In the late 1980s, Showtime was in a bind. The rise of VHS rentals had slowed the steady growth of premium cable networks for both itself and its counterpart, the once and future leader in the market, HBO. To that point, Showtime had little to show for in the way of original programming aside from It’s Garry Shandling’s Show, the eponymously titled 30-minute sitcom. The critically acclaimed show ran for four seasons, but by the time the 1990s rolled around, Showtime programming was mostly dominated by first-runs of recent blockbuster features (which again, wasn’t all that unique of a proposition any more given that they could also be found at local video stores).
In 1992, however, that all changed. The Showtime Entertainment Group was formed, which made an ambitious play at original content, including 20 feature films per year. That same year, Zalman King, known for writing the salacious film 9½ Weeks with his wife Patricia Knop, approached the network with a novel idea: an erotic romance anthology series, kicked off by a feature-length TV film. Over the next five years, Red Shoe Diaries broke boundaries and set the table for both films like 50 Shades of Grey and late-night erotic fare that clogged premium cable programming schedules for the next decade-plus. It was also David Duchovny’s big break.
Here then is the story of Red Shoe Diaries, in the words of those who made it happen.
Part I: ‘Mickey Rourke was a problem in itself’
Red Shoe Diaries has an unorthodox genesis. Instead of filming a pilot episode, King decided to make a full-length feature film that would serve as the series’ jumping-off point. In it, a woman named Alex (Brigitte Bako) is engaged to Jake Winters (Duchovny), a successful architect. She starts an affair with a construction worker-slash-shoe-salesman (just go with it), after he seductively sells her a pair of — you guessed it — red heels. Alex eventually commits suicide, sending Jake down a spiral of despair, after which he learns about her sexual awakening in her diary.
But before Duchovny opened that fateful diary, King had forged a connection with Hollywood bad boy Mickey Rourke, star of 9½ Weeks. The line from that film to Red Shoe Diaries is a straight one, with a stop along the way in Brazil to shoot the universally panned erotic film Wild Orchid.
David Saunders, executive producer, 1992-1996: In the late 1980s, I was partnered with a man named Mark Damon. Mark was probably the premier international sales agent selling indie movies around the world. It was an important way of financing films. He and I then partnered with Peter Guber to form a company called Vision; next, we started to look for films to produce that would be successful in international markets. Mark had — in a previous company — been one of the producers and financiers of 9½ Weeks, so he had a relationship with Zalman. 9½ Weeks was successful internationally, but not so successful in the U.S.
Chloe King, co-producer/producer, 1993-1996: My parents did 9½ Weeks and were ridiculed and badgered.
Saunders: We went to Zalman and said — he’d just finished writing 9½ Weeks — come make a film with us and be our partner. Together then, the three of us came up with the idea of Wild Orchid. Zalman had a relationship with Mickey Rourke. He invented the title first, before anything else. Zalman went to Mickey and got his permission to sell that at an upcoming film festival. We sold it in lots of places on a pre-sale basis, and I went off with Zalman to Brazil to make the movie.
Butch Kaplan, producer, 1992-94; co-executive producer, 1993-94: Zalman was in Brazil, and I was in LA. They had a lot of issues with weather. Rourke was a problem in itself.
Brigitte Bako, actress, Red Shoe Diaries TV Movie, 1992: I went in for an audition for Wild Orchid. I’m 21, I’m the baby. I walk into an office to meet Zalman, and as I walk in and put my hand out, somebody slaps my ass so fucking hard I almost started to cry. I turned around, and it was Mickey Rourke. As a new, dedicated, serious actress in New York, I held back tears and thought, I’m not doing this movie. I’m not doing this audition. It took my breath away.
Roger Ebert, Wild Orchid review, May 1, 1990: Wild Orchid is an erotic film, plain and simple. It cannot be read any other way. There is no other purpose for its existence. Its story is absurd, and even its locale was chosen primarily for its travelogue value; this movie no more needs to take place in Brazil than in Kansas, which the heroine leaves in the opening scene.
Saunders: We spent a lot of time in Brazil. It was quite exotic, quite difficult. We became good friends. At that point, Zalman and I thought of a way to make him into a brand name for the kind of tasteful erotic filmmaking that appealed to women and men.
