NBC's 'Playboy' Pitch Failing With Feminists, Not Just Traditionalists

NBC's going to have a tough time with critics from both directions on its new show "The Playboy Club."  Radical feminist Gloria Steinem casually dismissed the series in a panel discussion at the Television Critics Association confab in Los Angeles. Steinem, who once went undercover as a Playboy bunny, strongly suggested the show was exploiting the past to feed the male need for nostalgia in tough economic times.

TV critics weren't buying NBC's claim the show was female-empowering.  “I hear someone use the word ‘empowering’ but I’ve heard from my female readers that a show centered on Playboy…they don’t see it as empowering,” said one TV critic. “And your central story involves a woman who needs to rely on a man to get through the crisis that she in the middle of. How is this show empowering and how are you going to be able to sell female viewers on this show -- a show centered on a nudie magazine -- as empowering?”

In the pilot, openly lesbian actress Amber Heard stars as a young woman named Maureen who is hired as a bunny at the Playboy Club in Chicago. Maureen gets sexually harassed by a mobster in a back room of the club and, as she tries to escape, the mobster falls, and she accidentally (implausibly) kills him by plunging her stiletto heel into his skull. A club regular, Nick, a lawyer who has political aspirations and mob connections, comes to her rescue, sneaking her out of the club – and over to his place. That’s not a female-empowerment  narrative. It’s a barely-clothed-waitress-in-distress plot.

Ian Biederman, another executive producer of “Playboy Club,” tried   to toss out NBC’s primary talking point. “Well, the first thing I’d say is, it’s not based on the magazine, it’s based on The Playboy Club in 1961. It’s entirely different.”

The critic shot back sarcastically, “That’s an empowering institution for women. I can see that.”

Why can’t NBC be honest enough to proclaim that the network is promoting and associating itself with porn? They want to pretend the Playboy Club is very tame, sort of a Sixties version of Hooters. So why don’t they just make a show about Hooters? Somehow, NBC thinks that Playboy in the Sixties is far more glamorous. Then they try to deny they’re promoting the entire Playboy empire.

Another critic wanted to talk about one of the show’s silly promotional slogans about the club being a place where men hold the key but women run the show. “That just seems ridiculous to me… all the Playboy Clubs were run by men. And Hugh Hefner, I’m sure, had a lot to say about how women were portrayed, what they could do, couldn’t do. How are women running the show here in reality?”

"There is no Playboy Club without these women,” explained cast member Naturi Naughton, which is almost as dumb as claiming there is no McDonald’s without the cattle. “At the end of the day, of course the men hold the key. But let’s be real. This is a world that you come to enjoy the music. You walk in. You feel like you’re in this fantasy, and that’s what it was. It’s like Disney World for adults.”

That whirring sound you hear is Walt Disney spinning in his grave at being associated with Hugh Hefner.

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Tim Graham
Tim Graham
Tim Graham is Executive Editor of NewsBusters and is the Media Research Center’s Director of Media Analysis