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Vivid's 25th Anniversary: How Steven Hirsch's Company Thrust Porn Into Mainstream America

Meet the man behind the brand

Vivid's 25th Anniversary: How Steven Hirsch's Company Thrust Porn Into Mainstream America

Vivid is America’s porn studio—the best known, most trusted video brand in adult entertainment. Starting 25 years ago, they changed not so much the way adult movies were made but, more crucially, the way they were marketed.

A quarter of a century has passed since Steven Hirsch, a 23-year-old video salesman, eager for a new take on the way porn was presented to the public, set up Vivid Video with partner David James and released his first movie, Ginger.

Today Vivid is the most recognizable name in adult video; Playboy, Penthouse and Hustler are huge, potent brands but their fame comes from publishing; the general public knows more about their magazines than their video lines.

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Larry Flynt’s beautiful LFP high-rise looms over corporate Wilshire Boulevard in Beverly Hills, but Vivid’s compact building nestles snugly in entertainment land, across the freeway from Universal Studios, just up the street from the Hollywood Bowl. Vivid is just as much a part of Americans’ leisure-time diversion options as those institutions.

The building’s hard-to-miss logo shows that Vivid Video has morphed into Vivid Entertainment Group, and that change speaks volumes. The company now bestrides the whole world of adult entertainment: DVDs, VoD, online membership sites, hotels, mobile content, a novelty line via Doc Johnson and on the horizon, IPTV.

Christian Mann, Evil Angel’s general manager, is a close friend of Hirsch’s but also a keen observer of the porn industry, and few would argue with his assessment:

“Vivid changed forever the way adult material is marketed,” Mann enthuses. “They are the trendsetters. They tend to copy mainstream entertainment, mainstream business principles, mainstream graphic arts and advertising principles. Then, a lot of people in the adult business copy them.”

Adds Vivid’s longtime, purposely anonymous Creative Director, “I really think Vivid will go down in history as the company that changed adult. It was more influential in the world of adult during this 25-year period than any other company.”

Family Business
For Hirsch, porn was the family business. He worked as a salesman for his father, Fred Hirsch, who produced 8mm stag films. Young Steven helped to put them in boxes for mail order. When AVC jumped into home video, he would feed the VHS (and some Beta) duplicating machines.

Then he got a sales job at Cal Vista, a major studio in the ’80s, where he was mentored by adult pioneer Sidney Niekirk and Jack Gallagher. As he traveled the country, “selling and learning,” he got a sense of the porn consumer market and saw it was wide open and receptive for something new.

At Cal Vista he met David James, his first partner. “He was sort of overseeing the warehouse and the mail-order division, and I was overseeing the wholesale division,” Hirsch says. The two young men decided that, basically, “we had a better way of skinning the cat.”

They started their own company, Vivid Video, aiming “to be unique and separate ourselves from the rest of the industry.

“We wanted to focus on a girl, not just some innocuous movie title,” Hirsch says. “There were two huge stars at the time: Ginger Lynn and Traci Lords. Fortunately, we chose the right one. We focused on Ginger, and she was the first Vivid Girl.

“That was another thing we wanted to do. If we promoted this girl and made a lot of movies with her, we wanted her not to work for anybody else. It just made sense to me: Why should somebody else publicize a movie with her based on my marketing?”

Ginger, the first Vivid movie, released on December 19, 1984, was a smash hit, despite the fact that it was just an average adult video at that time. It debuted at No. 1 on the Film World Reports sales chart, then the industry standard. “That was exciting to us. We felt like, wow, we’re really on to something here.”

Even at the beginning, Hirsch was extraordinarily focused on what he wanted to achieve. “People often ask me, did you think it would get to the point where it is today? Yeah! That’s why we were doing it; that was the idea. We didn’t ever want to sit back and be just another adult company,” Hirsch says.

As a youngster among grizzled porn industry veterans, Hirsch felt the flak from those who considered him to be some kind of interloper.

“I remember people saying that we were a one-trick pony,” Hirsch says. “People said a lot of things about us when we started.”

Many agreed with VCA owner Russ Hampshire, who called Hirsch “a weekend wonder. He makes a movie on Friday, he edits it on Saturday, he duplicates it on Sunday, puts it out on Monday—and he’s trying to collect the money on Tuesday.”