Chloe King: There was an audience out there that was untapped, looking for profound themes about wanton lust and pain and loss and redemption that men had been exploring since the beginning of time. The overall worldwide success of 9½ Weeks made my dad feel like these things were worth exploring.
Rafael Eisenman, co-executive producer/producer/director, 1992-96: I met Zalman when I was doing another movie. We were working for the same company. I ran into him one day, and we walked downstairs to a pizza store. He had a partner, David Saunders, and the two of them approached me: “This is what we’re doing. We’re going to do a movie and then a series.” I came on as a producer. But I told them in the beginning that I was producing music videos and commercials, and that I wanted to direct.
Saunders: Zalman and I and Zalman and [Zalman’s wife] Pat came up with the storyline for Red Shoe Diaries to be a pilot film to set the story and tone for a series to follow. Zalman, to his great credit, realized that it wouldn’t do to just make a movie as a pilot that would then explain the series. We needed to produce, at the same time, a small number of episodes of the series. Not only could we present that to Showtime, but we could also build the audience. Showtime agreed. They agreed to put up half of the budget of the movie and four episodes. We did this with Mark Damon who then went and pre-sold the movie as a movie in the international market based on the success of Wild Orchid. That completed the finances for a movie and four episodes.
Chloe King: My mom and dad wrote the pilot together. My mom participated a lot, but it was she who wrote the majority of the pilot. My dad ran with it from there. She was always involved.
Saunders: There were only two viable choices: HBO and Showtime. Both were interested. We decided to go with Showtime. It felt like we would have more freedom there.
David Duchovny, actor, 1992-96: My brother was a commercial director, and he knew Zalman. That’s maybe why Zalman called him in. I had done Twin Peaks, New Years Day, Beethoven and Ruby, but I was pretty much just starting out.
Bako: Zalman later told me that he never forgot [the Mickey Rourke incident], and he knew he wanted to cast me. He told me it was between me and a woman named Sharon Stone. We were so very different, and I was so much younger that I was sort of amazed that we were thought about in the same sentence.
Zalman King, interview with Peter Lehman, fall 2011: Sharon Stone had committed to doing it, but she was in Basic Instinct. It would have been a much different piece with David Duchovny and Sharon Stone.
Bako: I remember David Saunders had an issue with casting because we all looked so young. I looked 18, and I’m supposed to be a sophisticated businesswoman. Sharon was probably the right demographic for it, though.
Duchovny: The whole concept was pitched to me as a movie, and maybe if it was good enough, it would be released theatrically in Europe. I was taken by the idea less as a pilot. I wasn’t considering doing TV; TV was really looked down upon. That was the tail end of looking down on TV. In the late 1980s, I considered myself as a movie actor, not a TV actor.
Bako: I’ve had many directors say, “I’m going to work with you one day.” But I have to give Zalman credit. He kept his word. He hired me. I was offered the role. It was a slam dunk. We went to early rehearsal with Billy [Wirth, who starred as Thomas Butler in the film] and David. I was very excited. It was my first lead in a movie.
Saunders: The movie was quite low budget even in comparison to Wild Orchid. It was enough to be able to make a movie with a production quality. That was one of Zalman’s great talents. He had a great sense of style. The idea of doing original series for cable was a brand new thing. Other than single-set comedies like Larry Sanders Show, there were no dramatic series. There was no stigma at all, but it was also uncharted territory.
Kaplan: Zalman didn’t do TV movies as they were done then. He was making a movie. The fact that it was on TV didn’t have to do with anything.
Jim Bedford, editor, 1992-96: It was one of the most organized, beautifully shot things he ever did, I thought. The footage always looked gorgeous. It was structured really nice. I went apeshit with dissolves.
Bako: My only director before Zalman was Martin Scorsese, for a small role [in New York Stories]. That was like having the greatest, kindest mentor.
Tibor Takács, director, 1992-94: There was a fanaticism that Zalman had about getting it right, even though he was a bit of a crazy guy. Crazy in a good way.
