Sony Lawyers Told ‘Masters of Sex’ Producers to Create Fake Baby Character

TCA 2015: Michelle Ashford tells TheWrap: “It’s a really convoluted legal thing … we work for corporations”

Last Updated: August 11, 2015 @ 12:59 PM

Though Showtime’s “Masters of Sex” is based on the pioneering sex researchers William Masters and Virginia Johnson, the showrunners said Tuesday they were under pressure to depart from history in depicting the couple’s family — specifically the addition of more children than the real-life couple actually had.

“We were advised to add children to protect the people that are still alive,” executive producer Michelle Ashford told reporters during a panel at the Television Critics Association summer press tour. “It was not a storytelling prerogative, it had to do with protecting living people.”

“Masters of Sex” tells the story of Dr. William Masters (Michael Sheen) and Virginia Johnson (Lizzy Caplan), two real-life pioneering researchers of human sexuality at Washington University in St. Louis, Miss. It is based loosely on Thomas Maier’s biography of the same name.

According to the disclaimer that runs with Season 3 of “Masters,” “This program is about the important achievements of Masters and Johnson. The children Tessa, Henry, Johnny and Jenny are entirely fictitious.” And following a five-year time jump for Season 3, the onscreen couple actually added a fifth child, a son named Howie.

In real life, Masters had two children, Sarah Masters Paul and William Powell Masters II, with his first wife, Elizabeth Ellis Masters. And Johnson had two children, Scott and Lisa, with her second husband, bandleader George Johnson, before she married Masters.

Of the addition of a fifth child, Ashford told TheWrap in a post-panel scrum” “It’s a really convoluted legal thing that lawyers told us to do, so that’s what that was about. It came from legal departments and we work for corporations and we needed to do it to protect.”

A high-ranking Showtime executive later clarified for TheWrap that the call came from the legal department at Sony, the studio behind “Masters.”

“The life of a series is very long, we are done with that now, we are moving on, and that’s really the extent that I can say about that,” Ashford said. “We’re making lemonade, you know what I mean?”