A few more episodes wouldn't have saved 'The Playboy Club'
Whenever a show is cancelled after just a few episodes there is a lot of hand-wringing and debate around town about whether the move was justified and if it sends a bad message to the creative community.
Unfortunately for writers and producers, networks don't answer to the creative community. They answer to viewers and advertisers. If enough viewers don't watch, advertisers don't buy commercials and shows go away.
Given its performance, it is no surprise NBC's "The Playboy Club" had its network membership cancelled after just three episodes. While three weeks is not much time to break out in an incredibly crowded media landscape, a look at the numbers shows that there was little reason to think that the drama about life at the famed club in the swinging '60s was going to catch on anytime soon. In its first week, it attracted just 5 million viewers and a 1.6 rating among adults 18-49. Two weeks later, its audience fell to 3.5 million viewers and a 1.2 rating with adults under age 50, the demographic Madison Avenue covets.
Also making NBC's decision easier was that "The Playboy Club" was not a program critics were going to fight for the way they have in the past for shows such as "Chuck." There weren't a ton of "this is the best show you're not watching" articles in the works about "The Playboy Club."
Most shows fail and network executives know this. NBC could have kept airing "The Playboy Club" for a few more weeks as some sort of sign of good faith to the drama's producers but what would that have accomplished? The votes were in and a change had to be made.
The real question is how "The Playboy Club" got on the network's schedule in the first place. It wasn't smart enough to woo the intelligentsia or sexy and fun enough for the masses. Were the other dramas the network developed last spring so bad that this kitschy attempt at a sophisticated period piece in the vein of "Mad Men" was the best NBC had to offer? Alas, networks don't send out copies of the pilots they passed on so we may never know.
No doubt NBC thought having Playboy in the title would give the show a leg up when the fall season started. The marketing team probably figured that the show had a brand built in and that attracting an audience would be easy for "The Playboy Club." Never mind the fact that such logic is insulting to viewers, Playboy as a brand holds little relevance to people under age 50.
The people NBC should be worried about sending a message to are viewers. NBC can do that by ordering shows worth watching. That means offering more than some cute girls in bunny outfits.
-- Joe Flint
Photo: A scene from "The Playboy Club." Credit: NBC.