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Playboy titilates with free night

Record 15 mil viewers get access on Wednesday

The Playboy Channel is riding herd on its most successful promotional campaign ever: A record 15 million cable subscribers or satellite-dish owners will get access to a free night of the network’s programming on Wednesday.

“We’ve never had so many cable systems cooperating in a strategy like this,” says Maggie McDermott, VP of marketing for Playboy TV. For a full month before Oct. 21, the cable systems on board have joined Playboy in promoting the freebie. The marketing has included print ads, cross-channel promotion, barker-channel spots and direct mail, McDermott says.

Unlike an HBO or Showtime free preview, the network won’t just appear on subscribers’ screens. To get the programming, the subscriber will have to either punch in a phone number or push select-and-enter on the remote control.

The programming highlight of the preview night is an edition of the biweekly live 90-minute “Night Calls” series at 11 p.m., which for the first time will originate in New York City. “Night Calls” encourages people to call in and ask Juli Ashton, the hostess, to act out their fantasies.

Other programming on Oct. 21 includes a half-hour episode of “Sex Court,” which the channel describes as “Jerry Springer meets Judge Judy,” and a one-hour edition of “Naughty Amateur Home Videos.”

McDermott says the Playboy Channel “has made a conscious effort in the last three or four years to schedule more exclusive original series” to back up the network’s stock in trade, which is edited versions of X-rated movies.