*NBC’s upcoming drama “The Playboy Club” had a lively discussion this morning at the Television Critics Association press tour in Beverly Hills, where the entire cast – including Naturi Naughton and Jenifer Lewis – found themselves having to defend rather than discuss the show.

Set  in 1960s Chicago, the series follows the men and mobsters who frequented Hugh Hefner’s famed Playboy Club in Chicago, and the Bunnies who tended to their needs. NBC bills the program as empowering for women, but several reporters begged to differ – and made it known early on during the press conference.

Naughton who plays Bunny Brenda, the first “Chocolate Bunny” at the club, argued that the bunnies are indeed strong and independent.

“These girls are smart, they’re going to school, they’re buying homes, buying property – things that show what women weren’t able to do at that time, using their resources and relying on themselves,” Naughton said.

Lewis interjected: “Listen, take my character Pearl. Pearl is the seamstress in the Playboy Club. She’s the mother hen to these girls. They come to me with their problems, and Pearl, herself, is representing many African American women at the time who were coming off welfare, who were coming out of the domestic world into empowering themselves and educating themselves and getting jobs.”

In the bonus audio below, Lewis continues to defend the series, and explains how Pearl will find her way into the show’s musical numbers – which will include fictional performances from Tina Turner, Sammy Davis Jr., Frank Sinatra, Sam Cooke and other artists who performed at the famed club.

Jenifer Lewis defends role of women in NBC’s The Playboy Club by CherieNic

Men who belong to “The Playboy Club” were literally given a key to indicate membership. As reporters this morning continued to bring up the issue of sexism in the series, Naughton and Lewis, again, come to the show’s defense in the audio below.

Naturi Naughton and Jenifer Lewis continue to defend sexism claims in NBC’s The Playboy Club by CherieNic