Thursday, February 24, 2011

Playboy: The TV series signs Amber Heard

Cheryl Vincent Chicago Bunny 1964

One thing Hollywood isn’t, is original; not now that it’s more about business than creativity, anyway (maybe it always was). So, given the success of Mad Men it’s not surprising that there is a whole slew of sixties-set potential TV series on the blocks. Magic City, which is set in 1960s Miami has just had 10 episodes ordered by Starz and ABC is developing another sixties set series called Pan Am about stewardesses.

The original Playboy Club in Chicago at 116 East Walton Club

For Agent Triple P even more promising than a TV series about sixties stewardesses would be a TV series about sixties Bunny girls and, what do you know, NBC has given the green light to a pilot for a series called Playboy (originally it was going to be called Bunny Tales- a rather neat pun which we think would have been a better title) set in the original Playboy Club in Chicago in 1963.

Amber Heard: Bunny bound

The pilot is being written by Chad Hodge, who wrote several episodes of Tru Calling, who will also be executive producer. So far several actresses have been signed up, notably, Amber Heard (who was on Top Gear this week!) and Naturi Naughton.

Playmate (May 1964) and Bunny Terri Kimball in the Chicago club 1964

Heard has no doubt about the Mad Men influence, saying "It's going to be like Mad Men meets Chicago or Moulin Rouge meets The Sopranos. I've never been to the Playboy Mansion and it does sound wild but this is set in the 1960s so it's a different world to the one that we know of today. It's different kinds of women - pre-surgery, on the eve of women's lib. I'm interested in being a character who is a real woman among other real women.” Whatever most of that means!

Joey Thorpe, Chicago Bunny 1964

Heard will play Maureen, a new Bunny at the club, who is an orphan from Fort Wayne. She is described as having “an untethered (whatever that means!) sexuality and a dark past”. So, a female Don Draper, then? Well, not really, as the series Don Draper will be a character called Nick Dalton, a former mobster now a successful attorney.

The Bunny Hutch in the sixties

Naturi Naughton plays Brenda who wants to be the first black Playmate and is Maureen’s roommate in the Bunny dormitory. The original was known as The Bunny Hutch and was handily (for Hugh Hefner, anyway) placed in the Playboy Mansion. Naughton, amazingly, even played a Bunny in season four of Mad Men!  She certainly fills her Bunny costume most effectively

Naturi Naughton (left) in the Mad Men season 4 episode "Hands and Knees"
To further emphasise the Mad Men connection the pilot of Playboy will be directed by Alan Taylor who also helmed the Mad Men pilot.

Laura Benanti as Gypsy

The other female lead is said to have been taken by Laura Benanti who will play Carol-Lyne, who at thirty knows her days at the club are numbered. She is in a relationship with Dalton and then the younger Maureen arrives in town and causes all sorts of three way trouble.  Benenti is no stranger to retro naughtiness having recently played the title role in the Broadway revival of Gypsy.

Jeannie Bogan in Chicago 1964.  The Playboy clubs were famously multi-racial for staff and members at a time when most other places in the US weren't

Apparently Playboy is being pitched as a crime drama and all the main characters have some sort of dark secret.  Triple P is not fond of crime films and TV shows.  One of the nice things about Mad Men is it isn't full of violence and criminal nastiness.  Yet US TV continues to offer this up as its prime subject of entertainment, whilst struggling with the portrayal of anything sexual in any sort of adult way.

Brandy (very Bunny name, that) Johnstone, Chicago 1964

The chances of the Mad Men lightning striking twice, of course, are remote although we would, naturally, love to see the series succeed. It would be horribly expensive to do properly, of course. Accurately reproducing the world as it was fifty years ago is neither easy nor cheap.

Frankie Jones, Chicago 1964

It will be interesting to see if they try to reproduce the Chicago club reasonably accurately or do what they did on Mad Men where they did a small but effective pastiche of the New York club which captured its essence, if not its scale. We would imagine that for the pilot they won’t be able to get too extravagant on the set, whereas if the show is picked up it would be worthwhile to build a big set. Other shows, for example, Hotel and Las Vegas used location shooting for their pilots but built big standing sets for the subsequent series. This show, being set in the past, doesn’t have that luxury.

Mika Lukacs, Chicago 1964

It will be interesting to see what input Playboy itself has in the show;  just getting the name of the show as Playboy is a great advertisement and it all must have been approved by Hugh Hefner. After all they could have set it in a fictional Playboy-type club.

Playmate (June 1963) Bunny Connie Mason in the bar of the Chicago club 1964

The other issue is that this is a network show (unlike Mad Men) which begs the question whether they are going to censor the images of Playboy centrefolds that were liberally spread around the real club (see above).  American network TV is still peculiarly old fashioned about these things.

Playmate (December 1962) and Playmate of the Year (1963) June Cochrane, Chicago 1964

There is no airdate as yet for the Playboy pilot but Triple P will be monitoring its development closely!

Playmate (November 1963) Bunny Avis Kimble, Chicago 1964

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