“That was his take,” Hirsch laughs. “And then eventually Russ and I had a great relationship, still do. We joke about it to this day.”

Birth of the Vivid Girl
A more pressing question, Hirsch says, was, “’What happens when there’s no more Ginger? He got lucky, he hit on a star, but she’s not going to make movies forever.’ The truth is she only made 14 movies during her entire Vivid Girl career. And when we were done with Ginger, we had to look for something else, and that’s when we came up with the series The Brat [1986], and Jamie Summers.”

Vivid was not the very first to have an actress perform for them exclusively (Marilyn Chambers did it for the Mitchell Brothers in her early years), but they were the first to turn that exclusivity into a brand: The Vivid Girl.

After Ginger and Jamie came another actress, Barbara Dare, who had made a few adult movies, most notably for Essex Video, followed by the already popular Christy Canyon, who signed on in 1990 and stayed until she retired from performing in 1998.

“I was a star when I went to Vivid for my contract,” Canyon recalls, “and I left porno films a superstar because of Vivid. I thank my lucky stars every day that I was signed with such a great company. In my opinion anything after Vivid is all downhill.”

So far, 70 young women have been Vivid Girls. They’ve included not just girl-next-door blondes in the Ginger mold but also African-Americans (Heather Hunter, Taya), Asians (Kobe Tai, Asia Carrera), Latinas (Sky, Mercedez), Europeans (Dasha, Diedre Holland), Canadians (Lanny Barby), an American Indian (Hyapatia Lee) and an Indian-American (Sunny Leone).

Some, frankly, were flash-in-the-pan disappointments (anyone remember upset Best New Starlet winner Jennifer Stewart?). Others immediately entered the porn star pantheon: Janine, Savannah, Julia Ann, Taylor Hayes, Nikki Dial, Racquel Darrian, Dyanna Lauren, Briana Banks. Even superstars Jenna Jameson and Tera Patrick became pseudo Vivid Girls via their companies’ distribution deals with Vivid (Club Jenna and Teravision, respectively).

Today the active members of his exclusive sorority include Savanna Samson, Sunny Leone, Meggan Mallone, Nikki Jayne and AJ Bailey, whose first Vivid movie was released in August.

A Brand Is Born
On the third Ginger movie, Ginger’s Private Party, Hirsch made perhaps the most far-reaching alliance of his career. He hired a designer from mainstream advertising who, Hirsch says, had “a totally different take on what a box cover should look like.”

(Since he continues to work in the mainstream and has never revealed his name to the general public, this designer shall be referred to here as the Creative Director.)

This new one-man creative department had “absolutely no connection with the adult business, didn’t particularly have an interest in the product, but we had a lot of experience making girls look beautiful—for cosmetic companies, casinos, car companies.

“Because we didn’t know any of the rules,” the Creative Director continues, “we just created a whole new genre of adult packaging. It was very widely followed, but Vivid led the way.”

Howard Levine, who started in sales at Vivid in 1990, and after a brief hiatus is once again sales manager, recalls that “Vivid’s boxes, and the girls that worked for Steven, had something about them. … You’d look at this box and it was hard to believe that girl was really in the movie.”

The Creative Director is not shy about assessing his style’s influence. “With the advent of VHS, Vivid changed the way the world sees adult,” he claims. “Before Vivid, the packaging was just very seedy and non-mainstream, not conceptual at all. But we made these boxes thematic and beautifully shot, and your wife could pick it up and look at it and not be embarrassed. That never happened before. It was really the beginning of the mainstreaming of adult.”

After Ginger’s Private Party, this design approach dominated the company marketing: “all the concepts, every billboard, every show campaign—everything you ever saw from Vivid came from us. There’s never been a break in the continuity.” And the main person responsible, the Creative Director notes, “is fundamentally the same as it was on day one, 25 years ago. It’s me.”

Over the years, the Creative Director worked with a few different designers and photographers. Since 1992 his photographer of choice has been B. Skow. Formerly an assistant to fashion photographer William Hawkes, Skow shot the boxes for the first few years.

