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The men of TV get something off their chests: their shirts

NEW GIRL:  Schmidt (Max Greenfield) still encumbered by his penis cast uses trash bag diaper protect cast when he

NEW GIRL: Schmidt (Max Greenfield), still encumbered by his penis cast uses a trash bag diaper to protect the cast when he showers in the all-new Season Two "Re-launch" episode of NEW GIRL airing Tuesday, Sept. 25 (8:00-8:30 PM ET/PT) on FOX. ©2012 Fox Broadcasting Co. Cr: Adam Taylor/FOX

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Updated: November 29, 2012 6:22AM

Topless men may seem like today’s TV trend, but the concept is nothing new. Whether part of a marketing plan to female audiences, or a writer’s technique for building a story line, torso sightings began decades ago.

“Growing up, I remember watching TV with my mom and there were shirtless men,” says Cosmopolitan editor-at-large John Searles. “Lorenzo Lamas on ‘Falcon Crest,’ Patrick Duffy in the famous shower scene on ‘Dallas,’ and Lee Majors running shirtless as ‘The Six Million Dollar Man.’ ”

It may look like eye candy, but that’s not the raison d’etre for going half-bare, actors and producers say.

“People are thinking, maybe it’s supposed to fill up the demographic for the CW with female viewers,” says Stephen Amell, the hunky star on that network. “There’s an element of that that’s true,” he adds, although his torso shots highlight scars and tattoos that advance the story line.

Dramas aren’t the only shows showing skin. The endearingly repugnant Schmidt (Max Greenfield) on Fox’s sitcom “New Girl” is often shirtless, but “it’s part of the fabric of who Schmidt is,” says executive producer Dave Finkel.

He’s “a bit of a narcissist. He’s also a guy who has dealt with weight issues over the course of his life, so he’s now gotten his body where he wants it to be [and] he’s going to flaunt it,” Finkel says. “It’s a way of putting himself out there.”

“New Girl,” Finkel says, has a female fan base, and “ladies love Schmidt. Most everyone loves Schmidt, but we have a large core female audience. It’s never been a thing of ‘let’s pander to the masses.’ ... We only do it when it’s funny or character motivated.”

And while it may not be crucial to the story on CW’s “Beauty and the Beast,” it is what audiences want, says native New Zealander Jay Ryan, who stars as the attractive if occasionally beastly Vincent Keller.

When the show’s pilot was tested, he says viewers asked, “How come the lead male actor doesn’t have his shirt off in the first episode?”

“I knew that eventually that would be coming,” Ryan says, “so I wanted to make it very specific to the writers that the shirt comes off when there’s a need for it to come off. And basically not to put all our cards on the table in the first episode.”

Ryan buys into the marketing. “I think that it has to do with the audience demographic becoming heavily female-based. They are the No. 1 shoppers in retail, and TV’s made to sell products. So it’s only natural [for] male actors having to get their kits off.”

On the premiere of CBS’ well-regarded Sherlock Holmes re-invention “Elementary,” our first glimpse of the quirky detective is a shirtless one, displaying not only star Jonny Lee Miller’s bare chest but also his array of real-life tattoos.

“I don’t really have many regrets in my life,” he told reporters last summer, “but some of my choices in the ’90s made for some rather time-consuming makeup calls.” That’s no longer the case, he says, as the tattoos fit the character, which is a “huge relief.”

Tattoos or no, it isn’t always easy for these guys to look that good. Most work hard for their six-pack; for others, it’s a gift.

“To be honest, it’s pretty much genetics,” says “Chicago Fire’s” Taylor Kinney. “I’ll do some cardio stuff to sweat and get my blood going, and then just some high-rep/low-weight dumbbell stuff. If I can stay busy and put headphones on and hit it hard for 45 minutes, that’s all I’m looking to do.”

Searles, speaking from the perspective of a Cosmo editor, says, “I think the world’s caught on to what we’ve known all along, that there’s nothing better than looking at a half-naked man. We were pioneers in this field. People are just catching up to our way of thinking.”

Gannett News Service

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