'Masters of Sex' Showrunner Defends Fictionalized Detour, New Children

"We were advised to add children to protect the people that are still alive," explained Michelle Ashford.
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The 'Masters of Sex' TCA panel

When the Masters of Sex cast and producers took the stage Tuesday at the Television Critics Association press tour, they faced scrutiny from reporters about the direction of the third season of the Showtime series.

Among the specific plot points that raised confusion in the Michael Sheen-Lizzy Caplan drama: the sudden focus on family and the addition of two new babies, both of whom did not exist in real life. For a show rooted in truth — the drama tells the story of real-life sex researchers Bill Masters and Virginia Johnson — giving each of the lead characters three children (when, in reality, they only had two) perplexed many.

"We are telling a nonfiction story and one where there are people who are still alive out there in the world, and those people need to be protected, and that is the way of protecting them," said showrunner Michelle Ashford. But her cryptic explanation didn't satisfy the ever-curious press, and one journalist pressed further, demanding more of an explanation for the additional children.

Executive producer Sarah Timberman chimed in, noting that each of the new babies was named after one of Masters' and Johnson's respective kids. "It gave us license to tell stories about fictional characters," she said. "We want to be respectful of people who are living, yet it was fertile territory for Michelle and the other writers to look at what the experience would be, being a teenage child of one of [the most famed sex researchers]."

Added Ashford: "We were advised to add children to protect the people that are still alive. It wasn’t a storytelling prerogative; it had to do with protecting living people."

Ashford spoke with The Hollywood Reporter in July about the legal concerns that arose on the series ahead of the show's third season. "We were presented with an astronomical legal hurdle this year that I can’t really speak to, except to say that there were certain things that had to be done in our storytelling that had to do with legal issues," she said.

Ultimately, the producers were required to tell certain stories about Masters' and Johnson's children that they initially didn't intend to write. "But we made lemonade out of lemons," added Ashford. "We feel like we’ve dealt with it at the very beginning of the season, and now we’re moving on and getting back to our story."

Read the full Q&A with Ashford here.

Masters of Sex, which recently was renewed for season four, airs Sundays at 10 p.m. on Showtime.

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