Fact vs Fiction — 'Pam & Tommy' season 1 episode 5: Were Playboy and Penthouse really fighting over Pam and Tommy?

Pam & Tommy Lily James
Lily James and Mozhan Marnò in 'Pam & Tommy' (Image credit: Erin Simkin/Hulu)

This post contains spoilers for Pam & Tommy season 1 episode 5, "Uncle Jim and Aunt Susie in Duluth." 

There are several factors that tie the events depicted in Pam & Tommy and the recent Impeachment: American Crime Story, beyond the decade they are set in. The internet played a pivotal role in the news coverage of Monica Lewinsky and Pamela Anderson as both incidents occurred when outlets were expanding online. Both women at the heart of these stories also became a lazy punchline for late-night talk show writers’ rooms and these cultural artifacts are used to emphasize the themes of each series.

Pam & Tommy opened with a glimpse of Pam (Lily James) appearing on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno, with the star reluctantly answering questions about the sex tape. The timeline hasn’t quite caught up to this appearance but the late-night host does reference the “love tape” in his monologue, speaking to how far the story has spread. 

“Uncle Jim and Aunt Susie in Duluth” deals head-on with the scandal that is continuing to gain attention and the fallout impacting the show's titular couple. As soon as people living in cities like Duluth, Minn., know about the story then the late-night writers know Jay (Adam Ray) will reference it. At the start of episode 5, this is not the case, but by the end, it is considered fair game.

It is February 1996 and Pam is experiencing a number of professional setbacks now that the tape train has well and truly left the station. Legal action is considered, which will shine a larger spotlight on the story and provide material for the growing outlets that are going digital. 

The internet gave Rand Gauthier (Seth Rogen) the means to distribute the tape while also spreading the story further. Publications like The New York Times, USA Today, The National Enquirer and Star Magazine are now publishing their own stories online. Pam’s publicist gives her a lesson in how to use a search engine, which demonstrates the ease of cross-referencing sources in the internet age — while also revealing just how many bootleg copies of the tape are in circulation. 

We are going to separate fact from fiction in the limited series Pam & Tommy. This episode-by-episode guide continues with Tommy Lee (Sebastian Stan) lashing out, the impact it is having on both of their careers and the adult magazine rivalry that plays a pivotal role.

Was there a rivalry between the Playboy and Penthouse founders? 

Pam & Tommy Lily James Sebastian Stan

Lily James and Sebastian Stan in 'Pam & Tommy' (Image credit: Erin Simkin/Hulu)

The short answer is yes, and this spells big trouble for Pam because of where her loyalty lies. When Tommy finds out that Penthouse founder Bob Guccione (Maxwell Caulfield) has the tape, he instantly knows they will be thrust into the middle of Bob’s feud with Hugh Hefner (Mike Seely). 

“He’d do anything to stick it to Hef, and what better way than running a bunch of porno shots of Hef’s golden girl, Miss Playboy herself,” Tommy tells his wife. This has been referred to as “the greatest rivalry in porn” and it is well documented that both men shared a hatred for the other. 

Amanda Chicago Lewis also reports on this aspect in the Rolling Stone piece (that Pam & Tommy is adapted from) and how it fueled the publicity fire: “A lawyer for Penthouse promised the magazine wouldn’t publish any images from the tape, but the couple started to panic.” The scene with their team of lawyers shows Pam is the one who doesn’t want to pull the trigger on a lawsuit, thinking it will result in national news coverage, though they ultimately did file suit. Her fears are proved correct and by the end of the episode the world knows. 

Did Glamour pull their interview with Pam? 

Lily James in Pam & Tommy

Lily James in 'Pam & Tommy' (Image credit: Erin Simkin/Hulu)

“I can’t believe I’m actually going to be in a women's magazine,” Pam wistfully tells Tommy at the start of “Uncle Jim and Aunt Susie in Duluth” about her interview with Glamour magazine. By the end of the episode, this story has seemingly been pulled from the publication with the implication that the press coverage (including the litigation with Penthouse) is the reason why. 

Anderson was no stranger to the newsstand, having been featured on the covers of Playboy, FHM and Maxim. However, she did not get the same kind of coverage from publications like Glamour, Cosmopolitan, Elle and Vogue, which is why the two-hour interview with Glamour means the world to the star. 

While there is no specific record of this interaction or subsequent killing of the profile, there is no Glamour feature with Anderson discussing Barb Wire available from this period. Women's magazines did finally embrace the star in the ‘90s and she made the cover of Cosmopolitan in 1998 and 1999.

Did Tommy assault a fan at the Viper Room?

Sebastian Stan in Pam & Tommy

Sebastian Stan in 'Pam & Tommy' (Image credit: Erin Simkin/Hulu)

The famous bar situated in West Hollywood was a celebrity hotspot in the 1990s and Tommy Lee was a patron. While there is no evidence he lashed out at other patrons, he was charged with battery after he was alleged to have thrown a photographer to the ground when he was leaving the Viper Room in September 1996. This continues the drummer’s well-documented animosity toward the paparazzi.  

Did Third Eye Blind bump Mötley Crüe from a bigger studio?

Sebastian Stan and Chris Mann in Pam & Tommy

Sebastian Stan and Chris Man in 'Pam & Tommy' (Image credit: Erin Simkin/Hulu)

While Pam is dealing with getting sex-shamed and losing magazine features, Tommy is also experiencing some work disappointment. Though this is less to do with the sex tape — which plays into the rock persona — and more to do with the grunge artists that have taken the popularity mantle from bands like Mötley Crüe. 

Tommy sneers at the Viper Room’s choice of Sleater-Kinney on the bar sound system and then gets into a heated discussion with Third Eye Blind at the recording studio. The issue? Third Eye Blind is set up in Studio A while Tommy and his bandmates are relegated to Studio B. It turns out they are both on the same label and this defuses the situation somewhat, but did this clash actually happen?

Probably not. Third Eye Blind co-founding guitarist Kevin Cadogan recently told Ultimate Classic Rock, “I am not aware of any studio issues with Mötley Crüe. We were rising fast back then, so wouldn't surprise me if a studio bumped Crüe for us. Certainly wouldn’t be the case now though.” 

More Fact vs Fiction — Pam & Tommy

Emma Fraser

Emma Fraser spends most of her time writing about TV, fashion, and costume design; Dana Scully is the reason she loves a pantsuit. Words can also be found at Vulture, Elle, Primetimer, Collider, Little White Lies, Observer, and Girls on Tops. Emma has a Master’s in Film and Television, started a (defunct) blog that mainly focused on Mad Men in 2010, and has been getting paid to write about TV since 2015. It goes back way further as she got her big start making observations in her diary about My So-Called Life’s Angela Chase (and her style) at 14.