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New 'Playboy' show may be more tale than Bunny tail

Friday - 7/1/2011, 9:38am  ET

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NBC's 'The Playboy Club' is causing controversy before it airs. (Courtesy NBC)

Paul D. Shinkman, wtop.com

WASHINGTON - Very few symbols encapsulate the swinging 60s better than the cocked ear of a Playboy bunny in full regalia. At its height, Hugh Hefner's empire sprouted discreet, intoxicating clubs throughout the world where members could live out the lifestyle portrayed in the magazine.

Achieving the notorious rank of Playboy club "keyholder" was considered admission into the highest echelons of the brand's eponymous classification -- a man who knew how to spend money and attract good-looking women.

This fall, NBC will unveil the fictitious drama "The Playboy Club" in an attempt to capture the spirit at the height of the clubs. But those looking for the singular peek behind the sexual revolution's closed doors portrayed in the trailers (below) might find the show is more heavy on plot than the bombshell celebration of the "Girls Next Door" reality show.

"It's a crime drama," says Michael Schneider, the Los Angeles bureau chief for TV Guide Magazine. "It's kind of a dark show, both visually and tonally."

"They're going to have some fun with the '60s element. I'll be intrigued by what direction they go."

Schneider, who has seen the pilot, says the show -- set in the flagship Chicago branch -- is based around Nick Dalton, a character formerly involved with the mob who is now running for district attorney in a corruption-laced Chicago.

Dalton gets wrapped up in the Playboy scene after befriending Bunny Maureen, an employee of the club, and helping her cover up an accidental killing.

The show dips in and out of the exclusive den and features portrayals of musical stars of the day such as Tina Turner. Schneider believes this will be an ongoing feature.

And yes, the show's producers are walking next to, if not fully riding the coattails of the hit AMC show "Mad Men."

"It's a similar sort of theme," Schneider says.

Writers really want to play up the sexual revolution, gender, sexual relationships and growing female empowerment themes, Schneider says, adding that "Pan Am," another show to debut this fall, will have a similar feel.

"I think it's safe to say that had 'Mad Men' not become such a critical darling, you probably wouldn't be seeing 'Playboy Club' or 'Pan Am' on the schedules this fall," Schneider says.

"One of the reasons why you have these shows set in the '60s is the writers really want to play up the whole sexual revolution, gender, sexual relationships and the growing women empowerment movement."

But never fear. Viewers will still get some good eye candy.

Schneider says "the ladies will appreciate" key actor Eddie Cibrian, who plays Dalton. Amber Heard, of "Zombieland" and "Pineapple Express" fame, plays the role of Maureen.

Though it is months away from airing, the show has already caught some flack from religious groups that say it has a misogynistic tone that's a step backward for women's rights.

"I don't think it's any different than other crime drama. Others have pointed out ('Law & Order: SVU') battles more with those kinds of issues," says Schneider.

"People are taken aback by the fact that 'Playboy' is in the title, but the magazine and 'Playboy' itself really doesn't have much of a role," he says.

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(Copyright 2011 by WTOP. All rights reserved.)