NEW YORK – NBC's Playboy bunnies are being replaced by Brian Williams.
The network said Tuesday that its 1960s period piece drama "The Playboy Club" is being canceled, acting less than 24 hours after the new series drew only 3.5 million people for its third episode. It's the first cancellation of the new fall TV season.
Williams' new prime-time newsmagazine, "Rock Center," will take over the 10 p.m. Eastern time slot on Mondays, starting Halloween night. Reruns of the drama "Prime Suspect" will fill the hour for the next three weeks.
"The Playboy Club" started weak, with 5 million viewers for its first episode, and didn't improve.
Set in a Chicago club and evoking the era and attitude made fashionable by "Mad Men," the drama was hurt by strong competition. Both "Hawaii 5-0" on CBS and "Castle" on ABC are their networks' strongest 10 p.m. dramas, said Bill Gorman of the website TV By the Numbers. The viewership for "Castle" is up 8 percent over the first two weeks of last year, Nielsen said.
NBC's drama drew some mixed reviews and protests by activists who tried to encourage an advertiser boycott, deeming the material inappropriate for network television.
Mike Hale of The New York Times wrote that the series was "an unwieldy and mostly humdrum combination of mob tale and backstage musical."
In his pan, Steve Johnson of the Chicago Tribune harkened back to the magazine: "Like mean people or rainy Saturdays, the Playboy Club is, alas, a turn-off."
Frazier Moore of The Associated Press, however, called the show "a plush escape" and selected it one of his 10 new shows worth watching.
Williams, NBC's top news anchor, has been assembling talent in anticipation of a fall launch. "Rock Center" will feature Harry Smith and Kate Snow as correspondents, along with Meredith Vieira, Nancy Snyderman, Richard Engle, Matt Lauer and Ann Curry.
NBC had not given the show a time slot initially but promised one would become available when one of the new shows failed.