Bako: This person seemed unhinged. No one was safe. He took it out on me. The makeup girl wasn’t safe. The cameraman wasn’t safe. He was a screamer. He had tantrums. He had insane rage.
Chloe King: He was an actor for years, and he came from that in-your-face kind of school — push you until you get it.
Bako: His idea to get an actress to cry in role was to devastate her and berate her. I was trained, and I didn’t need him to do that.
Duchovny: It rings a bell. I can’t say I remember specifics. I remember Brigitte and Zalman would butt heads over certain things.
Chloe King: He could be loving and supportive and a bit of a madman in a nice way. Sometimes they called him Dr. Zalman and Mr. King.
Bako: David stood up for me with Zalman a few times; he was very protective of me. He was my shoulder to cry on.
Duchovny: She was having a hard time sometimes. I think I would have tried to make them both meet in the middle somewhere.
Bako: It goes down in history as one of the worst experiences of my life. The fascinating thing was, he was a tyrant on set, and then I’d get invited on the weekend to a barbecue with his amazing wife and daughters. He adored and respected these women. He was a totally different person around his family of strong women. Then he was cuckoo pants at work.
Bedford: The feature pilot was very different than the series; it was very dark. Bako, the love interest, kills herself, and David finds her diary. In it, he finds the life she was leading.
Saunders: At the end of the TV movie, the Duchovny character who is completely stunned by his fiancée’s suicide — he didn’t know anything about her interior life — advertises for women to send their diaries. Each become the story of an episode.
Bako: I knew they’d make a series, but I die in the bathtub, as one does. I was in the opening credits. I still receive checks from that. Back then I was a movie star. I didn’t do TV; I didn’t want to be in a series. God forbid. David, though, went on to do the series.
Duchovny: Ultimately, I could have told myself many things, but I needed a job. I wasn’t being offered a bunch of stuff. It was, “Wow, a job!” And possibly a job in the future as the episodes spun out.
Saunders: Showtime left us completely alone during production. We delivered the film and four episodes, and they broadcast the film, followed by the four episodes.
Bedford: It was a new age. It got nominated for a CableAce.
Eisenman: Then we got picked up. I directed one of the first four episodes, and Tibor [Tikacs] did one of them. We kept on going from there.
Takács: I didn’t know I was going to be doing the first episode. “Double Dare” was the first episode that was ever shot. It became the second episode of the series. They wanted a guinea pig.
Part II: ‘We weren’t interested in making porn’
With the success of the TV pilot and the first four episodes, King and his crew dove headfirst into producing episodes of the show, mostly filmed at a large warehouse in Canoga Park, a neighborhood in northwest L.A. They built offices and elaborate sets, and hunkered down for weeks at a time to crank out episodes with a goal of reaching 66, to repackage later in other markets. Duchovny’s deal included an appearance in every episode, despite landing the role of Fox Mulder on FOX’s new sci-fi show, The X-Files.
After his fiancee’s suicide, as Saunders explained, Jake takes an ad out in his local newspaper’s personals section to try to relate to women in similar situations. Eventually, he begins to receive letters addressed to “Red Shoes,” a nod to the TV movie. Each episode begins with a simple conceit: Duchovny’s Jake and his dog, Stella, stalk a local trainyard as Jake reads his most recent letter, always the story of a woman’s sexual awakening, and always beginning, “Dear Red Shoes…”
As soon as episodes began to air, it was clear that Red Shoe Diaries was unlike any show in television history to that point. Mainly, it was an erotic show aimed not just at horny teenage boys.
Saunders: Zalman’s wife Pat wrote the movie with him as she did with 9½ Weeks and Wild Orchid. She had a very romantic point-of-view that was very productive for us in achieving a product that appealed to women as well as men. We also had Chloe, and other women writers who wrote episodes.
Chloe King: It was a family affair, you could say. I developed, along with him, the first 13 or so episodes, maybe more.
Eisenman: I got an incredible amount of experience because we had very little money, and we tried to make it look great. We broke new ground in what television can look like. If you look at television at that point, it was lit flatly, and looked horribly. Like Dallas, it was old fashioned. You shoot it quickly and get out.
Takács: Zalman shot much slower. They spent more time shooting, and we had some of the same crew from the movies.
