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NBC's Naked Ambitions

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As the network TV barons peruse a menu of pilots for new fall shows, some just jump out of the pile. Some Tinseltown pundits have already pegged it as "likely" that NBC will pick up a show for fall called "The Playboy Club." Just like it sounds, the show is based on Hugh Hefner's original Playboy Club in Chicago in swinging 1963. If that doesn't sound porn-friendly enough, the pilot's producers at 20th Century Fox TV required all actors on the show to sign a nudity clause -- virtually unheard of in broadcast television.

"Nudity" in this contract is defined as well, nudity. But that's not what grabs attention. This is: "Nudity as defined above and/or simulated sex acts may be required in connection with player's services in the pilot and/or series," the clause reads, according to Variety. Actors may now be required to be naked on NBC.

Despite this new low, Variety was told there was no nudity in the pilot, and producers didn't plan any such thing for NBC. But apparently, the broadcast version would provide temptation for the titillated to buy the DVD for the "extras." (And if there will be no nudity, why a nudity clause?)

Variety guessed that the "Playboy" show could travel in the opposite direction from edgy HBO fare like "The Sopranos" and "Sex and the City." A "clean" version would air on NBC, and then a sleazier version might appear on pay cable -- or perhaps on an edgy basic-cable channel like FX.

The Parents Television Council condemned NBC for its blatant attempt to obliterate broadcast decency standards with this show. When Comcast bought NBC Universal, the PTC asked the Federal Communications Commission to press Comcast to stipulate it would not use the public airwaves to "distribute pornographic material." As PTC president Tim Winter now states, "The ink isn't even dry yet on the company merger and we're already saying 'We told you so.'"

Could the nudity clause be but a moralist-teasing ploy to use scandal to boost the program's chances for a fall pickup? Sleaze doesn't always sell.

This pornographer-glamorizing show wouldn't be a first for Fox Television. Nearly everyone's already forgotten "Skin," which Jerry Bruckheimer made for Fox in 2003. The premise was a teen Romeo-and-Juliet romance between the son of a district attorney and the daughter of a porn magnate.

Critics adored it. Frank Rich of The New York Times raved, "Bruckheimer didn't get where he is by being ahead of the curve. He is the curve. His gut tells him, accurately, that porn is not just well within the American mainstream but overdue to be stripped of its plain brown wrapper in prime time."

But does this sound familiar? Bruckheimer expressed his intention to have the DVD release contain more explicit edits of the episodes than what was broadcast on Fox. Sometimes, these business ploys don't pay off. Unfortunately for Bruckheimer and his media boosters like Rich, Fox only aired six episodes before it all ended with a ratings-crashing yawn.

So much for "Bruckheimer isn't ahead of the curve. He is the curve."

Even if NBC picked up the show and steered clear of a nudity clause, the show could give a boost to Hefner's flagging porn empire. Stock analysts have seen quarterly loss after quarterly loss for Playboy, and Hefner bought back his shares at an inflated price to avoid a takeover by other pornographers. One thing is making money for Playboy: licensing its brand.

If NBC picks up this show, the resulting glamour could provide a real, well, "stimulus" for the Playboy brand. The Palms Hotel in Las Vegas opened a Playboy Club in 2006, and a new Playboy Club opened this month in the hot spot of Macau on China's southern coast.

How times have changed. In 2011, "The Playboy Club" defines what the "progressives" in Hollywood will glamorize. But back in 1985, ABC made a TV-movie called "A Bunny's Tale" to dramatize uber-feminist Gloria Steinem's 1963 expose of the Playboy clubs as a thankless job for the overworked, underdressed help.

Where are Steinem and her brigade of feminists to protest NBC and Fox for their Hefner-boosting plans in 2011? This is just another example marking how lame and discredited the feminist movement looks today.

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