Playboy founder Hugh Hefner now says what TV insiders have been muttering for months: That NBC’s Playboy Club was better suited for a cable network than a broadcast channel.
NBC brass axed the show after three episodes yesterday, making Playboy Club the first canceled show of the fall. The publishing icon took to Twitter to give his brief postmortem: “I’m sorry NBC’s The Playboy Club didn’t find it’s audience,” he wrote, “It should have been on cable, aimed at a more adult audience.”
Even the PTC would agree with Hef on that one. There were a few reasons why the show didn’t work:
First, airing a series called Playboy Club — a brand synonymous with grown-up content — while maintaining family-friendly standards felt like an exercise in restraint and frustration for the show’s writers and fans alike. Second, a 1960s drama about a Chicago gentleman’s club is a concept that seemed likely to attract a niche audience, not a broad(cast) audience. Plus, the trouble with stories set decades in the past is they tend to (not always, but tend to… ) draw viewers who remember that era — older viewers, in other words. Broadcast needs to sell advertising to viewers 18-49 in order to thrive. And Playboy Club doubled down on that nostalgia hook by not only having a 1960s setting but by wrapping its story around a publishing brand most appreciated by Baby Boomers.
So what you had in Playboy Club was an idea that was likely to draw a niche audience, more likely to draw older viewers, yet saddled with content standards that made it so it couldn’t really deliver on the show’s premise to the grown-up viewers who were most likely to show up.
So if Playboy Club is better suited to cable, might it still find a home there?
The series will continue production through Oct. 10 and producers have said they hope to continue the show on cable. But Playboy Club is not Southland. You can see why a cable network like TNT would think a cop drama with a critical following could be retrofitted for cable, a place where repeats of CSI and Law & Order flourish.
It’s one thing to take a chance on a high-concept drama of your own making, or buy one with a proven track record (like Starz doing Torchwood). But Playboy Club never quite proved its format in the first place and, as always, it’s very tough to shrink the budget of a show made for broadcast for a cable network.
All this is a way of saying that Playboy Club was arguably the most interesting, if flawed, experiment of the fall, a truly feathered fish (or, in this case, a feathered bunny).