“I’ve done all the key photography for them since 1992,” Skow says. “Every single billboard that was ever done by Vivid, I shot. Every single box cover, every ad. Pretty much every time you saw a professionally shot photo of a Vivid Girl, I shot it. I’m working on 17 years now.” He also began directing for Vivid in 2004 and is now one of their two main directors, along with Paul Thomas.

While other studios’ box cover styles remained static, Vivid’s kept changing with the times, thanks to the Creative Director’s finger on the pulse of the media.

“We were actively emulating and reflecting all the trends in mainstream high-end design,” the Creative Director says. “When you would see an incredible photo layout in Vanity Fair that was using a certain type of film with a tungsten filter that was shot with daylight lighting, you would see it on a Vivid box a month later.”

Playboy and PT
Just after Vivid signed Barbara Dare, they were approached by Playboy to make feature movies for the fledgling Playboy Channel. “They had never shown adult movies before,” Hirsch says, “but they were looking to showcase them. So we made a deal with them.”

Playboy insisted that everything be shot on film. At a time when even the biggest companies were shooting features on video, this immediately set Vivid apart.

Hirsch says that Playboy “liked how we were branding ourselves, the fact that we had exclusive girls, and that we had the ability to shoot on film, although we really didn’t at that point, just sort of.” The first movie, starring Dare, was Behind Closed Doors. It aired on Playboy in 1990. “The quality wasn’t great but we started to learn how to properly shoot on film and to give Playboy what they were looking for.

“We still give them movies every month. Our output deal lasts for a little over two more years, into 2011,” Hirsch says.

The director of Behind Closed Doors was actor Paul Thomas—PT, as he’s known in the industry—who had actually performed in Vivid’s first movie. Thomas later formed a partnership with Ron Sullivan (Henri Pachard), “he as director, me as producer, and we did six or more shows for Vivid.” Even though he was “determined not to direct,” Thomas took over from Sullivan as director for Vivid.

Thomas had already established a relationship with Playboy with successful features for other companies like VCA and Western Visuals. But Vivid was his main account. Starting with Little Shop of Whores, Thomas says he “did two shows a month for Vivid as their director, every single month—this is unbelievable—from 1986 to 2008.”

According to Thomas, when movies he made elsewhere (such as VCA’s Beauty and the Beast) started winning awards, Hirsch, “impressed by my work and the possibilities of it,” put him under exclusive contract.

“I had a very mainstream approach to my directing from the beginning,” Thomas says. “I was very big on the possibilities of cable. Steve saw the logic in that, in pushing the product to have almost a mainstream sheen to it, so that our cable life would be as strong as it could.”

According to Thomas, it was when Vivid upped the budgets on his projects that he began producing the kind of well-scripted (by writers like Raven Touchstone), character-driven dramas that brought prestige to the company. Movies like The Masseuse, Veil, Bad Wives and his own personal favorite, Bobby Sox (“the most clever, most entertaining, most original movie I made there,” Thomas says).
More than any other director, Thomas put his personal stamp on Vivid’s features, along the way adding a slew of AVN Awards to the studio’s trophy case. He thinks that’s what is expected of him. “Steve handed me a very, very lucrative contract, and I felt it incumbent upon me to perform for him.”

Thomas says Hirsch knows when to interfere and when to leave him alone. “This is not a lovey-dovey, warm, stroking relationship we have,” he admits. “There’s a definite edge to it. Steve is a taskmaster who is constantly pulling the reins and cracking the whip, demanding the very best.

“And that dynamic has gotten the best out of me,” Thomas says. “Because I am a conceited, arrogant son of a bitch, sometimes without reason, I can count on Steve to cut me down to size.”

Building the Team
In October 1992 Hirsch made a crucial addition to his staff, his older sister Marci. Having worked with their father, she was comfortable with the adult business. After attending the University of Nevada-Las Vegas, she signed on with Vivid, taking on the job of dealing with Adam & Eve, the huge mail-order operation, a major Vivid customer.

She was soon in charge of scheduling releases and other important duties.

