Steinam herself would draw attention to this more “modern definition” in early August 2011, while expressing hope TV audiences would boycott NBC’s Fall 2011 series THE PLAYBOY CLUB. Whereas in a period-set show like AMC’s MAD MEN (populated by the misogynistic alpha-males of the Sterling Cooper ad agency), the characters of Peggy Olson - the firm‘s first female copywriter (Elizabeth Moss) and Joan Holloway (Christina Hendricks) - the unspoken brains behind the whole operation , advance via their smarts and determination, PLAYBOY CLUB’s titillating ad campaign promises a place (a fiction set in Heff’s first Chicago nightclub locale) where the bunny waitress / hostesses use the power of the sexual angle (fantasy or otherwise) to gain personal and societal high ground.
NBC entertainment chairman Robert Greenblatt called his show “a really fun soap opera” while series producer Chad Hodge claimed it was about “… who these women can be, and how they can use the club to be anyone they want”. Audiences however didn't bite, and THE PLAYBOY CLUB shut it's doors (so to speak) after only three episodes - the first cancellation of NBC's 2011 season.
From the get go Reiner had stated the show would run no longer than five years, and when the series ended it’s run in 1966 it had capped an astounding 15 Emmy wins. In 2002 TV Guide would even list it as #13 on it’s list of the “50 Greatest TV Shows of All Time”.
Set in Los Angeles’ fictional Walt Whitman High School, it starred Lloyd Haynes as history teacher Pete Dixon, Denise Nicholas as guidance counselor Liz McIntyre, popular character actor Michael Constantine as Principal Seymour Kaufman, and perky Karen Valentine (on whom every guy in America between the ages of 12 and 112 had a bonafied red-blooded schoolboy crush) as student teacher Alice Johnson. With Dixon’s class - the titular “Room 222", as the series’ center point, the stories (some humorous and others shining light on social issues of the day - the war, gender roles, teen pregnancy, etc.) would venture into the lives of various recurring characters on and off school grounds.
While ROOM 222 had achieved a modicum of critical praise, including a trio of Emmys it’s freshman year, Brooks and Burns were at the time not the names they are today, and where still considered a risk by CBS with whom Moore and Tinker had their 13 episode guarantee. The network, then under programming chief Mike Dann, wanted the writers fired. More on that to come.
Contrary to belief, there had
already also been previous television series featuring (as Moore, Tinker, Brooks and Burns were conceiving for their new show) empowered single young women attempting to make it on her own. In fact in recent years there had been two
running concurrently on competing networks: THAT GIRL on ABC (1966 - ’71) and JULIA (1968 - ’71) on NBC. The fanciful THAT GIRL (co-produced by series star Marlo Thomas and her father Danny Thomas) starred young Marlo as Anne Marie, an aspiring (but usually unemployed) actress come to New York to make it “in the biz”, but who more often than not finds daily comedic adventures engaged in temp jobs she has to take while making ends meet. Somehow however she can still afford to live in a swanky Manhattan apartment while decking herself out in the most mod of 60’s fashions.
JULIA (NBC, 1968 - '71)
The more realistic JULIA (one of the last shows to be greenlit under Grant Tinker while he was still NBC’s head of programming) starred African-American singer/actress Diahann Carroll (LADY SINGS THE BLUES, CLAUDINE, DYNASTY) as Julia Baker, a middle class widow (her soldier husband shot down in Vietnam) raising a son on her own while working as a nurse in a bustling city clinic run by Dr. Chegley (Lloyd Nolan). While today considered a barrier-breaking trendsetter (for at the time no series had ever
featured an African-American man or woman as it’s solo lead) the series at the time had it’s fair share of detractors … many from the African-American community itself.
In the midst of a sometimes violent civil rights struggle some felt Julia’s social status (as well as her apartment and wardrobe) was too much of a Hollywood fantasy. The perspective of the time is understandable, but the truth is Julia lived (with her young son) in a very modest one bedroom apartment, and didn’t dress in anything above what you’d find at the local department store - and certainly nothing to the degree of THAT GIRL’s wardrobe.
Many also forget how JULIA often dove into topical racial issues of the day. In one episode in particular Chegley is ordered to downsize the clinic’s staff by removing all minority employees, and he defiantly keeps Julia because she’s the best - black or white. And that
was the key to the series, a key many missed at the time of it’s initial run. JULIA wasn’t a show about an empowered black single mother making it on her own. It was about an empowered woman struggling and succeeding on her own … and she also happened
to be a single mother and black.
Diahann Carroll's JULIA becomes a late 1960's
empowerment role model to a generation of young girls
As such, JULIA made subtle inroads into the hearts and minds of “on the fence” middle Americans of the day, those at the time of whom it could be said were suffering what singing group Public Enemy would one day call “Fear Of A Black Planet”. JULIA helped them see the “same-ness” of her character’s experiences to their own regardless of race or gender, and it did it with refreshing humor and intelligence. It was that kind of intelligent and empowering humor Moore and Tinker knew they wanted to repeat.