Kaplan: Zalman had this really smart way to go about things. He’d get us to hire commercial directors or photographers — people making two, three, four million on a commercial. He’d get them to come in for a tenth of their rate, because they were working on narrative material. It’s a short film; and so they didn’t get all the toys they had on commercials, but they got the freedom to express themselves. For Zalman that was a win-win.
Eisenman: I know for sure that financially this was a huge boost for Showtime. They were really way behind HBO; they were the little guys. It gave them an enormous boost as far as subscriptions.
Saunders: The audience was good to begin with and grew. It became clear to them that the series was a success. They immediately ordered a second season.
Anne Goursaud, director, “Midnight Bells,” 1993: They made a deal with a French company to finance the show, and they had to find some French people to fulfil the commitment. That’s what I understand at least. I’m just repeating what I heard.
Chloe King: My father gave so many people a big break.
Goursaud: They gave me that episode [season 2, episode 1], “Midnight Bells.” The only thing I controlled was the casting. I picked my own people.
Kaplan: You might be called the director, but Zalman was directing.
Charlotte Lewis, actress, “Midnight Bells,” 1993: I came in to meet Anne, and we got on like a house on fire.
Goursaud: I was very excited, but I found out that they had three cameras. For a beginner, I thought, This is my test: I’m either going to royally screw up or plow through and come out alive. It went really well.
Lewis: I might have had a nude scene with my co-star. A very slight one. I’d normally get out of them, but I was very comfortable with Anne there.
Zalman King, Lehman interview: I usually write specifically what I’m intending to see because I don’t want people to be surprised at what the role entails. I’ll never seduce anyone into doing what they don’t want to do. Basically I say, “This is what I intend to see. If you’re not comfortable with it, you really shouldn’t do the movie.”
Goursand: You discuss sex scenes exactly like you’d discuss anything else. They’re willing because they have to deliver a scene that… If they accepted a role, they know what it entails. You can’t accept that and then make it difficult for the director. These guys understood their job. We collaborated and were completely in agreement, and it was totally fun. You get to laugh at it — that’s the best way to deal with it.
Saunders: We weren’t interested in making porn. We wanted to make erotic movies with good stories that looked great, were well-acted, and that concerned women as well as men. Showtime’s interests and our interests coincided.
Lewis: Some of the things you see nowadays, I’m shocked at some of the sex scenes. Red Shoe Diaries wasn’t like that. It was romantic and beautiful.
Zalman King, Lehman interview: The entire series was directed at women. Men watched it because it was sexy, but consistently it was about relationships and it was about women struggling with their identity and having romance. I don’t know why, but I do try to speak to women. I think maybe I do this because there is very little for them in terms of cinema and in terms of this “high romance.”
Bedford: People said it was softcore but that was never his intention.
Zalman King, Lehman interview: Eroticism is a good word; softcore is a horrible word.
Eisenman: Teenagers to seniors would watch it. We knew of groups of women who used to get together and have viewing parties.
Chloe King: It was absolutely shared 50/50 between men and women. It might have been titillating for young guys — I can’t count how many men have told me it was seminal for them. I find it the same for young women, maybe not teen boys, but women of that generation were watching.
Eisenman: Let’s put it this way: In doing erotica, our primary audience was women. As men, most of us are completely dumb. We look at the nudity, but there’s a lot of stuff going on underneath — an emotional subtext and themes that aren’t easily understood. Women pick up on them, and it has nothing to do with the nudity, by the way.
Part III: ‘That dog had capped teeth’
By the third season, Red Shoe Diaries was an institution on Showtime. In 1994, both Duchovny and Matt LeBlanc, star of an episode in each of the first and second seasons, were world-famous actors with their own network television shows. Still, Duchovny continued to appear in every episode, injecting a dose of mainstream credibility into the show. As the ratings grew, though, Red Shoe Diaries continued to push the boundaries of conventional filmmaking, and made a concerted effort to withstand the trappings of most of the erotic fare of its time, mainly by conveying the female perspective in sex scenes.
Chloe King: I remember when David was considering taking the X-Files. It was a big decision that he commit to TV. He clearly made the right choice.
