NBC affiliate is within its rights to refuse membership in 'The Playboy Club'
An NBC affiliate in Salt Lake City is making headlines for its refusal to carry the network's new show "The Playboy Club," a racy drama set to premiere this fall.
The issue for KSL-TV seems to be show's title more than it is the show's content.
"The Playboy brand is known internationally," KSL President and CEO Mark Willes (a former publisher of the Los Angeles Times) said in a statement. "Everyone is clear what it stands for. We want to be sure everyone is clear what the KSL brand stands for, which is completely inconsistent with the Playboy brand."
The licensee of KSL is owned by Bonneville International Corp., but the station is owned by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. This isn't the first time it has refused to carry NBC programming. It does not carry "Saturday Night Live," which airs on a rival station. And it didn't carry the short-lived NBC comedies "Couplings" and "God, the Devil and Bob."
KSL has also carried plenty of risque shows from NBC, including the sitcom "Will & Grace."
The station is taking some heat for its decision to decline membership in "The Playboy Club." Salt Lake City Tribune columnist Scott D. Pierce wrote, "The obvious message KSL is sending is -- we don't care if a show is adult as long as it doesn't have the word "Playboy" in the title." He added that if the show was called "'The Gentleman's Club' and didn't have the bunny ears and tails, it would be airing on Ch. 5 this fall."
Pierce wrote that the pilot for "The Playboy Club" and pilot are not "lascivious or lewd" and that NBC carries shows that have much more adult content.
"I can say without hesitation that every episode of 'Law & Order: SVU' is more 'adult' than the pilot of 'The Playboy Club,'" Pierce said in his column, "and KSL has aired almost 300 episodes of that show."
It's easy to make fun of KSL's decision or to call its decisionmakers prudes and hypocrites, and there may be some valid criticisms of its stand on "The Playboy Club."
On the other hand, it is up to KSL to decide what shows it will carry. Affiliates rarely stand up to a network and refuse to air a network show. The last time a network show received major pushback from affiliates was almost 20 years ago, when ABC's "NYPD Blue" caused such an uproar that many small-market affiliates initially refused to carry it.
NBC probably will find another station in the market to carry "The Playboy Club." And if for some reason it doesn't, odds are episodes will end up on Hulu or some other website. In other words, people in Salt Lake who really want to see the show won't be denied.
That being the case, one could say it is pointless for KSL to make a stand. But perhaps it is because of all the technology out there that KSL's decision shouldn't be seen as such a huge deal. If this were 1990 and its decision meant no one in the market could see the show, it would be different. We don't live in that world anymore.
Of course, not carrying a show from a network won't exactly help KSL's relationship with NBC. Don't be surprised if the network ultimately decides it needs a new partner.
-- Joe Flint
Photo: NBC's "The Playboy Club." Credit: Matt Dinerstein / NBC