The Playboy Club: Doomed from the Start

By Maria Cheung

Reviewed by Jennifer Williams

The fate of NBC’s The Playboy Club may have been set in stone before the pilot even aired. The network pulled the controversial show off the air after only three episodes, although the cast and crew shot a total of seven episodes.  The cancellation is no surprise and was expected months before the show premiered. The drama attempted to attract a wide audience on a network with many content restrictions.  The show premiered to low ratings and then dropped for each of its three telecasts with the last night attracting only 3.4 million viewers and a 1.2 rating in the adult demographic.

Although the show had relatively tame content, conservative groups such as the Parents Television Council (“PTC”) vehemently protested the show and urged NBC affiliates nationwide to preempt the series. The group, which aims to make television more children friendly, accused the show of pornography and glamorizing an insidious industry. The PTC released a statement saying they were pleased with the cancellation:

“Bringing The Playboy Club to broadcast television was a poor programming decision from the start. We’re pleased that NBC will no longer be airing a program so inherently linked to a pornographic brand that denigrates and sexualizes women … we hope other broadcasters heed the important lessons of this programming debacle.”

However, if any of the PTC members bothered to watch the show they would discover that The Playboy Club is anything but pornographic. The only possible risqué attribute to the show that makes it different from other shows on television today is the Playboy name. The Playboy Club is set in the early 1960’s and depicts a fictionalized account of the early Chicago Playboy club filled with pretty Bunnies (fully clothed in bunny costumes that consist of ears, a pom-pom tail, and leotards) who serve drinks and cigarettes to the keyholders, who come to socialize and see the Bunnies. Aside from the normal romantic entanglements, the show also features a political mafia murder mystery and a story line that revolves around the gay rights movement. Yet, these potentially intriguing plotlines were of no interest to the PTC, who simply labeled the show as porn.

Ultimately, the PTC’s protests of the show amount to the most serious forms of content based censorship. The Bunny costumes are less revealing than some of the clothes the performers wear on Dancing with the Stars, or the Miss America pageant, both of which I am sure the PTC considers more child friendly than The Playboy Club. Any sexual scenes were PG by television standards, especially considering the show aired at 10 pm, when most children are likely to be fast asleep. The story lines had some decent content, although poor writing overshadowed it. There was some violence but nothing even close to Law & Order. And yes, the Playboy Club glamorized drinking and smoking cigarettes and cigars, but this is nothing new even on network television.  Ultimately, the show’s content was not obscene, offensive or indecent, the usual constitutional standard used to evaluate free speech.

According to reports, Bravo may pick up The Playboy Club in the U.S. and the show will air in Europe with even more risqué content. It seems the PTC may not have won after all.

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