The taping begins innocuously enough, with a mellifluous female voice murmuring, “This is Aerobicise No. 4 to slim your waist, thighs and upper arms.” Then a sleek woman’s torso, clad in a clinging blue leotard, begins swaying to the pulsating beat as a rock musician croons seductively, Do it to me one more time. Do it to me, baby. The camera zooms in like an overwrought voyeur on the woman’s thighs, crotch and buttocks. Do it to me every night. C’mon and make me smile. “4-3-2-1. Arms out, breathe out,” the voice commands. Tossing her brunette mane, the woman in blue bends forward, puckers her lips, and blows softly into the camera.
Despite such occasional raunchiness, Ron Harris, the 49-year-old creator of cable TV’s phenomenally popular Aerobicise, rejects the notion that his show is just a jiggle away from soft porn. “It’s strictly good exercise being perfectly performed,” he protests. “Ninety-nine out of 100 times, there is no ass shot. It’s sensual. But no one does anything suggestive ever.”
Ever? Legs, hips, lips and cleavage flash on the video monitors as Harris calls the shots to four cameramen. A specially designed electronic device gives him total control over the cameras’ zoom lenses, which he uses with little restraint. “Many shows on TV are repulsive compared to what I’m into,” he contends. “Charlie’s Angels was full of T&A, violence and had no redeeming social values. If Aerobicise turns people on, that’s good for them. Sensuality keeps people healthy.”
Certainly it hasn’t hurt Harris. In the past 18 months he has grossed $1.4 million from Aerobicise, which is carried by Showtime and several smaller pay cable companies. Video disc and cassette sales have topped $1 million, with two new tapes—one not yet released—set to retail for $44.95 each. Harris plans a syndicated half-hour version of Aerobicise (the current programs are of varying lengths) on commercial TV next March.
It all started in 1980 with a four-minute pilot featuring Harris’ then girlfriend, Jami Allen, now associate producer and the self-described “voice of Aerobicise.” Harris’ current star performer is aerobics teacher Deborah Corday, 22, who is paid $750 a day and doubles as talent scout-choreographer. Harris considers himself protective of his “girls,” most of whom receive $400 to $500, but his primary concern is the program. “I fired my last studio manager for hitting on one of the girls, and I fired her as well,” Harris says. “During the shooting, there is no hanky-panky.”
Personally, Harris, who is four times divorced, likes as much hanky-panky as he can get. “I need to be with what other people would consider an oversexed woman,” he says, adding that he and his current flame, a young dancer, make love twice a day. A previous girlfriend, Gloria Steinem, says she only vaguely recalls her romance with Ron in the early ’60s, but Harris claims she gave him the gold-and-enamel Superman S that he still wears around his neck.
Born in Brooklyn, Harris attended New York’s High School of Performing Arts and later, he says, became a $37.80-a-week assistant to glamour photographer Francesco Scavullo. After 25 years in commercial photography, Harris shifted his focus to video. Five years ago he took up aerobics in order to shed 50 pounds. Now down to 200, Harris (who is 5’11”) lives in Westwood, Calif. with daughter Tiffany, 10. He still indulges in “sensual” foods like pasta, apple pie and pineapple upside-down cake. In diet, as well as in video, he isn’t terribly concerned with what people think. “To me,” he says, “sensuality is synonymous with beauty, nature and mathematical perfection. If little old ladies don’t call to say they’re offended, I’m not doing my job right.”