Ray Richmond is contributing to Deadline’s coverage of TCA.

NBC decided to kick off its two-day TCA soirée this morning with a bang by rolling out the cast and producers of its forthcoming period drama The Playboy Club that Joel McHale described earlier as “Mad Men with boobs.” That satirical assessment of the hour set at the Playboy Club in Chicago in the 1960s was disputed by exec producer Ian Biederman, who described it instead as a drama that “intends to show characters in a certain time and a certain place trying to become something.” The cast and producers also spoke to the show’s dedication to female strength and empowerment, rather than exploitation.

But as NBC and the producers are all too aware, Playboy Club is already a lightning rod for controversy. The NBC station in Salt Lake City already has announced it won’t carry the show, and the Parents Television Council is lobbying other stations to follow suit. Yet exec producer Chad Hodge dismissed any worries today as minor, noting, “It’s certainly (the station’s) right to air or not air the show. And we’re excited that another network in Salt Lake City has picked up the show.” As for the show’s purportedly racy content — which has been rumored to have been quietly toned down — Biederman stressed, “Anything racy is mild compared to a lot of what’s on television.”

But not everyone onstage today was committed to tiptoeing. When questioning critics began to charge that the producers were “doing a dance” to have it both ways, cast regular Jenifer Lewis — who portrays the seamstress Pearl in the show — shot back, “Look yeah, people were having sex, and I know somebody had sex, I just had sex in the bathroom. …Yes, the sex will be there, as it is everywhere, in every show. (But the show) is about these women. It’s character-driven, it will be fun, and I think I’m going to be fabulous in it.”

Hodge was asked after the session to comment further on the replacement of original series lead Jeff Hephner with Eddie Cibrian, who was brought in last spring after Hephner didn’t work at the pilot table read. “You know, we’re just very excited about Eddie playing the role. And changes are made all the time after table reads. We just felt this was a change we wanted to do.”

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