“Right now I oversee the productions, not a hands-on thing,” Marci says. “I look at budgets, I look at scripts, I have nothing to do with booking talents or locations. The production manager and the directors take care of that. I still deal with Adam & Eve, I deal with all the people who put our movies in hotels. I obviously work with the girls. I do licensing and parties. And then, just at the end of last year, I took over all of the VoD. I work with all the VoD providers, make sure they’re getting screeners, that we have good placement, that they get interviews with the girls. …

“Over the years there have been girls who’ve been a lot easier than others. I think they like working with me. I’m not as easy as Steven. I’m more of the bad guy sometimes when there’s a problem. It can be very challenging. I think having my own children has helped me, because I find myself mothering a lot of the time. Plus, I don’t have daughters.”

“The girls’ schedules, if they’re doing parties or personal appearances or bookstores, signings, I deal with that,” Marci Hirsch says. Sharing other duties as Vivid Girl wrangler is Shylar Cobi, another key team member. Signing on in 1995 as a production assistant on sets, he became production manager in 1999 and has produced every movie since then.

“I work with any of the directors that come through Vivid, I deal with the talent, the Vivid Girls mostly, I deal with finding the location, hiring the crew, getting everybody to the set, paying everybody,” Cobi says. “These days it’s a little different than back when we had full crews. Nowadays we do everything, I even shoot camera now, ’cause the crews are so small now and our budgets have shrunk so much since then.”

In addition to Thomas and B. Skow, Vivid directors have included Bruce Seven, Henri Pachard, Ren Savant, David Stanley, Chi Chi LaRue, Eli Cross, Bud Lee, Ralph Parfait and others.

“I enjoy working for PT because I can pretend we’re real filmmakers,” Cobi relates. “He likes to tell a story, and it really feels like we’re making a movie, rather than just shooting content. It makes my drive home at the end of the day better. It feels like I accomplished something socially valuable.”

The Billboard Moment
A major turning point in Vivid’s ascent to America’s Porn Company came in 1996 in the form of a billboard on Sunset Boulevard in West Hollywood.

“The billboard on Sunset was a big deal,” Hirsch says. “That was the first time that any adult company had done anything like that.” It had perfect position: right over the Tower Video store, placing the company firmly within the context of the mainstream entertainment industry.

Christy Canyon calls it “the highlight of my career. I mean, obviously signing with Vivid was, but to get a billboard in the mid-’90s, before all this Jenna Jameson and this mainstream stuff was around, that was like—I made it! It took my breath away to see my picture on a billboard on Sunset, a real billboard, 50 feet high. That told me something about Vivid’s owner’s drive to make it mainstream.”

Christian Mann calls it, “a watershed moment in the mainstreaming of Vivid and of porn in general.” Perhaps only the Vivid reality-TV series, produced by World of Wonder and broadcast on Showtime, had a wider impact.  

Hirsch says, “Soon after, we did these light boxes at Burbank Airport—they just had our logo, nothing else, and people really noticed that as well. Then later on, we did a billboard in Times Square. I like to keep the name out there amongst other ‘mainstream brands.’ I like us to be positioned in that way.”

Cable TV and Bill Asher
Around the same time, Vivid made a major business move, into cable television.
Bill Asher, an Ivy League-educated MBA who became an executive at Playboy, had struck up a relationship with Hirsch while buying content for the network. Asher was unhappy with the kind of soft product Playboy showed on its cable channels.

In 1998, Playboy bought the Spice Channel, which, Asher says, “was all edited-down stuff.” But they had a network called Spice Hot, which was “full-on porn.” Asher knew that if a cable company had a network with unedited porn movies, “people would watch it.” He tried to convince Playboy boss Christie Hefner that “this is the future of adult on TV: unedited porn, it’s what people want, adult movies, not the bouncy stuff we’re making.”

When he failed, Asher turned to Hirsch: “Let’s do it ourselves. We’ll create a company and you and I will be partners.”

“We took that business and just grew it and grew it fast,” Hirsch says. They changed Spice Hot to The Hot Network, adding a few new networks, including Vivid TV. In 2001, Vivid sold all its cable networks back to Playboy TV “for a lot of money,” he says. “And that really helped to secure Vivid’s future.”

Asher became a Vivid co-owner, concentrating on business matters. “Steve does the production. I do more of what is the legal, the finance, all of the bad business stuff you might think an MBA would do,” Asher says. “The reason our partnership has worked so well is that Steve and I have different skills.

