsexy 1984 weeper The Killing Fields — was that its cast and plot were constantly turning over: Each episode contained three separate stories, and each individual story unfolded in short bursts over multiple episodes. De Knight (Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Spartacus), Jennifer Johnson (Alcatraz), Erin Ehrlich (Awkward), and Lizzy Weiss (Switched at Birth).
The show is best-remembered now as having been a launching pad for hundreds of young actors: Mad Men’s Christina Hendricks, The O. As our week of micro oral histories nears its conclusion, Vulture goes inside the writers’ room to hear how they managed to put the provocative show together on a shoestring.