Sexual Infidelity: Fall TV's Hottest Topic

Gary Levine, left, and Joshua Jackson

Showtime's "The Affair," HBO's "Open" join efforts from USA, FX and ABC as forbidden love hits the small screen; says producer David Zabel, "The lure of infidelity is universal."

This story first appeared in the Sept. 13 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine.

Forbidden love seems to be in the air at television networks as infidelity has become the latest theme to sweep development executives off their feet.

Showtime announced Aug. 26 that Joshua Jackson (CAA, Anonymous, Hansen Jacobson) will join Maura Tierney, Dominic West and Ruth Wilson in its aptly titled The Affair, about a tryst that disrupts two marriages.

Other networks exploring what happens when a relationship crumbles include USA, which recently greenlighted an untitled drama pilot from former Suits showrunner Sean Jablonski. Jablonski's pilot centers on a man who learns his wife is seeing a male escort and accidentally comes into possession of his phone. Meanwhile, HBO is prepping Ryan Murphy's Open, a multicharacter look at sexuality, monogamy and intimacy starring Jackson's former Fringe love interest, Anna Torv.

"We always wanted to go deep inside two marriages and threaten them with an affair," Showtime executive vp original programming Gary Levine tells THR. "Can we be as explosive within two honest and intimate relationships as we can be with a serial killer and the world's freedom at stake?"

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Taking a lighter tone, FX has a comedy starring Judy Greer as a wife who allows her husband (Nat Faxon) to seek sexual satisfaction elsewhere in a bid to salvage an otherwise great marriage, while ABC's fall drama Betrayal, based on a Dutch series, will follow a photographer (Boss' Hannah Ware) who cheats on her attorney husband with his opposing counsel.

The new cheating hearts club may have Shonda Rhimes to thank as her dramas — featuring unfaithful love affairs like Grey's Anatomy's Derek and Meredith and Scandal's Fitz and Olivia — have become big hits and helped audiences root for the other woman.

"Contemporary audiences are interested in watching characters navigate ethical challenges and moral dilemmas," Betrayal exec producer David Zabel says. "You see them everywhere on TV — a teacher who deals meth, a mobster trying to be a good family man, a drug-addicted nurse — but the lure of infidelity is a universal and deeply personal moral crisis that everyone can identify with or relate to in some way."