The Pilot Pirate: “Playboy” and “Pan Am”


Welcome back to the Pilot Pirate, where we preview the latest scripts looking for a home on the 2011-12 primetime TV schedule. Each week, we read and preview some of the projects interest to the AfterEllen community, breaking down scripts to help you, the optimistic TV fan anxiously awaiting the next Modern Family or Glee, keep up with the onslaught of pilots in contention.

A reminder: These are early stage scripts that are likely to be revised and, in some cases, drastically change before filming, and only some of which will make it to the airwaves.

This week: Playboy and Pan Am.

Pilot: Playboy (drama)

Writers: Chad Hodge (Tru Calling)

Network: NBC

Logline: Set in the 1960s, the drama takes a look at the lives of Playboy bunnies.

Cast: Amber Heard (Zombieland), Naturi Naughton (Fame), Laura Benanti (Broadway’s Gypsy), Leah Renee, Jenna Dewan-Tatum (Step Up)

Director: Alan Taylor (Mad Men pilot)

The characters:

Nick Dalton, the ultimate playboy

Brenda, 24, first African-American Bunny (Naughton)

Carol-Lynne, 30, the very first Bunny (Benanti)

Maureen, 20, the newest Playboy Club Bunny (Heard)

Alice, 27, awkward, married Bunny who takes care of everyone but herself

Billy Morton, the club’s general manager

Max, 27, the club’s sweet bartender

Janie, 23, the naughty Bunny who’s dating Max the bartender

Leo Bianchi, 34, dark, unpredictable young mobster

Gus Bianchi, 50, the top dog in the crime family

Benny Bianchi, the top dog in the crime family

Sean, 32, Alice’s husband

Joshua, 28, Sean’s boyfriend

Complete with the 1960s style of Mad Men, the mobster appeal of Boardwalk Empire and musical performances similar to the 2002-05 series American Dreams, Playboy has it all. And that’s just what happens inside the Playboy Club.

The story unfolds here when Maureen (Amber Heard), an orphan, comes to Chicago with the hopes of becoming the next Marilyn Monroe — whom she worships after reading the story about her in the very first issue of Playboy magazine. Maureen’s a dancer at heart and the Playboy Club’s newest cigarette Bunny but longs to perform, like the club’s very first Bunny, Carol-Lynne (Laura Benanti).

Each of the Bunnies has their own hopes and dreams — and secret to keep: Maureen knows the grisly details of the accidental death of a key member of the Bianchis, Chicago’s top crime family, a secret she shares with ultimate playboy Nick Dalton, who’s romantically involved with Carol-Lynne.

Brenda (Naturi Naughton), who is the club’s first black Bunny, longs to become the first African-American Playboy centerfold.

Alice is the only Bunny in the club who is married — but after a year, none of her co-workers have met her husband, Sean. And for good reason: late in the script it’s revealed that Sean has a boyfriend, Joshua, and that Alice has been living in the closet for years. The trio regularly attends Mattachine Society meetings, to which Alice generously donates a big portion of her tips and where she meets Sally, leaving the door open for more potential lesbian story lines.

While some of the characters are fairly common — Carol-Lynne’s old but wise Bunny becomes the Bunny Mother and mentors the young girls — the script is a page-turner that has everything: Bunnies in fishnets, the mobster appeal of “The Sopranos” and with parties at the dorm-like Playboy Mansion where Bunnies take champagne showers and skinny dip, the potential for a lot of sex, love and drama.

Part of what makes Playboy so appealing is the music: there’s a real opportunity for cover bands to come in and perform both at the club and the mansion — the pilot features Ike and Tina Turner. Covers of popular ’60s-era songs also will come up big for Benanti, a Tony winner for Broadway’s Gypsy. With the casting of Fame‘s Naughton, hopefully Benanti won’t be the only one taking the stage at the club. The performances, which include “Sh-Boom” and Frank Sinatra‘s “My Kind of Town,” complement the story well and are used sparingly and effectively.

One key role remains to be cast — the Jon Hamm of the show — Nick Dalton, the ultimate playboy, who has undeniable chemistry with Heard’s Maureen, yet is entangled with Carol-Lynne. Without giving too much away, his role in the crime boss’ death, with Maureen, is pivotal to the story and he’s connected to practically every aspect of the story. It’s not clear which Bunnies Leah Renee and Jenna Dewan-Tatum will play, but one has to be Alice.

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