“Steve is a creative genius as far as I’m concerned; he’s created an image, a brand that is unique in our industry. I’ve come in and instituted the typical large-company accounting, finance, negotiating, legal aspects.”

James remains a Vivid partner but, says Hirsch, he no longer has anything to do with the running of the company, instead tending to his own, Peach DVD.

The Image
To further enhance the image, Hirsch turned to a New York PR firm, Resource Media Group (RMG). “Up to then,” he says, “most guys in the adult business were very quiet, very underground, as was the entire industry. We decided to go the opposite route and actually court the media and get them to start writing articles, not only about us but about the industry: it’s legitimate, it’s mainstream, you see these movies in your local video store, you see them when you go into a hotel room.”

Vivid’s point person at RMG is publicist Jackie Martin, who owns the company with husband Allan Priaulx. Hirsch and Asher were impressed with her work with Internet Entertainment Group’s Seth Warshavsky (“we got amazing press for Seth,” she says), and thought she could get the same kind of coverage for them. She did, first helping them put together a press kit for mainstream media, a first for an adult company. She continues to work, with enormous success, on the mainstreaming of Vivid. Proof is in the frequency of Hirsch’s appearances in mainstream print, on the web and on TV news features about the adult industry.

“Our goal is to make sure they get credit for their achievements,” Martin says. “And there are many. They’re always being innovative, whether it’s something technological that they take on or starting a new imprint like Vivid Ed or Vivid Alt, Vivid Celeb—all of these things are very exciting and deserve attention. We’re fortunate in that we are integrated into the marketing process and have a chance to contribute all along the way.”

The Imprints
“I never wanted to be the guy who just had the hardest, hardest movies, so hard and so ultra-explicit that we cut out a big part of the market,” Hirsch says. “We always felt like we had to diversify, but diversify in a way that we didn’t have to compete with the hardest movies out there. That’s where Eon McKai and Tristan Taormino came in.”

Taormino, a nationally known sex educator and sometime director, got her most rewarding video deal, by far, from Vivid in 2006. “When I first met with Steven,” she says, “I felt as if he had my confidence and my vision and would give me a lot of freedom. But I’ve had meetings like that before, when people say they’re going to give you a lot of freedom and then don’t. And he actually has given me so much freedom. He lets me do, really, whatever I want.

“It’s amazing. I’m really hands on, from the editing to the marketing, and I feel I have a special relationship with the post-production people and the people in the office.”

She has produced an award-winning, four-volume gonzo series, Chemistry, and 10 volumes of the Vivid Ed line, on topics from anal sex (for men as well as women) to threeways. She recently began a new series, Rough Sex.

McKai had worked for a couple of years at VCA and Hustler, where he made a splash with Neu Wave Hookers. “I was totally surprised that Vivid would have interest in working with me,” he says. “It took me a while to see what was actually going on at the company. I just was so blinded by the brand at first. But Steven was really tenacious in coming after me. He’s given me a really unusual situation in the business, where I make the choices as to who should be working with Vivid Alt, what directors we should work with, stuff like that. It’s kind of unprecedented.”

He has directed several Alt movies himself, and for the rest he has brought in directors like Winkytiki, Dave Naz and Kimberly Kane (whom he calls “a force to be reckoned with”). He says that Vivid is “always thinking of new ways to see the product,” and with Alt Porn they gave him “the freedom to go another route.”

But the company’s most lucrative imprint by far is Vivid Celeb. “We were the first guys in that business for real, with Pam Anderson and Tommy Lee,” Hirsch says. “In that case we were an agent of IEG. They were the ones who did the actual deal.” IEG, under Seth Warshavsky, handled the internet release and made a deal with Vivid for video distribution. “We sold many hundreds of thousands of pieces of that movie,” Hirsch says.

After the Anderson-Lee honeymoon came Janine and Vince Neil, another hit, then various minor celebrities, and last year another bonanza with the Kim Kardashian movie, which, according to Howard Levine, is “reordered all the time.”

Distribution Deals
In 2003 Vivid signed Tera Patrick, already a hugely popular star. Her first movie was Tera Tera Tera, co-produced with her company, Teravision, jointly owned with husband Evan Seinfeld. “Initially, we financed them, and we had a deal based on that,” Hirsch says.  “As time went on they began to finance some of their own productions that we distributed for them.” She also appeared in some regular Vivid features, most recently the all-girl Vivid Red, an internet exclusive.

