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How Gigolos, the reality show with sex scenes, has evolved

How Gigolos, the reality show with sex scenes, has evolved
Ash, Brad, and Nick and several poles in an image from Gigolos' fifth season. (Photo by Josh Caine/Showtime)

More than five years ago, Nick Hawk was an aspiring actor living in Los Angeles. He was studying acting and going on casting calls, in addition to working for a relatively new web site, Cowboys4Angels, which says it offers “straight elite male companions for women.” When he heard about Showtime’s Gigolos, which was going to film the lives of some of those companions, he was interested but “all my reps said you can’t do reality and you can’t do adult, and it was both.”

He ultimately agreed, seeing the potential for a “Showtime series in a starring role.” He also started thinking about “how I was going to capitalize on it, though he admitted, “I didn’t know what the hell I was getting into, that’s for sure.”

Five years and six seasons later, though, Gigolos enduring popularity means he’s gone from doing one- or two-hour escort bookings once or twice a month to requiring a four-hour minimum on weekdays and an overnight minimum on weekends. Like other reality stars, he’s also turned his fame into products: he’s producing his own music (including a new track called “Breakin’ a Sweat,” which is a reference to his tagline on the show that he doesn’t remember ever saying) and said he’s working on two books to share his advice about life. Those and other pursuits are detailed at nickhawkexplicit.com and his business ExplicitStrippers.com; during an interview, he said, “feel free to give that a shoutout.”

He’s gotten more than just publicity, though. The process of being interviewed for the show, “being asked millions and milioons of questions multiple times, makes you think,” he told me. “Without the show I don’t think I’d be anywhere near the point where I could create a book for someone to help improve their life.”

Life lessons from a reality show about straight male escorts in Las Vegas? Indeed, and even one of its executive producers has learned something from the men whose lives he films. Like the women who seek out the, uh, company of the men, Gigolos may present itself one way on the surface, but there’s more to it than its first impression.

Finding balance on Gigolos

Since its first season, Gigolos has had comedic moments, but it has moved more toward the comedy throughout the years. Sometimes that’s in the interaction between the men and their clients; sometimes it’s the hilariously Housewives-ish things the guys say; and sometimes it’s the editing creating humor out of situations not normally found on a cable reality series. In this new season’s second episode, two men have sex with two women in adjacent, open-doored bedrooms, while the 1812 Overture plays and the editing cuts dramatically between the two couplings.

That lightheartedness has helped to draw viewers. Nick told me that some fans will tell him that his “music sucks, and talk shit about it, but everyone likes the show.” He thinks that’s because “it’s a comedy, it makes you laugh.”

Gigolos executive producer Jay Blumenfield told me, “we’ve found a nice balance over the past few seasons, and I feel especially this one, where we’re all comfortable with each other, and there’s a level of trust, and I think people are a little more open with who they really are.”

Blumenfield admits, however, that “the nature of doing a show like this is always going to be tough. You’re trying to show real human intimate moments, and you’re trying to show them as honestly as you can, and it’s not that easy. There’s still the contrivance that there’s cameras,” he told me.

Nick agreed, saying that, “Early on I tried to play a character somewhat, what I knew from being around the industry,” he said. “I had a lot going through my head in the beginning—I don’t want to fuck up. In the beginning it was, but now, I’ve learned to conquer that and control it.”

Now, while there are camera crews filming his dates and sexual interaction with women, he said, “I forget the cameras are there most of the time.”

Performing, sexually, for cameras

So how, exactly, are the sex scenes filmed? And how is this all legal? First, like most reality television cast members, the stars of the show are paid by the production for their appearances on television—which include more than just their dates, but also Real Housewives-ish meetings where they talk about their lives and their loves.

Their company, Cowboys4Angels, works with the show’s producers to find women who not only are seeking an escort, but are okay with appearing on camera. When a woman is cast, essentially, her travel is paid for, and she’s given a per diem, but she’s otherwise not paid nor is she paying for her time with one of the guys.

“They’re not paid to have sex; it’s very strict in the paperwork,” Blumenfield said. “There’s no money that’s exchanged. We’re basically shooting a date; sometimes it ends in sex and sometimes it doesn’t, and we’re covering. Never have we filmed or seen money exchanged for sex.”

The interaction is pretty typical. Nick insisted that “nothing’s set up; these are legitimate clients who have contacted Garren [James, Cowboys4Angels’ owner,] to book us.” The dates he has on Gigolos are, however, “the more interesting, more adventurous people. At the beginning they would bring on just about anyone, because it was fairly challenging to get anyone” to agree to be on camera, but now there are more options. “In my normal gigolo life, most of my clients are pretty normal,” Nick told me. “We go to dinner, we go to a show. We’re not doing all this wild crazy shit, most of the time.”

