NBC President Robert Greenblatt was really committed to the new drama "The Playboy Club" just weeks ago. "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." They tried it. Three episodes later, NBC made it the first canceled series of the season. Trains have rarely wrecked as ingloriously as this one.
By the third episode, NBC could barely muster 3 million viewers, while ABC ("Castle") and CBS ("Hawaii Five-O") were both over 11 million. This show had flop sweat all over it. Entertainment Weekly wrote after the cancellation announcement that "The move is no surprise and, indeed, was expected months before the show premiered." So why on Earth did NBC work so hard to promote this show and its pornographic brand?
They weren't the only promoters. The Playboy porn empire aggressively swung for the fences, pushing the NBC show everywhere, including the cover of its October issue. For which they charged just 60 cents at the porn stand. (NBC was promoted right above "The Gentleman's Guide to Having an Affair.")
Playboy chieftain Hugh Hefner tweeted his spin: "I'm sorry NBC's 'The Playboy Club' didn't find its audience. It should have been on cable, aimed at a more adult audience." That's a weird analysis, since putting it on cable would have made the comparisons to AMC's sixties drama "Mad Men" even more intense. It's also disingenuous. NBC most deliberately wanted to bring all the shock and awe to higher-profile broadcast TV. On cable, it wouldn't have lasted two hours.
TV critics were pretty brutal with NBC. Previewing the season debut, Time's James Poniewozik presciently wrote, "I suspect that using the actual Playboy brand is the original sin of a show based in a theoretically strong premise, from which by definition it can't recover."
Poniewozik found Hefner's cameo on the show's first episode especially vomit inducing. He shared his personal notes about his reaction. Hefner's voice-over cooed: "It was the early '60s, and the bunnies were some of the only women in the world who could be anyone they wanted to be." Poniewozik reacted "Barf". Then Hefner said, "So come on in. You can be anyone you want to be. But like it says on the door, if you don't swing -- don't ring." Poniewozik's note to himself: "Barf, Barf, Barf."