Duchovny: To think of TV was thinking of yourself as second-class citizen. No longer.
Chloe King: At that time David felt like a brother. He very much loved my father. There was a father-son relationship there.
Jacqueline Lovell, actress, “The Teacher,” “Caged Bird,” “Billy Bar,” 1995: I was familiar with the show when I was cast in it, but I’d never seen an episode. I vaguely knew David Duchovny was attached. I was familiar with the name Zalman King and had seen 9½ Weeks.
Duchovny: Two years after we shot the pilot, the first year that I was doing The X-Files, I’d fly back to L.A. and shoot six episodes — wraparounds — at a time. I’d come in on a Saturday and go down to San Pedro.
Elise D’Haene, writer, 1994-96: Duchovny was great. He was always game and a real pro. As for me, I’d written a novel that was published called Licking Our Wounds that was about a lesbian whose lover leaves her and all her friends dying of AIDS. There’s a talking vagina in there. My book agent had gotten it to Zalman, and he wanted a meeting with me. I went out to the studio, and he hired me. He was looking for a writer to be there full-time with him. In three weeks, I had my first episode on the air. It was crazy.
Lovell: I loved Elise. She wrote strong, powerful female roles.
D’Haene: Being a lesbian, I always wanted to do a women in prison one. I did “Caged Bird,” and there’s a lesbian relationship in that. Zalman was really open to exploring that. Overall, it was a writer’s boot camp for me. Zalman was an amazingly gifted man. What’s another word for anal?
Chloe King: He was very commanding.
Bedford: You were trying to make Zalman feel an emotional connection to what he’d seen. If you did that, he was happy. If not, you kept working on it.
Carmit Bachar, actress, “The Forbidden Zone,” “Banished,” 1996: It was a lot of freestyling.
Kaplan: They thought they were given more freedom with Zalman, but he was so specific with what he wanted. The respect he gave to their craft was superseded by what he wanted, not necessarily what they wanted.
D’Haene: There’s a real gift to that attention to detail. It’s a reflection of a real artist. He was very visually cued.
Eisenman: He was the showrunner in today’s terms. He not only supervised production and directed, he edited and supervised screenplays.
Kaplan: He’d never say, “No fucking way!” He’d say, “Why would you do this to me?” Then they’d feel bad. He had a hard time communicating what that exactly was.
D’Haene: I can’t tell you how meaningful that opportunity was to me — that Zalman gave me that opportunity. At that point in my life, there was so much grief and darkness, it was refreshing to go to the studio every day and see people create something that was beautiful, sexy and full of life.
Duchovny: At one point I asked if I could hang out on set. I wanted to get into directing, and I thought maybe I could direct an episode of Red Shoe Diaries. It didn’t work out because of scheduling. He was using that guy from C+C Music Factory [Freedom Williams] for that episode [“Emily’s Dance,” season 3, episode 8]. I was on set, though, shadowing Zalman.
Kaplan: I finished up Season Three. At some point, I said this is enough. For me, it got to be pretty repetitive. It’s David talking to his dog about the adventures someone else had.
Duchovny: The only time I would have been on set with other actors was when I was with the dog. That dog had capped teeth. I don’t want to let the cat out of the bag here. I was like, “These teeth are really white and big.” The trainer said, “They’re caps.” I was like, “Wow, Hollywood!”
Part IV: ‘I’d find myself with knives in my back’
By 1996, Red Shoe Diaries was winding down as it approached a syndication benchmark. All the while, The X-Files was one of the most popular shows on television, averaging approximately 20 million viewers per episode, and Duchovny was seen as gaining too much popularity to remain attached to Red Shoe Diaries for much longer. With some of the show’s primary crew either departed or with one foot out the door, cheap imitations began cropping up as part of the mid-1990s “Skinemax” era, and Zalman and his acolytes’ attention split between Red Shoe Diaries and other projects. The end was on the horizon.
Duchovny: Luckily, I didn’t have to memorize anything. I wouldn’t have had time to prepare because I was shooting The X-Files in Vancouver. I’d shoot 12 wraparounds, beginning and end, and I was happy to do it.
