For a certain brand of teen in the ’90s, the Red Shoe Diaries was a gateway to small-screen erotica: Skinemax before there was Skinemax—on Showtime, actually. In 1992, Showtime was mainly rebroadcasting wide-release movies; its original programming was primarily known for the It’s Garry Shandling’s Show. Enter Zalman King and Patricia Knop, the husband-and-wife team behind such steamy film treks as 9 1/2 Weeks and Wild Orchid, with a plan to bring all that passion, filmy lighting, and food fetishism to cable TV.
An extensive oral history on MEL Magazine outlines the transition, explaining why star David Duchovny started off every episode reading those diaries sent to him by random randy women. Duchovny had starred in the 1992 Red Shoes Diary movie, playing a man whose girlfriend kills herself. After her death, he discovers her diary, where she chronicled a secret erotic life he knew nothing about. So he begins to solicit similar stories from other women in an attempt to solve this gaping mystery now at the center of his life. And, of course, to hit the 65 episodes required for syndication in the process.
Duchovny was in the early stages of his career at the time. “Ultimately, I could have told myself many things, but I needed a job,” he says. “I wasn’t being offered a bunch of stuff. It was, ‘Wow, a job!’” Zalman King was, unfortunately, a hothead as a director, so much so that Brigitte Bako, who played Duchovny’s girlfriend in the original movie, says, “It goes down in history as one of the worst experiences of my life.”
But King was apparently striving for high standards to bring these steamy stories to late-night Showtime. “We weren’t interested in making porn,” says another crew member. “We wanted to make erotic movies with good stories that looked great, were well-acted, and that concerned women as well as men.” Besides the intriguing story behind the series’ production, the oral history contains various other strange factoids, like the time Stanley Kubrick asked for some episodes before filming Eyes Wide Shut, or the fact that Duchovny’s character’s faithful companion—his dog—had its own secret:
The only time I would have been on set with other actors was when I was with the dog. That dog had capped teeth. I don’t want to let the cat out of the bag here. I was like, “These teeth are really white and big.” The trainer said, “They’re caps.” I was like, “Wow, Hollywood!”