NBC Kicks the Bunny Out of Bed; Social Conservatives Gloat

NEW YORK—Morality in Media is claiming that viewer outrage is one of the reasons NBC pulled the plug on The Playboy Club, but the real reasons the network bailed are probably far more mundane. The freshman drama was up against very strong competition in its Monday 10 p.m. time slot, received tepid reviews and its ratings, which weren’t stellar for the debut, saw significant erosion during its brief three week run.

Translation: the show wasn’t good enough to survive the uncompromising economics of network television.

Still, conservative groups like MiM and the Parents Television Council worked their butts off to generate outrage towards the show and NBC, so it’s no surprise that they now want to take credit for its demise. That the show itself was pretty tame in terms of its sexuality was beside the point; the iconic Playboy bunny was featured every week on broadcast television. For some reason, the brand continues to act as a lightning rod for conservatives who like nothing better than to tell other people how they should live their lives.

But the show also irked feminist dinosaurs like Gloria Steinem, who spoke out against the show for distorting the actual conditions of Playboy clubs of yore. Is she kidding? Playboy’s octogenarian founder, Hugh Hefner, who tries hard to remain relevant as a social icon, is simply no longer dangerous, and neither, for that matter, is Playboy. The fact that these social conservatives and people like Steinem are still able to muster so much outrage about a brand as docile as Playboy’s is something that no one under the age of even 50 can begin to comprehend. Everyone involved in the denunciation looks silly, out of step with life and unable to act their age. It's kind of pathetic when you think about it.

Sadly, though, it is precsiely the overblown reaction to The Playboy Club that makes its cancellation, for whatever reasons, somewhat dangerous, in that it may send a message to the other networks that the risks of attempting similar fare are not worth the potential rewards. It won't matter that there was nothing really at risk in the first place. For the big three, taking even non-existent risks is not something they do well.

On the bright side, however, it may be that the failure of The Playboy Club will mean nothing at all in the sexual or even feminist scheme of things. The idea that, as the PTC charges, the Playboy brand “denigrates and sexualizes women” any more than did, say, Charlie Sheen’s character in the primetime mega-hit Two and a Half Men is absolutely ridiculous. But so actually is the entire conversation. People don’t stop watching shows because of a brand but because they’re bored. Likewise, if a show catches the imagination of viewers, it will remain on the air, controversy or no controversy. End of story.

So gloat all you want, MiM and PTC, but your sense of accomplishment will certainly be short-lived. As we speak, minds far more twisted than those who worked on The Playboy Club are slaving over scripts for new shows that strive to do what good television is supposed to do: tell great stories with interesting characters who may or may not live traditionally acceptable lives. A few of those ideas will make it into production, and at least one will be a hit, with millions of fans waiting breathlessly for the next perverted episode, and there won’t be a damn thing you or your “feminist” friends can do about it.