Masters of Sex Shocker: Polarizing Baby Storyline Was Added For Legal Reasons

Masters of Sex fans who felt the Season 3 storyline involving Virginia’s unplanned pregnancy was shoehorned into the series, take heart: You’re not going crazy.

Exec producers Michelle Ashford and Sarah Timberman admitted Tuesday at the Television Critics Association summer press tour that the baby plot — a wild diversion from the real-life story of Masters and Johnson — was added, at least in part, due to legal pressure.

“We are telling a non-fiction story and one where there are people who are still alive out there, and those people need to be protected,” Ashford told reporters. “That is way of protecting them.

“We were advised to add [the baby] to protect the people that are still alive,” Ashford elaborated. “It wasn’t a storytelling prerogative. It had to do with protecting living people.”

A title card at the end of every episode informs viewers, “This program is about the important achievements of Masters and Johnson. The children Tessa, Henry, Johnny and Jenny are entirely fictitious.”

Timberman later confirmed that the decision to age Bill and Virginia’s children in Season 3 — and give them real, yet fictionalized, adult problems — spurred the arrival of little Lisa. (Bottom line: Adding a fictionalized baby to the mix drives home the point that the current Tessa storyline was not inspired by Virginia’s real — and only — daughter.)

Speaking of the pair’s now-adult children, Ashford defended the early (and polarizing) Season 3 episodes that placed so much emphasis on the kids. “Part of the legacy of Masters and Johnson… it affected their families,” she explained. “At some point, we were going to delve into that territory. It isn’t the focus of our season, as you’ll see as the season goes on. We did need to age the children appropriately and say, ‘This is part of what happened in this complicated dynamic.'”

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13 Comments
  1. Mark says:

    I don’t really understand. How does adding a baby protect the living?

    • Erin B says:

      Maybe Johnson’s real daughter did not want people to think that “Tessa” was patterned after her.

    • Ed says:

      By further expanding the fictional world of the show (adding a baby…one that never existed in reality), the show can, on a legal level, stay clear of potential claims made by the real-life offspring who may say the show represents their family in a poor light. The show is based on a book that highlights Masters/Johnson’s work, not based on their respective families. The added element of the baby highlights that point.

    • DatDude says:

      If the real people have a fake baby, it drives home the point that this is a fictionalized telling of their lives.

    • Poster4392 says:

      I dont get it either. So they’re protecting Lisa, her only daughter, by adding her to the cast? Maybe they’re adding Lisa who is real so that people dont confuse her with Tessa who is fictional. Either way, it doesnt make major sense.

  2. LK says:

    So in other words… her real daughter threatened to sue over her depiction on the show… so they added the other kid as a way of clarifying that the children weren’t based on real people? Seems a bit of a confusing way to do things… they could have just not given the fake daughter such a controversial storyline.

  3. I’m not really getting the extreme negative criticism, as I still very much enjoy the show. I thought it was an odd choice that they would openly say that they were making up stuff about made up versions of their children, but it all seemed fairly organic. Every frame of the show was going to be a dramatization, there’s no way around that. As long as they tell a version that reflects their real world story, even if not 100% accurate, I’m happy as long as I’m entertained. Michael Sheen and Lizzy Caplan make that very easy.

  4. Sandy says:

    At the beginning of the season, I do remember there being some sort of disclaimer saying something along the lines of “This show is based on the lives of Masters and Johnson, and references to others are fictional.” They definitely had a potential lawsuit on their hands

  5. Luis says:

    There is always the potential for problems when real life people are depicted in non-documentary pieces. That’s why most of the biopics you see are about dead people.

  6. A.M says:

    …I get why/how the show is trying to make this as fictitional as possible but, What is the point of Tessa anyway in this show. Why can’t the kids stay in the background like they did in the first two seasons.

  7. rometarasco says:

    It’s interesting that they even went so far as to name the new baby ‘Lisa’ – Johnson’s actual daughter’s name. Perhaps it was to further distance the comparisons with the actual person and Tessa.

  8. Rayanna says:

    Did anyone else notice that when Bill greeted Virginia’s parents he referred to them as Mr. and Mrs. Johnson? How can that be if Johnson is her married name not her maiden name?

    • Margarethe says:

      Hahaha. I didn’t catch that. The story editor or whoever was responsible for continuity/bloopers must’ve been napping.