Patrick still considers herself a Vivid Girl. “It’s like a family at Vivid,” she says. “Steven always finds the best and the prettiest, the nicest girls to work with. We have a lot of fun together.”

Seinfeld points out that “Vivid believed in us, Tera and I, as a couple, whereas a lot of people weren’t as receptive. And they continue to support us in the mainstreaming of Tera. They’ve been instrumental behind the scenes, in that aspect.”

Hirsch also distributed Club Jenna and Sunlust Pictures, run by Sunny Leone and her boyfriend. Hirsch says that once Leone, originally girl-girl only, started to do guys, “she was born again. Sunlust is doing well. She’s really focused on it and they’re both hard workers.”

Vivid’s DVD distribution today is handled by Pulse Distribution, founded by Jim Kohls and Mark Hamilton, formerly of LFP. Pulse was able to gain distribution only after Larry Flynt’s LFP finished a three-year distribution deal with Vivid from 2003 to 2006, originally negotiated by Kohls. LFP had the right of first refusal on continuing its distribution deal with Vivid, but at the time Flynt’s company wanted to focus more on its Hustler Video brand, so Vivid began working with Pulse.

Moving Forward
“Steven is an unstoppable force of nature. He just never stops moving forward,” says the Creative Director. And that is truest in the technological area.

Hirsch reels off a list of Vivid’s tech achievements: one of the first to come out with DVDs, first to use multiple angles on DVDs, one of the first to issue a movie on Blu-ray. Most crucially, he says, they were the first adult studio “to really be involved in a serious way on the Internet, and to look at it as a business to generate revenue, not just to promote our movies.”

Vivid.com has, for several years, been run by the firm Web Quest.

“Web Quest oversees our internet,” he says. “They hire all the employees and oversee the marketing, design, affiliate sales. I have become very involved in the day-to-day operation, because I feel that the internet is where our real upside is. Not our only upside, but one of our revenue streams that has a potential to grow.”

When Hirsch and Asher look to the future, they both see IPTV. According to Asher, it’s “a combination of all the best of all the worlds. In a perfect world, what would you have? It would be distribution on the internet. You’re starting to see it now: TV sets with computer chips built into them. So your TV is now a computer monitor with the quality of a high-definition TV.”

At present, Hirsch says, 30 percent of Vivid’s income comes from DVD sales. “Another 30 percent comes from cable TV, by which I mean VoD TV, which is through the cable companies, or when we sell the rights to our movies to Playboy,” he says. “They own the TV rights to all our movies, and we are generously compensated.

“Another 30 percent comes from the internet. The other 10 percent comes from things like international [sales], wireless, things like that. Obviously we see the DVD numbers continue to dip, so we’re trying to make up that loss of revenue in our other businesses, and that can be difficult.”

Another source of income is a novelty licensing deal with Doc Johnson. “Several years ago we started Vivid Toy and we’ve come out with several hundred items,” Hirsch says.

After 25 years, Hirsch says, “it’s difficult to continue to invent yourself over and over again. Especially in our business where there’s so many new companies, in and out, and so many trends. Today it’s MILF, yesterday it was amateur, tomorrow it’s parodies. We’re into the parodies now.”

He recently made a deal with director Axel Braun to produce a line of parodies, starting with a takeoff on the 1960s Batman television show. “We’re excited about that. Axel really is at the top of his game when it comes to parodies.”

The Leader
In October 2005, Vivid moved from its cramped offices, carved out of a warehouse in Van Nuys, to its current Hollywood hillside four-story headquarters with the company logo that’s clearly visible to every driver on the crowded Hollywood Freeway.

The new location, Hirsch says, is “part of what makes this company unique: the fact that we have a building like this, that it’s high profile, that this company is high profile. Those are all things that really help build the brand.”

“Eventually,” says the Creative Director, “Vivid became bigger than everybody and became the leader. But it took a lot of years. When Vivid started, there were a lot of big companies, but gradually they all had their run. Vivid just kept going. They played their game, not the other people’s game, and eventually surpassed everyone.”

