Casting couch

Casting couch

The casting couch is a euphemism for a sociological phenomenon that involves the trading of sexual favors by an aspirant, apprentice employee, or subordinate to a superior, in return for entry into an occupation, or for other career advancement within an organization. Careers which are highly desirable and traditionally difficult to break into, such as the movie, television and music industries, have been the subject of casting couch stories in popular culture. Such trading of favors is an abuse of power, and can become a wider sex scandal if deemed newsworthy.

The "casting couch" concept in many respects is connotative of the entertainment industry, but may apply to any industry for which entry is highly desirable and competitive.

Common characteristics in the social system

The casting couch involves either the superior asking sexual favor from a subordinate in return for economic or occupational support, or the subordinate luring and seducing a superior with the aim of bargaining for career or economic progression.

The casting couch is not restricted to any one particular gender on either side of the trade-off. In its broadest context it implies all social contracts that involves the exchange of sexual contact in return for economic security or career enhancement. Casting couches are a form of game theoretic trade off in social settings.

Accusations of the "casting couch"

  • In her 1991 book You'll Never Eat Lunch in This Town Again, Oscar-winning producer Julia Phillips attempted to expose many of the underground Hollywood institutions, and confirmed that "casting couch" mentality was alive and well in Hollywood.
  • In 2005 India TV's India's Most Wanted, an investigative TV show, caught Indian Idol host Aman Verma and longtime Bollywood acting legend Shakti Kapoor in a "sting" operation, and accused them of abusing their positions to force women to have sex with them. They even produced video evidence of Kapoor making advances on a planted girl. Verma, Kapoor and most of the Bollywood industry have defended themselves, calling India TV's claims unfounded and sensational, and claim that the video footage of Kapoor is misleading.
  • In 2006 Zhang Yu, a Chinese actress, released 20 graphic sex videos that she made herself to document her allegations that she won many of her roles through the casting couch.

References to "casting couch"

Due to the public's fascination with this alleged underground economy, several movie, book, and TV plots deal with sleazy executives attempting to abuse their position.

  • Disclosure (1994)
  • In Friends Episode #34 (1996), "The One With Russ", Joey is forced to sleep with a studio executive to land a role in the soap opera Days of our Lives.
  • In Mad Men Episode #110 (2007), "The Long Weekend" Sterling enlists Draper to aid him in seducing twins with a part in an advertising campaign. Prior to embarking, Sterling says, "There's a casting call at 4.... I think we should go down to casting and see who's on the couch. Remember, Don, when God closes a door, he opens a dress."
  • In L.A. Confidential (1997), a young actor is promised a role on a hit television show if he seduces a local lawmaker who is causing trouble for a movie studio.
  • In Honey (2003), the main character is blackballed from the music video industry because she refuses to sleep with a powerful video producer.
  • A fake business in Disney's California Adventure theme park in the park's Hollywood Pictures Backlot area is named "Philip A. Couch Casting Agency".
  • In a lyric from the song "I Wanna Be A Producer", written by Mel Brooks from The Producers, chorus girls sing "...He wants to be a producer with a great big casting couch!"
  • A Hollywood casting agency, Sande Alessi Casting, also goes by the name of The Casting Couch, Inc.
  • In a Telugu movie "Khadgam", directed by Krishna Vamsi, actress Sangeetha is forced to sleep with a film director to land a role in his film.
  • In a song called "Couch Test Casting" by rock-and-roll band The Mentors, the narrator colorfully describes his use of the couch to "screen" aspirants.
  • In season five of One Tree Hill, Marvin "Mouth" McFadden is lured into an affair with his boss at the News Station in order to receive air time.
  • In a song called "Roll The Dice" by Mickey Avalon, he sings about a young male actor sleeping with producers in an effort to "get his face on the screen".
  • In cycle 7 of America's next top model, The models completed a photoshoot in which they portrayed the stereotypes of the fashion industry. A.J Stewart was given the role of the casting couch model to portray.
  • Charlize Theron joked "the casting couch is alive and well" while discussing a film she stars in with her boyfriend on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno, September 22, 2008.
  • Several adult websites have been centered around the casting couch fantasy, most notably Reality Kings' First Time Auditions.



  • Anderson, C., & Berdahl, J. L. (2002). The experience of power: Examining the effects of power on approach and inhibition tendencies. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 83, 1362-1377.
  • Thibaut, J. W., & Kelley, H. H. (1959). The social psychology of groups. New York: Wiley.

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