JESUSLAND—The Parents Television Council (PTC), fresh from claiming victory in its campaign to get MTV to stop airing the astoundingly-realistic American version of Skins, has turned its sights to NBC's announced Fall debut of The Playboy Club, a fictionalized look at the adult entertainment chain that, by the late 1960s, had clubs in cities across the country and several foreign hot spots.
On Monday, PTC president Tim Winter sent a letter to NBC-TV headquarters in Burbank, with copies to every NBC affiliate station in the U.S., citing bogus statistics like, "About 200,000 Americans are 'porn addicts'" (which he defines as their spending 11 hours or more per week looking at pornography); "40% of sex addicts lose their spouses"; "58% suffer financial losses"; and "one third lose their jobs." He also claims that "[p]ornography use increases the risk of marital infidelity by more than 300%"; that "56% of divorce cases involved one person having an obsessive interest in pornography"; and that "[s]evere clinical depression is reported twice as frequently among pornography users as among non-users."
There is, of course, no peer-reviewed scientific evidence for any of those claims, but Winter uses the likelihood that none of his letter's recipients will check his "facts" to shame the network and/or its affiliates by asking, "how on earth could you, in good conscience, agree to broadcast in your community a program that glorifies and glamorizes this insidious industry?"
Winter dismisses the replies he's already received from some affiliates which state that the series is, "a sophisticated series about the transitional times of the early 1960s and the complex lives of a group of working-class women."
"Putting a veneer of sophistication on an industry that exploits women and destroys families is not laudable, it is disgraceful...," Winter responds. "Whatever positive spin you may wish to put on the series, it is undeniably a betrayal of the trust you have built over the years with America 's families – the owners of the broadcast airwaves that you will be using to force this content into the living rooms of every family in your community."
(Of course, last we looked, all television sets have channel selectors, so NBC could hardly "force [its] content into the living rooms of every family," not even the interestingly-named "Poker After Dark.")
And who does Winter cite as his "legal expert" on the matter?
"The series looks like it's all cute, taking place back in the old days," Winter quotes disgraced former porn star Shelley Lubben as saying. "It seems harmless, but then they show a quick clip of three people going at it in the bathroom. NBC is breaking the law with this show. They're not meeting FCC standards."
Actually, whether the FCC's standards on "indecency" are at all valid will be the subject of a case the U.S. Supreme Court will be hearing next term, but surely Winter could have found a better "legal analyst" than Lubben to spout his falsehoods?
"If you proceed with plans to air this series in your community, be assured that the Parents Television Council will be carefully reviewing every episode and will urge its members to file complaints with the Federal Communications Commission about any content that may be in violation of broadcast decency laws," Winter threatens. "Please be mindful that it is the affiliate, not the network, that will ultimately bear the financial burden of an FCC fine should any of the content be found to violate broadcast decency laws."
And it's not an idle threat: A single "indecent" word or act can trigger a fine of $325,000—ten times higher than it was before Bush Republicans took over Congress—and that fine can be levied against each affiliate who broadcasts the "offending" material, as well as against the network itself.
Winter then addresses his warnings specifically to the affiliates' station managers:
"In a recent declaratory ruling, the FCC affirmed affiliates' ability to pre-empt any network programming that is 'unsatisfactory or unsuitable or contrary to the public interest.' ... As a station manager you not only have a right, but an obligation to preempt programs like The Playboy Club that fail to meet that standard."
But since it's unlikely that Winter has seen any full episodes of The Playboy Club, isn't a bit presumptious to claim already that the show fails to meet any affiliate's "community standards"? And although Variety reports that some of the show's stars have signed contracts that include the clause, "Nudity as defined above and/or simulated sex acts may be required in connection with player's services in the pilot and/or series," it's more likely that such skin will be used in the eventual "unexpurgated" DVD release of the show.
Of course, if, as Variety reporter Andrew Wallenstein suggests, the show's producers may shoot episodes with nudity, then edit around it for network broadcast, that might subject NBC to the requirements of 18 U.S.C. §2257A—but fortunately, as AVN recently discovered, the company has already filed its optional "exemption letter" with the U.S. Attorney General.
Still, PTC's campaign should guarantee a blockbuster night for The Playboy Club when it debuts on September 19.