Revisiting Showtime’s ‘Red Shoe Diaries’

 David Duchovny-narrated soft focus sexcapades for the MTV generation.

9 1/2 Weeks creator Zalman King’s long-running, late-night series of glossy, soft-core films blending erotica and fantasy was prefigured by a made-for-TV movie, Wild Orchid III: Red Shoe Diaries. Brigitte Bako starred as Alex, an interior designer who was involved with two men, her fiancee Jake (David Duchovny) and blue-collar worker Tom. Following her suicide, Jake comes upon secret diaries where she chronicled her infidelities. This launched the format of the Showtime TV series – as Jake sought to heal his broken heart by reading the secret diaries of other females to gain insight into what Alex had done, by placing an ongoing newspaper ad to acquire the stories.

Executive producer David Saunders said of the series’ genesis: “Zalman and I and Zalman and [Zalman’s wife] Pat came up with the storyline for Red Shoe Diaries to be a pilot film to set the story and tone for a series to follow. Zalman, to his great credit, realized that it wouldn’t do to just make a movie as a pilot that would then explain the series. We needed to produce, at the same time, a small number of episodes of the series. Not only could we present that to Showtime, but we could also build the audience. Showtime agreed. They agreed to put up half of the budget of the movie and four episodes. We did this with Mark Damon who then went and pre-sold the movie as a movie in the international market based on the success of Wild Orchid. That completed the finances for a movie and four episodes.”

David Duchovny later recalled; “My brother was a commercial director, and he knew Zalman. That’s maybe why Zalman called him in. I had done Twin Peaks, New Years Day, Beethoven and Ruby, but I was pretty much just starting out.”

Each of the 30-minute ‘women’s-oriented’ episodes (66 in total) was taken from a woman’s secret diary that was narrated by Jake. He solicited the secret diaries of women who harboured secrets or were the victims of secrets. Most of the episodic plots involved the sexual awakening of a female.

While the performances were often variable, with the cast an odd roster of talent (most either on their way up or down the career ladder, from former Bond girl Maryam D’Abo to a pre-Friends Matt Le Blanc), and the storytelling ranges from corny to contrived, it has a certain kitsch value with its stilted melodrama, MTV style soft-focus soft-porn (more titillating than explicit) and the early nineties fashions.

More significantly, The Red Shoes Diaries deserves some credit in that it presents almost everything from a female perspective and attempts to give us a woman’s point of view on sexual issues, notably BDSM themes, at the same time Virgin Books’ Black Lace range of erotic fiction written by and for (mostly straight) women became its most successful line.

In a 2011 interview, Zalman King, told Peter Lehman: “The entire series was directed at women. Men watched it because it was sexy, but consistently it was about relationships and it was about women struggling with their identity and having romance. I don’t know why, but I do try to speak to women. I think maybe I do this because there is very little for them in terms of cinema and in terms of this “high romance.”

Saunders: “We weren’t interested in making porn. We wanted to make erotic movies with good stories that looked great, were well-acted, and that concerned women as well as men.”

After years in the pop culture wilderness, Red Shoe Diaries received the ultimate accolade when it was referenced in an episode of the none-more-geeky cult sitcom Community, in the 2010 episode ‘Romantic Expressionism’.

On June 17, 2014, Kino Lorber released Season One on DVD in Region 1 for the very first time. On the same day they also re-released Red Shoe Diaries – The Movie.

 James Gent is the Editor of We Are Cult, and is the co-editor of Me and the Starman, (Chinbeard Books, 2019) Available in paperback from Amazon: All profits from this book go toward supporting the work of Cancer Research UK.

Become a patron at Patreon!