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Ratings War Brings Sex, Nudity to Brazilian Prime Time

August 26, 1990 GMT

RIO DE JANEIRO, Brazil (AP) _ Brazilian television, which was pretty steamy already, is filling prime time with nudity and semi-explicit sex in a network ratings battle.

Viewers have been favored with such wonders as an all-nude rock band and a near-complete striptease.

What many call the TV Sex War has inspired heated debate of electronic eroticism and how much is too much.

″The pornographic use of nudity is indecent, but nudity in itself is innocent,″ said Darcy Ribeiro, anthropologist and former education minister. ″The ancient Greeks performed acts far more indecent than anything seen on local TV.″


It all started in April when Manchete TV, Brazil’s third-largest network, launched the prime-time soap opera ″Pantanal″ about a wealthy ranching family in the vast Pantanal wetlands of central Brazil.

Manchete had an instant smash. For the first time, its ratings surpassed those of Globo TV, the leading network and the world’s fourth-largest after ABC, CBS and NBC of the United States.

″Pantanal,″ broadcast six nights a week and scheduled to run through December, has an excellent cast and features breathtaking views of the wetlands.

Was it the scenery that attracted huge audiences and started the whole country talking? Not a chance. It was near-explicit love scenes, the penchant of female stars for bathing in the river, the total frontal nude of an underwater swimmer in the opening credits.

As Manchete celebrated its success, Globo counterattacked with a week of steamy, uncut movies running opposite the soap opera.

Globo also unveiled, literally, popular star Claudia Raia during a beach scene in its own prime-time soap opera ″Queen of the Junk Yard,″ which runs just before ″Pantanal.″

Other networks joined in.

Silvio Santos, owner of SBT, the second-largest, broadcast a series of literary adaptions as an alternative to the racy fare of other channels, and said later: ″We had the worst audience ratings in the nine years of SBT.″

A University of Sao Paulo survey in late June counted 1,145 displays of nudity and 276 scenes of explicit or implict sex in one week of television.

Some viewers are outraged.

″We are not voyeurs, we are normal people,″ Ana Conceicao of Rio wrote to a major newspaper. ″The scenes being shown are so raw that explicit sex will soon be broadcast into our homes.″

Romeu Trussardi Filho, head of the Commercial Association of Sao Paulo, accused the networks of ″opportunism to generate higher ratings and greater profit opportunities.″

Justice Minister Bernardo Cabral has scheduled a meeting in early September with station owners, writers, soap opera stars and religious officials to discuss creation of a television code of ethics.

Most Brazilians seem to like the spice.

A survey by the newspaper Folha de Sao Paulo found 83 percent of those questioned felt ″comfortable″ with the nude scenes in ″Pantanal,″ 13 percent were ″embarrassed when watching with others″ and 4 percent were ″embarrassed when watching alone.″

Most said they wanted as many or more nude scenes.

″The public likes the sex and nudity,″ said Marta Suplicy, a psychoanalyst and author of several books on sex and culture. ″Most people have boring lives and enjoy watching others have a good time.″

Brazilians are used to exposed bodies, in minuscule ″tanga″ bikinis on the beaches or at the wild Carnival holiday before Lent, but eroticism on television was limited until a new constitution abolished all censorship in 1988.

Coverage of Carnival heated up immediately and the Justice Ministry asked networks to exercise restraint in live broadcasts of semi-nude samba dancers at private clubs.

Rosemarie Muraro, a prominent writer and feminist, said television merely reflects the way most Brazilians view sex and sexuality.

″People here are much more comfortable with their bodies than in Anglo- Saxon countries,″ she said. ″No one even notices the skimpy bikinis on Copacabana beach.″

She advocated more male nudity. Most of the bare scenes on television feature women.

Ms. Muraro said her one concern about sex on television was that it might increase the rate of teen pregnancy.

Mrs. Suplicy, the psychoanalyst, said gratuitous sex scenes ″reaffirm a macho culture and sexist stereotypes,″ and could harm younger viewers.

″No country in the world exposes its children to the same level of eroticism″ on television as Brazil, she said. ″Seven-year-old girls think about nothing but romance and seducing boys.″

The ratings battle, like the debate, rages on.

In late July, Globo presented ″Skid Row,″ a mystery with the fully exposed form of actress-model Silvia Pfeifer as its main attraction.

Manchete struck back with ″The Song of the Mermaids,″ a near-plotless revelation of the bare breasts of three other actress-models.

Critics panned ″Mermaids,″ including one who said: ″If the show is any guide, Homer’s Ulysses did not plug the ears of his brave sailors to protect them from the mermaids’ enchanting song. It was to spare them from the stupidities they spouted.″

The public felt otherwise. ″Mermaids″ crushed ″Skid Row″ in viewer polls.