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Hugh Hefner's Had a Dismal Year; Could Playboy Biopic Save the Day?

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(Reuters)

2011 hasn’t exactly been the best year for “Playboy” founder Hugh Hefner. What started off so promising, with a new young wife and a splashy network show in the offing, quickly turned as sour as a bunny cage left uncleaned.

Just five days before the media mogul, 85, was slated to marry his girlfriend Crystal Harris in June, she called off the nuptials and moved out of the Playboy mansion. The 25-year-old runaway bride is now auctioning off Hef's 3.39 carat ring, with an estimated value of $90,000. 

Still, the Playboy empire looked like it would get a much needed boost with the premiere of NBC’s highly-anticipated crime drama series “The Playboy Club,” centered on the bunnies who worked in the original 1960s club in Chicago. However, the network cancelled the show after just three episodes amid dismal ratings (it finished with only 3.4 million viewers). and heavy criticism from the likes of the Parents Television Council and feminist icon Gloria Steinem.

Hef said the show bombed because it was bought by the wrong studio.

“I'm sorry NBC's ‘The Playboy Club’ didn't find its audience," he tweeted to his nearly 870,000 followers. "It should have been on cable, aimed at a more adult audience."

Others say the show would have stunk it up wherever it aired.

The Hollywood Reporter’s Tim Goodman it was “a bad show, period” complete with “weak” writing and “spotty acting,”  while The Frisky’s entertainment blogger Jessica Wakeman deemed plot “overstuffed” and “confusing,” and said male lead Eddie Cibrian “was clearly just imitating Jon Hamm.” Ouch.

Others are more in Hef's camp.

“There are some traditional factors that contributed to the fact that ‘The Playboy Club’ sank in the ratings – including stiff competition on other networks and a poor critical reception – but I think that another major problem was the fact that as a network series, the show couldn’t really capitalize on the overt sexiness of Hugh Hefner’s brand,” Los Angeles-based pop culture expert Scott Huver. “The formula seemed like a no-brainer: ‘Mad Men’ meets ‘The Girls Next Door,’ both of which have enjoyed considerable success, even without on-screen nudity. But ‘The Playboy Club’ ended up over-selling its nostalgic elements without giving audiences quality characters and storylines to latch onto, and it could only go so far with the sex appeal people expect from Playboy. The show’s setting got a lot of attention, but when it failed to deliver on either story or titillation, viewers tuned out.”

But could it just be that the 1960s Playboy phenomena is simply lost on the current generation?

“While the Playboy empire continues to recede in a modern age, where Hef’s once revolutionary approach is becoming more and more quaint, there remains a great nostalgic interest in the period of social and sexual revolution,” Huver said. “And while the current relevancy of the brand is up for debate, Hefner has finally been getting widespread credit for his key role in effecting a major shift in cultural attitudes.”

On that note, it seems there is still some good news to come out of Hollywood for Hef.

"There is renewed studio interest in a major motion picture on my life & the start of the Sexual Revolution," he also tweeted Tuesday.

In 2007, it was widely reported that famed director Brett Ratner had joined forces with producer Brian Grazer to bring to life a biopic of Hefner’s weird and wild life, but we’re still waiting for that to come to fruition.

"Robert Downey Jr. and I have talked about it, it’s a very real possibility," Hef told us at the time, when we questioned who he would like to play him in the movie. "Downey’s a marvelous actor, I would be honored."

Stay tuned.

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