Television

What’s Fact and What’s Fiction in the Pam & Tommy Finale

Did Pam and Tommy sell the rights to their sex tape to an internet porn pioneer?

Side by side photos of the real couple smiling outside and Lily James and Sebastian Stan as Pam and Tommy sitting on a sofa looking worriedly at each other
Tommy Lee and Pamela Anderson, and Lily James as Pamela Anderson and Sebastian Stan as Tommy Lee in Hulu’s Pam & Tommy. Photo illustration by Slate. Photos by M. Phillips/WireImage for Guttman Associates and Erin Simkin/Hulu.

The final episode of Pam & Tommy explores the ripple effects of the tape’s theft and release. Rand Gauthier, in worse financial shape than ever and doing a job he hates for Butchie Peraino, tries to make amends with Pam and his ex-wife. The stress of dealing with the tape’s fallout eats away at Pam and Tommy’s relationship as Pam’s film career stalls out. Meanwhile, the machinations for the rights to distribute the tape continue with the arrival of Seth Warshavsky, a smarmy tech bro who wants to stream it online. Let’s separate what’s fact from what’s fiction.

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[Read: What’s Fact and What’s Fiction in Pam & Tommy Episode 7]

Did the Mötley Crüe Album Go Straight Into the Remainder Bin?

Tommy and the boys are launching their new album in a Tower Records parking lot with a signing and a live concert when a group of grunge fans going into the store look on with pity, as if the rock stars are embarrassing dads. Later we see a Tower employee putting the CD into the “Reduced” section.

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The album the band is shown promoting, Generation Swine, actually came out in 1997, not 1996 as the show suggests, and, while hair metal was seen as passé by Nirvana fans, it was hardly a flop. Reaching No. 4 on the Billboard 200, where it remained for nine weeks, the album—Mötley Crüe’s seventh—was certified gold in the U.S. But it failed to match the critical and commercial success of the band’s peak in the late 1980s.

Who Was Seth Warshavsky?

A smarmy-looking twentysomething man in a suit facing another man in a wood-paneled room
Fred Hechinger as Seth Warshavsky. Hulu
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Tommy assures Pam the furor over the tape will die down because “there’s no place left for it to go.” But then his bandmate Nikki Sixx manages to get Tommy onto the internet and there is the sex tape, being streamed. After the couple’s lawyer points out that now millions of people are watching it, Pam and Tommy decide to ask for an injunction against the company distributing the tape, Internet Entertainment Group. A judge denies their request on the grounds that the website, since it isn’t charging people to view the tape, is commentary protected by the First Amendment. Seth Warshavsky, the baby-faced founder of Internet Entertainment Group, is delighted, as he explains to the couple when he shows up at their lawyer’s office: First, the lawsuit shines an enormous publicity spotlight on his company. Second, the judge’s ruling confirms that it’s not illegal for him to stream the sex tape.

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Warshavsky has come bearing a deal: He wants to buy the online rights to the tape so he can charge for watching it. Tommy, predictably, explodes at the suggestion. But Warshavsky calmly points out that if he doesn’t have the online rights, anyone can post the tape on the web, whereas if he has the chain of title, he will have the right to take down other sites showing the tape and put up a paywall on his own site, which will greatly reduce the number of viewers. Pam says to give Warshavsky the rights for free because she doesn’t want to profit from the tape, but Tommy doesn’t want to make a deal at all because he thinks if they sell the rights, people will think they consented to the tape’s release.

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As played by Fred Hechinger, Warshavsky is a confident, savvy, and ambitious young entrepreneur. The real Warshavsky started IEG at 19 with a $7,000 loan and the phone number 1-800-GET-SOME. By the time the Anderson-Lee sex tape came along, the company had reportedly grossed more than $60 million, largely on the backs (literally) of cam girls taking off their clothes and performing solo sex acts on request. Also, as the show depicts, Warshavsky grasped the potential of the internet to revolutionize the porn industry early. “When high-speed TV-quality video hits the home computer,” a Seattle Weekly profile of him predicted, “he’ll begin around-the-world transmission of picture-perfect live sex from Seattle.”

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However, in place of Hechinger’s rather chilly charm, the real Warshavsky seems to have exuded an extra layer of sleaze. “Pretty much everyone in the adult and Internet industries despised Warshavsky,” Rolling Stone asserted, “as he was a sniveling huckster who wrote bad checks and owed lots of people money.” It’s also unlikely that Warshavsky would have mentioned a “paywall” because the term didn’t come into usage until the 2000s.

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It is true that initially Warshavsky’s main motivation for uploading the tape was publicity: Several former employees confirmed that he never thought he would be able to show the tape but only wanted the publicity that would come with the inevitable lawsuit.

As soon as the judge refused to grant an injunction, Warshavsky ran the tape on a loop for five hours. He didn’t meet Lee and Anderson in their lawyer’s office, but Lee’s reaction is accurate. One of Warshavsky’s associates told Rolling Stone, “We were in the back of a car, and Tommy was on speakerphone, and Tommy was like, ‘Seth, I’m going to kick your fucking ass.’ ”

Did Pam and Tommy Sign a Deal With Warshavsky After All?

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“I remember negotiating and thinking, ‘There is no way they’ll ever sign this,’ ” Warshavsky’s lawyer recalled, but in November 1997, they did. (The show’s timeline is somewhat off. In the episode, Anderson signs while pregnant with the couple’s first child, Brandon. In real life, she was pregnant with their second; Brandon was almost 18 months old at the time of the signing.) “Our lawyers and managers advised us that the best way to minimize the damages was to sign a contract saying that, since the company had us by the balls, we would reluctantly allow a one-time Webcast so long as they didn’t sell, copy, trade or rebroadcast it,” Lee said. “We thought we had won: hardly anyone would see the video on the Internet, and we could recover the tape and start over.” Instead, the tape went viral—a term that didn’t really exist yet because before it hit the internet, nothing had.

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Later, when the couple saw the tape being sold and rented in video stores, they sued Warshavsky in federal court, saying the original agreement had duped them. This time, they won: In 2002, a judge ordered IEG to pay Anderson and Lee $740,000 each. But by then the company didn’t exist. No lawyer turned up to argue its case, and Warshavsky was in Bangkok, where he had relocated in 2001 after the FBI and the Department of Justice investigated his businesses. Neither Anderson nor Lee ever saw any money from IEG.

Did Pam Change the “Tommy” Tattoo on Her Ring Finger to “Mommy”?

Yes, although not until after their divorce in 1998. She didn’t do it before the marriage was officially over, as the show suggests.

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