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Outside of the fact that NBC made the announcement when everybody else was waiting to find out about the new iPhone, nothing about the cancellation of The Playboy Club should come as a surprise.
It was the first freshman series to get the axe (and I had that covered nicely with 5-1 odds on my story about series likely to get canceled). Here are a few reasons why you couldn’t call this unexpected:
1. It was bad show, period. The writing was weak, the acting spotty and the sexism too ridiculous and obvious to comment on more than once.
2. Nobody was watching it. It had no buzz tune-in numbers and sank in each successive airing, finishing with 3.4 million viewers on its third and final episode. Those are cable numbers — and not especially impressive cable numbers. The cost of filming The Playboy Club was too expensive to support that kind of tanking.
3. While the Parents Television Council may feel some vindication in NBC pulling the plug, this cancelation wasn’t about boycotts. It was about owning up to the obvious. America did not care for a Mad Men-esque retro series about a lifestyle and brand more dated than any nostalgia could prop up. One would hope that the reason viewers tuned out in droves after sampling it was because it had none of the attributes of a high-quality drama like Mad Men. NBC simply misjudged the appeal of a show like that, despite mountains of evidence from Mad Men that being brilliant doesn’t also mean dominating the Nielsens. Nobody bought into NBC’s big tent approach to nostalgia, so the Bunnies are no more.
NBC did give full season pick-ups to the sitcoms Up All Night and Whitney (that latter decision makes a mockery of my 8-1 odds on its cancellation, but then again NBC doesn’t have a whole lot of bench depth, especially with more cutting to come). Unsaid in that NBC renewal announcement — “We’re probably gonna kill Free Agents next.” That series is doing even worse than Playboy Club in the ratings.
None of this was unexpected, mind you. NBC has a long way to go before exiting the cellar. It has too many holes to patch successfully. The network is likely to plug the Bunny hole with repeats of Prime Suspect, a series that has its own ratings woes, then slot Brian Williams’ newsmagazine, the woefully named Rock Center, in the time slot starting Oct. 31. There’s no telling if the country is willing to be sold yet another newsmagazine promising to be different and Rock Center has its work cut out for it, battling popular dramas Hawaii Five-O on CBS and Castle on ABC.
Speaking of ABC, the network is now on the clock regarding the crash-and-burn that is Charlie’s Angels. If it hurries, it can piggyback the cancelation announcement with NBC’s for Free Agents, thus minimizing the PR damage.
In any case, now that series have had two or three airings, things are about to get awfully ugly.
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