Fall TV: “The Playboy Club” Vs. “Pan-Am”

Looking at the upcoming 2011 Fall TV season, we've noticed a few shows that appear to be filling the same void with similar themes. NBC's "The Playboy Club" and ABC's "Pan-Am" both salute the glamourous side of the 1960s, conveniently timed to fill the void left by "Mad Men's" extended hiatus. Here's how they stack up:

The Playboy Club (NBC)
While both shows are clearly aiming for the same general feeling, this show is going all-in, having hired Alan Taylor, the director of the "Mad Men" pilot to helm its first episode.

Amber Heard plays the sexy young Bunny Maureen, a seemingly sweet girl with a mysterious past who shares an ominous secret with the the super-dreamy Nick Dalton, played by Eddie Cibrian, a mob lawyer with slicked hair, well-cut suits and a ferocious nicotine habit.

As with stewardesses and pilots, it may be hard for people to realize that The Playboy Club was not a strip joint and that it was actually considered pretty damn cool to be a member.

Pan Am (ABC)

Christina Ricci is the big  name in this ensemble cast, playing the East Village bo-ho toeing the corporate line so she can see the world for free. She and the rest of the crew of the Clipper Majestic—who all worked together airlifting refuges out of Cuba in the wake of the Bay of Pigs fiasco—are poised to work the NYC-to-London corridor.

Again, for people roughly 50 and under, it may be difficult to believe that being a stewardess (because that's what they called them then and they were all women) was once viewed as a wildly glamorous job, one that required girdles, weigh-ins, and all manner of dehumanizing nonsense. Being a pilot meant you were a veteran, which used to mean a lot more before Vietnam: You were considered one step shy of being an astronaut.

Did we mention this also appears to be a spy drama/soap opera? And you should know that in real life, in December of 1963, a Pan Am plane was struck by lightning, causing it to crash and killing all 81 aboard.

The Vibe
Both shows are populated by young people brimming Levittown-style hope and optimism who are excited to be part of such a glamorous world, and both deal heavily in shadowy underworld—espionage and the mafia.

But the look and feel are very different, the products of their physical setting. Pan Am is, not surprisingly, brimming with blue skies and sunshine, while The Playboy Club is a dark mysterious cave where you expect to find people drinking, fighting or making out around every corner.

You could fit what we know about fashion in a fortune cookie, so we turned to Tiffany Davis of The Feast for her take on each show's iconic uniforms. Here's what she said:

Plot lines aside, the costume “uniforms” worn by Playboy Club and Pan Am staffers ring true to the very same decade: Amber Heard's bone-corseted bunny suit is a spot-on replica of those worn during the club’s swinging ‘60s heyday. Christina Ricci’s pillbox hat and trim white gloves are nods to era fashion icons Coco Chanel and Jackie Kennedy.

We'll take her word on it, but on a more carnal level, they both look great, with the bunny suits having a level of sophistication that you don’t find at Hooters, and the Pan Am uniform possessing that sense of high fashion the airlines have been trying to recapture over the past few years by hiring top designers.

"The Playboy Club" debuts Sept. 19 on NBC, "Pan Am" debuts Sept. 25 on ABC.

Other head-to-heads for the Fall TV season:

"Once Upon a Time" vs. "Grimm"
"A Gifted Man" vs "Awake"

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