Bozell Column: NBC Leans on Playboy

NBC has placed a new drama called "The Playboy Club" on its fall schedule to capitalize on the scandalous sound of America's most famous pornography empire. If this network had any shame at all, it wouldn't be so desperate to associate itself with female exploitation.

So far, one brave NBC affiliate, KSL in Salt Lake City, has refused to join in this porn-promoting parade.  "The Playboy brand is known internationally," KSL President Mark Willes declared. "Everyone is clear what it stands for. We want to be sure everyone is clear whatthe KSL brand stands for, which is completely inconsistent with the Playboy brand. We would be helping to build a brand that stands for pornography. For us, that's just untenable."

NBC president Robert Greenblatt has offered his rebuttal, and wrapped himself in a mantle of righteousness. "What it has going for it is a recognizable brand that's automatically going to draw attention to it, good or bad," he said. "It's the right kind of thing for us to try."

The same could be said for the KKK. It has a "recognizable brand." Would NBC consider a drama in that direction?

In an attempt to prevent this seedy show from the avalanche of bad publicity it so richly deserves, the producers of "The Playboy Club" are trying some real spin-control howlers. Like..this show is really about the female characters and their empowerment.  It's "all about empowering these women to be whatever they want to be," executive producer Chad Hodge told a room of reporters in Los Angeles the Television Critics Association (TCA) press tour.

The critics aren't buying it. "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.

So far, NBC isn't finding fans in any corner. But NBC president Greenblatt is trying to insist the show won't lose another affiliate, and the show isn't really that edgy. "I guess I wasn't completely surprised (at the Utah defection). That brand name is a little polarizing. I think the show isn't all that revealing." Hodge even claimed "It's mild compared to anything else on television. It really has nothing to do with anything racy or trying to be exploitative."

So why not call it "The Copacabana Club"? It's "The Playboy Club" because it wants to be racy. And it is going to be exploitative. That's the ugly reality.

How racy? The pilot's producers at 20th Century Fox TV required the actors to sign a contract with a nudity clause, something unheard of in network television. The lawyers insisted "Nudity as defined above and/or simulated sex acts may be required in connection with the player's services in the pilot and/or series." For the actors, nudity may not be optional. It's required for employment. So executive producer Hodge is lying, pure and simple.

NBC has tried to argue that this show isn't about the porn magazine, just about a vaguely related nightclub. But this show is about pornifying the culture, promoting the Playboy brand as sexy and sophisticated. And it's about NBC pushing the glamorization of nudity as far as they can go in a blatant attempt to improve its sagging ratings.

Advocates for family-friendly television are also giving NBC headaches. They asked reporters to squash the story of a letter-writing campaign to NBC affiliates organized by the Parents Television Council to refuse to air the show. In an editorial predictably lining up with Hollywood, Broadcasting & Cable magazine reported that "someone at NBC" asked them "Are you sure this is a story?" They added, "We have heard this question before from other network executives about other PTC complaints and the answer remains, sadly, yes."

The magazine's editorialists complained the PTC is newsworthy because "they have gotten results in the past," all because of "powers given to it by government [through the Federal Communications Commission], not journalists, and a power above and beyond the merits of its complaints." Isn't it ironic that the same people who always argue against "censorship" want to squash news stories against them?

It doesn't matter to Hollywood and its affiliated publicity organs like Broadcasting & Cable that pro-family groups aren't petitioning the FCC on this program. They are just organizing Americans in a letter-writing campaign to NBC stations. Democracy and public activism apparently are supposed to end where Hollywood "creativity" begins.

NBC should be universally mocked for making ridiculous arguments that this show is somehow not about nudity or pornography, or that it's female-empowering, or that opposition isn't newsworthy. This show should be denounced as a tawdry mess by the religious right and the feminist left and everyone in between. 

Brent Bozell
Brent Bozell
Brent Bozell is the Founder and President of the Media Research Center