Just after fall schedules are determined at networks' upfront presentations in late May, major networks send the pilots of their new programs to the media. These previews are not for in-depth review, because many pilots are retooled, recast, and reshot before they officially debut, and the final product might be much different. But that doesn't mean we can't share some basic ideas of what to expect!
The Show: The Playboy Club on NBC, which will air Mondays at 10pm starting on September 19. The series has also been picked up by Citytv for broadcast in Canada.
NBC's official logline: "It's the early '60s, and the legendary Playboy Club in Chicago is the door to all your fantasies... and the key is the most sought-after status symbol of its time. Step inside the seductive world of the Bunny, the epitome of beauty and service, and rub shoulders with the decade's biggest mobsters, politicos, and entertainers (like Tina Turner and Sammy Davis, Jr.). With all these larger-than-life ambitions, there are even greater secrets. Like when innocent new Bunny Maureen—who wants to take the world by storm—accidentally kills one of the Windy City's most powerful mafia bosses... and the only person capable of covering it up and protecting her is Nick Dalton, a man who once worked for the mob but is about to run for district attorney. Bunny Alice is married but hiding an explosive personal life, while Bunny Janie is running from a past that threatens to catch up with her. It seems everyone has a secret—none more so than Maureen, who may not even be the innocent orphan she appears to be. Thank goodness Hef's Playboy Mansion is open after hours for a little R&R...; and burying your past."
Early Intel: The Playboy Club was originally titled the kid-friendly Bunny Tales, then renamed the copyright-infringing Playboy, and then renamed the matter-of-fact The Playboy Club. Several of the actors okay'd nudity clauses, suggesting that we might see Amber Heard's boobs and Eddie Cibrian's butt when the show comes out on DVD—an unusual move for a network show. Also, several watchdog groups whose members button up their shirts all the way to the top are calling for local NBC affiliates to boycott the show and not air it. Sex! Controversy! Sex! But will all the hullabaloo translate to ratings?
First Thoughts: Like Pan Am, this show had to shoehorn a ridiculous storyline (mob boss murder!) into a unique setting to get picked up by a network. Also, the acting needs work.
What the series has going for it: No one will complain about the sets or say The Playboy Club doesn't look like it's been peeled from the 1960s. The best character is central bunny Maureen's (Heard) BFF Brenda (Naughton), an African-American woman with hopes of becoming the first black Playmate. She's fantastic, and stands far ahead of everyone else. Unfortunately she doesn't get the same amount of screen time as everyone else.
Room for Improvement: Um, where should I start? What good are these good-looking sets when no one will turn on the damned lights on so we can see them? And stoic Mad Men acting works okay when the big dramatic event is spilling a milkshake, but for God's sake show a little emotion when you find out you JUST KILLED A MOB BOSS! Finally, the difference between dramatic storylines is concerning; will we really care about a bartender who's upset about his girlfriend working at the club when somewhere else on the show JUST KILLED A MOB BOSS?
The Coolest Part of the Early Version: With no major casting changes announced since the pilot was filmed and no temporary special effects in the version we saw, we may have just watched what will air in the fall. There was a foggy shower door shot of a nude Heard that I could see being reshot for fear of backlash.
Last Word: The show thinks it can sell itself on the tail of a "provocative" property, but hasn't NBC heard of internet porn?
Here's NBC's official trailer for the series:
+ The Parents Television Council Takes on NBC's The Playboy Club
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+ First impressions of J.J. Abrams' Alcatraz
+ First impressions of ABC's Apartment 23
+ First impressions of ABC's Pan Am
+ First impressions of ABC's Suburgatory
Follow TV.com writer Tim Surette on Twitter: @TimAtTVDotCom