Eisenman: At a certain point, they said he didn’t want to do it anymore, so we recycled from the wraparounds. We cut them together and kept using the material. He still got paid for it, but he didn’t have to show up. It was a cool deal for him.
Duchovny: I owed it to Zalman, really. Plus, I was legally bound to do it.
Saunders: All in all, there were 66 episodes. We wanted to get to that number because we thought that that allowed us to be able to package the series for secondary uses — five seasons of 13 episodes. We got there.
Eisenman: In those days, 66 was the magic number. It’s different today.
Takács: The only thing you could kind of fault was maybe the writing. Maybe it was too unfocused or too vague in some ways.
D’Haene: My skill level increased enough that I got hired to do other projects. Strangely, I was one of the writers of the Little Mermaid II. I was writing Red Shoe Diaries at the same time.
Eisenman: It was difficult because there were always people coming into the organization who wanted to be the number one next to Zalman. I’d find myself with knives in my back.
Kaplan: Like every organization, there’s political jockeying.
Saunders: Also what was happening was budgets were shrinking dramatically. Showtime didn’t have kind of budget available to make the series at the level we wanted to make it. It was a pretty good run — 66 episodes, you don’t get much more than that in television. It ran its course.
Bachar: It’s pretty incredible that it had five seasons.
Eisenman: Showtime and HBO had a lot of cheap looking, cheaply made copies — imitations. I know that those were done for a fraction of what we were doing them for, and we were doing it for very little money. They didn’t care, Showtime would put one on before us and after us. That sort of killed us. The funny thing is, none of these shows had any understanding of what erotica is. One show was the same stories, copied; I don’t remember the name. Still, they’d screw it up.
Takács: Raffi and Zalman had a fight, there was some sort of bad blood at the end over money. That’s what I know.
Eisenman: Not really. I loved Zalman — really loved him. It was a difficult relationship. He wasn’t an easy person to get along with. But we did.
After the show ended [Stanley] Kubrick called one day and asked us to send him some tapes. He was getting ready to do Eyes Wide Shut — Zalman came to me and said, “Let’s send him six shows. Only show the ones you directed.” We sent him some shows. I never kept a copy, but he sent a very nice letter back, mostly about the style of the shows.
Part V: ‘Who watched Showtime before then?’
After the final episode of Red Shoe Diaries aired on June 1, 1997, the show enjoyed a long and fruitful life via late-night reruns on Showtime. But in the past few years, as premium cable networks have pulled its purely erotic fare off its streaming platforms, episodes of the groundbreaking show have been hard to come by outside of a 2014 DVD release and the website Tubi, which has an incomplete library of Seasons One through Four (as well as the TV movie) available to stream for free. Still, Red Shoe Diaries’ legacy lives on, and its creators have hinted about a possible return — especially Chloe King, who has taken the reins since her father died in 2012 after a long battle with cancer.
Saunders: What happened was networks became part of corporate empires, and they didn’t want to deal with it. We had licensed Red Shoe Diaries to Hulu. It was successful with Hulu, but once they changed corporate ownership, the corporate studios decided they didn’t want it anymore. I think it really wasn’t worth the aggravation they’d get from some sectors of the viewing public. It didn’t matter enough to them.
D’Haene: For me, I think the episodes still hold up. I haven’t seen anything that really matches it even in this sort of age of television. They should bring it back.
Bako: One review said that Red Shoe Diaries was an excuse to see Brigitte Bako on her knees. I think we did an amazing emotional performance, but the sex took over. It was groundbreaking. Yet it’s nothing compared to what’s on today.
Saunders: I think they are dead wrong. It’s too bad. I think that 50 Shades of Grey proves it. There’s a continuing market for erotica that appeals to a female audience.
D’Haene: You look at the insane box office of 50 Shades of Grey. The writing isn’t very good, but it’s telling an erotic story about a woman and it’s pushing the limits.
Takács: It was a sort of step-child at Showtime even though it was a huge show that sort of put them on the map. Who watched Showtime before then?
Bako: Whenever I go into Showtime to pitch a show I say, “By the way, we started your network. We put you on the map.”