“When people think of porno, they think of Vivid,” says sales manager Levine. “I don’t think anybody else has achieved that.”

This article—and the ancillary articles that follow—originally were published in the September 2009 issue of AVN Magazine.

 

Reality Check: Vivid Does Showtime

Few of Vivid’s mainstream forays have grabbed as much national attention as their three reality-TV series, produced by World of Wonder Productions, two of which were broadcast on Showtime.

World of Wonder, a documentary film company, approached Steven Hirsch in 2003 for an interview on a show about the history of porn. His participation led to the development of Vivid’s first reality show, shown in Europe as Porno Valley.

“When it aired on Playboy here they changed the name to Vivid Valley,” says Hirsch. “It was just cameras all over this place, all day, they really covered it.”

With interest from HBO, Showtime and other networks, they were on the verge of selling it when “the Janet Jackson nipple slip occurred at the 2004 Super Bowl and all of a sudden the cable networks turned away from anything having to do with the adult business. It was disappointing.”

But WOW sold the series in Europe and eventually Playboy bought it for American broadcast in 2005. “By that time,” Hirsch says, “WOW had hooked up with Showtime. That’s when we worked to develop a different type of series, the making of a movie, Debbie Does Dallas. It was light, it was fun, happy, and it was very successful.”

Then, with Showtime’s support, they went for yet another year. The third series dealt with their remake of Deep ThroatDeeper Throat—and was “a little bit more tense than Debbie.”

Hirsch describes it as a clash between the personalities at Vivid and Deep Throat copyright owner Arrow. “It was a bit more difficult to shoot, but the tension created on that show really came through. Showtime was happy with that.”

Vivid is now shooting a pilot for another show.

Hirsch said the Vivid folks liked having the cameras in their faces. “It was really a unique opportunity—it gave us a way to market ourselves that was unique. Nobody else had a time slot on Showtime where we could promote the girls, promote the movies, promote the company. We were really grateful for it.”

But was it really real? “If you look at Deeper Throat, you can feel the tension there, it was palpable. So yes, those things are real.”

 

The Business of the Box

Vivid’s distinctive box covers grew more elaborate in the 1990s, often with budgets that today would bankroll a one-day feature shoot.

“We used to spend crazy amounts of money on the box covers—building sets to match the movies,” photographer B. Skow says. “Borderline was one of my first big box covers. We went out in the desert, got a permit to shoot by a railroad track. Bobby Sox was a big one—I built a huge theater inside the studio. A lot of times we’d rent cars and garages.

“All the Where the Boys Aren’ts were big sets—a gas station, a restaurant, a jail. We sometimes took all week to shoot those box covers. We’d fly the girls in. I’d shoot two girls a day. We would put all that stuff together afterwards—and we didn’t even use Photoshop until around ’94. We were doing it by hand, slicing it together.”

“Back then,” Vivid’s Creative Director recalls, “the girls were real divas. You had [the late] Savannah, who was just nasty and mean and hated everyone. It was always a nightmare when we had to shoot her. And then you had people like Jamie Summers, who were wonderful, sweet; and Christy Canyon was always terrific and really professional. Barbara Dare was great but troubled. Janine was always terrific.

“We would easily spend $5,000, $6,000, $7,000 on a shoot then—the equivalent of spending $10,000 to $15,000 on a shoot today. Back then it was a very marketing-and-packaging-driven business. And Steven was not afraid to spend the money required to do extraordinary stuff.”

“Times have changed since those heady days, says B. Skow. “I still shoot box covers for my stuff and PT’s stuff. I just do it on the set now or in my studio. We just don’t build gigantic sets, we don’t spend so much time relating the box cover to the movie now. It’s more about getting good shots of the girls.”

 

The Vivid Girls

Asia Carrera
Autumn
Barbara Dare
Brea Lynn
Briana Banks
Cassidey
Celeste
Chasey Lain
Chelsea Sinclaire
Cheyenne Silver
Chloe Jones
Christy Canyon
Dasha
Dayton
Devon
Diedre Holland
Dyanna Lauren
Ginger Lynn
Hanna Hilton
Heather Hunter
Hyapatia Lee
Jamie Summers
Janine
Jenna Jameson
Jennifer Stewart
Jenteal
Julia Ann
Julianne James
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