Early in the show’s life, the fact that the men were straight and their clients were women led some to question its reality—or just laugh at how absurd that sounds. But Blumenfield says that the show has perhaps helped break that taboo: “Why can’t a woman come to Vegas and enjoy herself?”

For those scenes when the couples are enjoying themselves, Blumenfield says producers and their crews try to be as unobtrusive as possible. Nick Hawk said he was surprised by how hands-off the producers were: “They don’t say shit, they just let us go. They won’t even say anything when I talk to them.”

Blumenfield told me, “We try to shoot as far as away as we can,” such as through doorways or using long lenses and locked-off GoPro cameras. One or two cameras might be in the room, which has been set up with mics, while producers will frequently create a makeshift control room next door with monitors to keep the production out of the way. “We stand back and let it go. Of course, once in a while, something goes wrong, or a camera goes down. But the more we can melt away, the more real it can be,” he said.

There is one occasion when producers intrude, though. Blumenfield said, “The only thing I’ve had to do is walk in once in a while and say, Look, just so you know, you don’t have to go crazy and moan for us. If that’s how you’re feeling, go for it—we’re not making a porn here, just be yourself. Be yourself; forget we’re here. Usually that relaxes them and they stop trying to act like a porn star.”

While the sex is graphic, it isn’t porn; there isn’t visible penetration, and strategic camera angles often cover body parts—though various parts are sometimes shown. I asked Blumenfield if there was a specific guideline about what can and can’t be included, and he said, “It shifts a little. I don’t think there’s a rule book. I definitely think we try to walk the line: It’s Showtime, it’s pay cable, you see things on pay cable. There’s also lines where we don’t we be making porno.”

What Gigolos is about beyond the sex

Despite its subject matter, Gigolos deals with the same kinds of issues as all unscripted shows.

“In any show where there’s real people and there’s cameras pointing at them, there’s going to be a level of guardedness, even when it feels very natural. And in some shows, the people start to act like their own character,” Blumenfield told me. “I think somehow on this season we broke through even that wall. Everybody’s just being themselves and being really honest—as much as you can.”

“That’s one of the problems with unscripted television: people start to believe their own hype. With this cast, because it’s such a strange thing to try to document, I think early on everybody’s just got their guard up. Through years of making the show, for us earning each others’ trust, I think everybody could just be themselves—as much as one can while they’re being watched.”

Blumenfield said that shift has given him new perspective.

“I felt like I learned a lot about the human condition this season, and also, at the same time, without getting too fucking pretentious, when everybody’s more relaxed, we’re all having more fun. Part of what we always wanted to get across in this show was the comedy of life and sex and all of that, and not take it overly seriously. Really, in real life, sex and intimacy can be intense, but it can also be very funny. We’ve all laughed at when things go wrong in the bedroom. I don’t think anyone really talks about that, and so that’s what we’ve been trying to do: just show those honest moments.”

While he admits that the sex scenes are “the loudest part,” Gigolos would also work as a show without the sex. “I really focus on the stories and the relatability,” Blumenfield told me. “Sometimes we’ll cut a version that’s G-rated, just in case they ever need to sell it to an airline or something like that. I’ve seen the show cut so it could air on E!, basically, and it’s just as compelling. Would it work on pay cable, probably not, because you want a little of that titillation. But the stories are all intact, and when you actually cut out the graphic stuff, it’s not that much. Everybody gets distracted by the fact that there’s nudity.”

The sex is distracting, even for new members of the production crew. “The mistake everybody makes when they talk about the show, and people when they start to work on the show, is that they lead with the sex because it’s so noisy. But that’s boring after 30 seconds; if you lead with that, it won’t work,” he said.

“Is there a way to make a show about sex that’s positive, that goes away from stereotype, that makes people more open and able to enjoy their own sex lives? I’m not saying we’ve done half of that, but we’re at least trying.”

“We” refers to Blumenfield and his producing partner Jay Marsh, who together produce The Jay and Tony Show Show podcast, on which they talk more candidly and more publicly about the unscripted industry than others in Hollywood. More than once on the podcast, Blumenfield has mentioned that he’s learned things from the guys Gigolos follows—guys whose dates or sexual partners might not be people they’re automatically attracted to.

That lesson, Jay said, is that “there’s something attractive about everybody, and you’ve just got to find it.”

“One of the things, when Tony and I talk about television, we like to stay passionate while we’re working. We don’t want the industry to beat us down. Sometimes you’re working on a show that feels like it’s not working or the network’s just ruining it or whatever, but you want us to stay passionate, you don’t want to give up. I take that same thing: What do I like about the show? Let me focus on that,” he said.

“I don’t ever want to be making TV if I’m not passionate and I’m not produce something great,” he added. “Yes, something great—even in reality TV, even when making a show about male escorts.”

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About the author

  • Andy Dehnart is the creator of reality blurred and a writer and teacher who obsessively and critically covers reality TV and unscripted entertainment, focusing on how it’s made and what it means.

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