There’s been an uproar over the sex kittens coming to NBC this fall in the form of Playboy bunnies, but the producers of “The Playboy Club” say the presumed racy content, implied by the provocative title and brand reputation, is hardly controversial when you hop to it.
“I would say that in terms of content and anything racy, it’s mild compared to a lot of stuff that’s on television,” says executive producer Ian Biederman. “It really has nothing to do, as I think anyone who has seen the pilot will tell you, with anything racy or trying to be exploitative. It’s just not the purpose of the show, not the spirit of the show.”
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The showrunners and the entire cast talked with reporters Monday in Beverly Hills about the touchy subject, where the bunnies and the bosses were eager to stress that this is “a very deep, character driven show” – and the women in the “Club” aren’t just sex objects, the characters are “empowered,” “independent,” and “running the show.”
“Really, the show is all about empowering, and who these women can be, and how they can use their position to get what they want,” says producer Chad Hodge.
The smoky, sexy vibe and the sixties setting also leads to inevitable comparisons to the Emmy-winning drama “Mad Men,” but those begin and end with the era, the producers say.
“I think the comparison to ‘Mad Men’ sort of ends at the era of the ’60s. This is a much different show with a
much different energy. It’s got a musical component that’s great. So I don’t think beyond that it really has much to do with ‘Mad Men.’ It’s its own show,” says Biederman
As for that musical component, producers plan to evoke the era through the tunes of such legends as Sammy Davis Jr., Ray Charles, Sam Cook, Tina Turner, and, of course, Frank Sinatra. In addition, several cast members will perform each week; most notably, the character of Carol-Lynne (played by Laura Benanti) will be singing in almost every episode, “as well as some of these other girls, who you will see have that talent themselves,” says Hodge.
Biederman also has a theory on why the allure of the sixties is making a TV comeback right now.
“My opinion is that these are very difficult and complex and often sort of adverse times for people and the early ’60s were a very hopeful time,” he says, “with Camelot and the Kennedys and all kinds of things beginning and becoming, and that’s what the show is about and I think that’s why people are attracted to it right now … to take a little break from the way things are.”
At the tail end of the discussion, the producers pointed out that the bunny’s in the details: “The series is not based on the magazine, it’s based on The Playboy Club in 1961. “It’s entirely different.” Also, “bunnies” should not be confused with centerfolds – the terms are not interchangeable. “Bunnies are not centerfolds, although they can be if they want to be.”
“Tomorrow we start shooting our first episode after the pilot, and that’s part of the storyline in the first episode, is the difference between a centerfold and a Bunny and a Playmate and a Bunny. Playmates and centerfolds are pretty much the same thing, and a Bunny is very different. And Bunnies, some of them became Playmates and centerfolds, but it wasn’t related, really,” Hodge explained.
Bunny classifications aside, another aspect that can’t be overlooked is just how the man behind the bunny ears will be featured on the show – Hugh Hefner will indeed have a presence.
“His voiceover is in the pilot,” says Hodge. “He narrates the pilot, and he will return in the series – but from the back – and not as a narrator of the series going forward. But his presence is there because you can’t tell the story of the Playboy Club without the presence of Hugh Hefner.”
And what about those infamous bunny costumes? They’re about as uncomfy as you would imagine.
“Tight. Constricting. Child, you cannot breathe in these costumes. OK?” joked costar Naturi Naughton, who plays “chocolate bunny” Brenda.
But costar Amber Heard loves how the costume gets her in bunny mode. “You put on the suit and you’re instantly transported back to this time, this cigar smoke-filled rooms and the music and the glitter and the songs and the heels and the fishnets and the whole nine yards.”