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Originally published Sunday, April 1, 2012 at 5:30 AM

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MTV's 'Savage U' has Seattle sex columnist Dan Savage on campus

Seattle sex columnist Dan Savage talks about sex culture with students on college campuses on MTV's "Savage U," airing 11 p.m. Tuesday.

Special to The Seattle Times

On TV

'Savage U'

11 p.m. Tuesday, MTV.

Tonight in Prime Time

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Giving sex and relationship advice to inquisitive college students isn't new for Dan Savage. He's been doing it for years in his print column, Savage Love, on a podcast and in person with campus visits.

With MTV's "Savage U" (11 p.m. Tuesday) he heads back to campus with a production crew in tow.

Savage, columnist and editorial director for Seattle's The Stranger alternative weekly, spends between three and five days at a university for each "Savage U" episode. That includes the taping of a Q&A session with an auditorium full of college kids who submit anonymous, written questions about sex and relationships.

These Q&A scenes thread through each "Savage U" episode, but Savage also meets with five or six students one on one to offer advice. A few of these conversations appear in each episode; the rest will turn up as web extras at MTV.com.

Savage and producer/sidekick Lauren Hutchinson also meet with groups of students to talk about the sex culture at their school. In the premiere episode, set at the University of Maryland, there's a chat with two guys and a young woman who are assigning score points to their romantic encounters.

"MTV's audience has a lot of young people, and hopefully some of them are thinking about college and this is a show that allows them to have a look without it being a campus tour, dullsville thing," Savage said last month while waiting for a flight at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport.

Savage, 47, said he initially pitched MTV executives a "Larry King Live"-type call-in show he calls "Fairy King Live," but the MTV folks were more interested in filming his campus appearances.

"It's exactly the same, just with cameras around me," Savage said, adding that he and his crew do their best to keep production demands (like reshoots) to a bare minimum. "We tried not to make the audience feel like they were props."

Savage previously shot a pilot for HBO that the network passed on — and rightly so, he said.

"It was more like I was poured into the late-night comic mold, something like [Bill] Maher," Savage said. "This is a much better realization for television of Savage Love. It's more authentically me, more authentically Savage Love."

It's Savage's second MTV project in the last few months. His first, a TV adaptation of the It Gets Better Project, profiled several LGBT youth and drew praise from critics and an MTV executive when it aired in February.

"I love it, and I think it's beautifully done and is impactful," said MTV head of programming David Janollari in February. "And who knows, maybe there will be more of those to come."

Savage said no decision has been made on another "It Gets Better" program, but he said MTV is interested in telling the stories of other LGBT kids.

"That's hugely invaluable," he said. "Some folks contacted me via email saying, 'Why do that on MTV, it should be on PBS.' But we want to get to kids who are being bullied and kids that are bullying. High school, middle-school kids, they're not into PBS. If we wanted to reach granddad, we would have done PBS."

Savage has written several books, including "The Kid," about adopting a son with his partner, Terry Miller. He'll begin working on a new book as soon as he gets "Savage U" on the air, but he wouldn't discuss the topic ("It should have been done 18 months ago but then 'It Gets Better' happened").

His goal for "Savage U," beyond "don't suck," is to offer advice that makes kids smarter and better informed about sex and relationships.

"When it comes to sex on television or sex advice or just sex, what you get is people taking crazy risks, not talking about the risks they're taking or acknowledging them. Or when it comes to sex advice, it's about never do anything remotely unsafe or involving risk," he said. "What I've always done is to take the middle ground. Tell an audience at a college, sex is going to kill some of you. Life is just that way. It doesn't mean nobody should ever have sex. People die when they drive, when they fly, when they eat dinner. People get Listeria from chicken salad, but you shouldn't tell everybody they should never touch chicken salad."

Freelance writer Rob Owen: RobOwenTV@gmail.com or on Facebook and Twitter as RobOwenTV.


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