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What A&E Wants You to Know About ‘Secrets of Playboy’

A&E Network Secrets of Playboy
(Image credit: A&E Network)

A&E explores the mythology behind the Playboy empire as part of a new docuseries debuting January 24.

The 10-part series, Secrets of Playboy, examines life inside Playboy through interviews with Playmates, employees at all levels of the organization and other insiders, according to the network. The series delves into the complex world that Playboy founder Hugh Hefner created, and examines its far-reaching consequences on our culture’s view of power and sexuality. 

Secrets of Playboy director Alexandra Dean said the series – in development for two years – offers a different narrative about the Playboy empire and Hefner that most people don’t know and, in some instances, don’t necessarily want to hear about.

Here’s what Dean and A&E want you to know about Secrets of Playboy.

The series examines Playboy's cultural legacy through a modern day lens:  “I'm really looking for people to re-evaluate the legacy of Playboy in our culture. I think it's time for us to have another look, and I think that the way we do that is we listen to the women for the first time. The series does talk about the good stuff Playboy did, how progressive it was and how it championed women and people of color. It did liberate women in many ways to have fun with their sexuality, but it also had this dark underbelly that we as observers at the time didn't look at. We gave Playboy a pass because we wanted the mansion to be this Xanadu that we dreamed about.” 

The series raises questions about the complex life of Hugh Hefner: “You'll see a side to Hugh Hefner that he kept very well hidden; only people who were very, very intimate with him would see it. Hugh Hefner was a larger than life persona and he shaped who we thought was hot in our culture for 50 years, and he shaped what we thought was free and powerful sexuality for women. So he matters both for men and women. I think people would be really shocked at how his sexual appetites manifested, and what he found sexy. I think people would be really shocked to hear how he seemed to really feel about women.” 

Insider interviews offer a rare look into the Playboy culture: People were really, really scared to speak about Playboy. People who wanted to talk positively about Playboy were ready to talk all day, but people who wanted to talk about some of the more complicated experiences they’d had or the really bad stuff that had happened felt like they might have been in danger by doing so. I think that what people will find exciting about this series is that people who weigh in are real insiders. We talked to Hefner's main girlfriend when he was at the height of his powers in the seventies, and when he was really inventing who he would become with the multiple girlfriends and everything. She takes us back to the origin story of how Hef became Hef, and she also kind of takes us into the heart of darkness. ■   

R. Thomas Umstead serves as senior content producer, programming for Multichannel News, Broadcasting + Cable and Next TV. During his more than 30-year career as a print and online journalist, Umstead has written articles on a variety of subjects ranging from TV technology, marketing and sports production to content distribution and development. He has provided expert commentary on television issues and trends for such TV, print, radio and streaming outlets as Fox News, CNBC, the Today show, USA Today, The New York Times and National Public Radio. Umstead has also filmed, produced and edited more than 100 original video interviews, profiles and news reports featuring key cable television executives as well as entertainers and celebrity personalities.