Kaplan: People say to me, “What shows did you work on?” The Notebook, that’s the one everyone knows. They say, “Oh anything else?” I say, “I did Red Shoe Diaries,” and if they’re of that age, they say, “Oh my God!” It gets more of a pop than The Notebook.
Bako: I still get so much love from this. I get fan mail from it, it’s really kind of crazy.
Eisenman: I don’t know. It’s not that important. It was great, but… legacy? I think we changed something in television, for a moment. It opened up something, maybe we’re seeing it today, to be a little more risky.
Bako: The best thing that came out of Red Shoe Diaries was my friendship with David. We did a Californication episode on the 15th anniversary of the TV movie [2007’s “Filthy Lucre”].
Duchovny: I was really fond of Brigitte. She’s a force of nature and a really smart artist. I was happy to have that happen.
Lizzie Borden, director, “Juarez,” 1996: Chloe pushed her father to hire women. She said to Zalman, “You hire Lizzie, you don’t have enough women.”
I was very interested in Mexican wrestling. Zalman liked the idea of doing something in Mexico, something with masks. I wasn’t going to be able to do that in a feature then. He did something unusual, he let us go to Juarez and shoot a couple days there. I went with the director of photography and Jillian, Chloe’s sister, to shoot for local color.
Chloe King: We had a great deal of interest in subcultures. The thing about Red Shoes was the sky was the limit. We could explore whatever we wanted to — create universes.
D’Haene: That’s what’s fun about a show like Red Shoes. It’s like the Twilight Zone — every episode is its own universe, connected through David Duchovny reading these letters and trying to understand deeply for people when encountering erotic relationships, loss and experimentation.
Borden: The idea of working with a woman who was very comfortable with her body completely naked was much more preferable than it would have been for me at that moment to do something like Baywatch. If I’d been on Baywatch, I would’ve had to dolly in on her tits or ass, which is exploitative. On Baywatch, certain parts are objectified as separate parts of the body — not a part of a whole person. With Zalman, it’s the whole body or a woman is watching herself.
Lovell: I totally felt empowered working on the show.
Borden: I like that this was about women’s fantasy. There was a lot of nudity, but a lot of it was expression, not exploitative. She was controlling the action, she was the one who was pushing the plot forward. She had agency. I wouldn’t have used the term “feminist” back then. But it was.
Chloe King: My dad was fascinated by the female psyche and sexuality. He felt he had tapped into something that hadn’t been tapped into. He was absolutely right. He just did it a little bit too early.
Eisenman: Zalman was a genius, a true artist. It’s not just a vision — he was searching for something. I’m not sure he always knew what it was, but he knew when he got there.
Lewis: The last time I saw Zalman was at one of the openings of Cirque du Soleil. He was with Chloe, talking about having a Red Shoe Diaries bar somewhere in Vegas. I thought, That would be so cool — a museum, the show, documented in a sexy room. I don’t think it ever happened, though.
D’Haene: After the show was over, with another writer, I got Zalman on board to write a four-book series of erotic writing based on some of the episodes. We did that with Berkley Publishing, which is part of Penguin. We did four Red Shoe Diaries books in all.
Bedford: He had a huge impact on a lot of people’s careers. Art directors, anyone who was passionate, it didn’t matter how much experience they had.
Duchovny: I’ve been on sets doing good work, but people will deflate it: “We’re just making a movie, a TV show or whatever. We’re not curing cancer.” That’s true, but I saw a guy saying, “What we’re doing is fantastic.”
Chloe King: I’ve spent the last year trying to reboot Red Shoes and bring it into this century. There’s a market out there for high-end, exploratory eroticism.
Lewis: If anyone can do it, Chloe can. She’s a strong woman.
Eisenman: It could work, but it’s not going to be the same show. The world has changed. There would be other angles. But yes, absolutely. If you strip it down to the central issues, yes.
Chloe King: We’ve grown up as a culture. Sex isn’t as taboo as it was in the 1990s. We were coming out of AIDS and the sexual revolution.
D’Haene: To me it’s a no-brainer. It’s a new age now, and there’s a lot of new ways to explore those kinds of stories.
Chloe King: I’m gonna prove it, goddammit.