Saturday, April 05, 2014

One of my favorite network censor stories

Yeah, this one's a dandy. It occurred on MAUDE, a big hit show from the 70s. First, I refer you to my post on CBS Standards & Practices having a list of unacceptable words? They were even worse in the 70s.

MAUDE was a spinoff of ALL IN THE FAMILY and had that same biting edge to it. Censors were always having fits. Hey, they had an abortion episode on MAUDE. Meanwhile, Marcia Brady struggled with split ends.

On show nights MAUDE had two tapings. One at 5:30 and the other at 8:00. They then edited together the best performances. And in between the writers fixed jokes that clunked.

One week there was a joke the censor objected to. I don't know specifically what the joke was. The producers fought vehemently that the line was acceptable. Finally the censor offered a compromise.

They could do the joke during the 5:30 taping.

But if it got a laugh it had to come out.

What??!! How the hell do you even respond to that????

That’s the kind of thing we had to deal with. I think if that censor were assigned to TWO AND A HALF MEN his head would explode by week two.


Wendy M. Grossman said...

One of my friends freuently recalls a Carol Burnett Show episode in which a skit took place in a nudist colony. According to my friend, the original dialogue went:

- How do you dance in a nudisty colony?
- Very carefully.

The censor objected.

As I heard the story, the censor, challenged, offered this acceptable alternative:

- Cheek to cheek.

Which was actually funnier than the original...

I have no idea if the story is actually true, but he's very insistent about it.


Scooter Schechtman said...

Times sure have changed since the 60s. Back then you couldn't show a hypodermic going into someone's skin and a glimpse of female nipple was literally cause for public stoning. Nowadays programs like "Supernatural" show heads getting chopped off and a glimpse of female nipple is literally cause for stoning.

John said...

Ken, your post, and yesterday's comment thread that mentioned Hawkeye saying "Son of a bitch" on MASH reminded me that CBS let Maude use the line five years before Hawkeye uttered his. Since no network had ever willingly let that line into a script, that may have been the one that got the 5:30/8 p.m. compromise.

Johnny Walker said...

Three great comments! (I still don't understand America's blind eye for extreme, horrific violence -- while maintaining their puritanical attitude towards nudity.)

Actually, I think American might be getting MORE puritanical: George Lucas's first movie, THX 1138, featured some brief nudity. In 1970 the MPAA rated it a "GP" (modern equivalent to a "PG"), but when Lucas re-cut it for his 2004 Special Edition, it was upped to an "R".

According to this article, the MPAA has no intention of changing their rules on violence: The only major difference between a PG-13 and an R is swearing and nudity -- and, according to them, that's how parents want it.

I don't understand why parents have (allegedly) become so soft on violence. I know sadistic violence seriously upset me as a child a lot more than swearing or nudity did.

Gary G. said...

ken, once on "head of the class", the censor (i hope he's not reading this) said we couldn't say "he was shafted" since it was too sexual, so i immediately fought it, and said "shafted was a mining term, part of american history, and it had to do with which workers got to work safely on the ground and which were send down into the dangerous shaft." he apologized, and had never heard that, and we were fine. once he walked away, i confessed to the rest of the staff that i just made that up. the benefit of being able to write under pressure, i guess.

Tony said...

Wendy -- Joe Hamilton, then Carol Burnett's husband and producer of her show, used to tell that story. That may be where your friend heard it.

Mike Barer said...

What a joke Two And A Half men has become.

Mike said...

@Johnny Walker: Everything you need to understand: the MPAA is an American trade association that represents the six major Hollywood studios (Wiki). (The BBFC is independent.) So revenue is maximised while "values" are upheld.

Marc said...

The NBC censor once refused to let Al Franken and Tom Davis use the word 'schmuck' in a SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE sketch. Franken and Davis insisted that schmuck meant fool and absolutely nothing more. Unfortunately, Davis said years later, it was their misfortune to be dealing with a jew who knew his yiddish.

Dbenson said...

There's a story that Jay Ward ran into trouble over a Rocky and Bullwinkle story in which they were threatened by hungry natives.

The censor cited rules against cannibalism. Ward's response was to ask how eating a moose and a squirrel was cannibalistic. The scene stayed.

David Das said...

Gary, can I just say I'm thrilled to know there's still someone from Head of the Class around here. I loved that show so much, and am so sad that it's near impossible to find nowadays. (I have a copy of a few episodes that appear to have been bootlegged, but by and large they're pretty much gone forever.) Such a great show. Congrats for your work on it.

Liggie said...

Johnny: America's first European colonizers, the "Pilgrims", were extreme religious puritans. That's where the nudity aversion comes from.

America also became a country through an armed revolution, and protects gun ownership through its constitution. That's where the desensitization toward violence comes from.

Mike said...

We don't have network censors in the UK. We throw casual racism into broadcasts and use the number of complaints as a ratings guide.

joncr said...

@Liggie: The Pilgrims really had little influence on American culture. There were only as many as could fit in one small ship. The Puritans arrived ten years later in much larger numbers, founded Boston, Harvard, etc., etc., and are the real founders of Massachusetts, which nowadays can hardly be considered puritan.

Neither group, though, was any good at comedy.

Johnny Walker said...

@Liggie If your theory is correct, one might wonder why it doesn't hold true for Canada :)

Tammy said...

Being neither Jewish nor familiar with yiddish, can someone explain to me the Franken-Davis 'schmuck' story?

Matt said...

Hi Tammy,

I believe that calling somebody a Schmuck is calling the a penis.

Cal said...

Specifically, Tammy, "schmuck" refers to the part of the penis that's cut off during a circumcision.

Wavy Davy said...

I, for one, Ken, was always a little disappointed in that episode of M*A*S*H which you and David Isaacs wrote where you had Hawkeye call Father Mulchahy a "fucking shit-eating cunt"--in front of Radar and some orphans no less!

I mean, a little profanity can be funny, but I thought thought that was kind of gratuitous.

Hank Gillette said...

I agree that it’s bizarre that extreme violence is more acceptable on American television than mild nudity. The only somewhat logical reason I can think of is that one can always rationalize that the violence is not real, but if they show a woman’s nipple, it’s a real nipple.

That doesn’t explain why seeing a nipple is so horrible, though.

DrBOP said...

For much of the 1960s/1970s, in Ohio describing something as REALLY great (something like today's "awesome") was expressed as "Tits".

Example : One of your buddies would express admiration for the latest Led Zeppelin release, and you'd go, "Yeah, that's tits man!"

Not sure why it never went nationwide :+)

Paddie O'Rourke said...

Wavy davy: You memory is faulty. That was Sgt. Carter yelling at Gomer Pyle, not Hawkeye yelling at Fr. Mulcahy, and it wasn't a Levine-Isaacs script, it was one of the many sitcom scripts Herman Wouk and Jacqueline Susann collaborated on during the '60s. (There four teleplays for F TROOP are still considered some of the era's best sitcom work.) Geez, get it right. Now you've lost all credibility

YEKIMI said...

Language wasn't the only thing censored. Who can forgot the separate beds that ALL husbands & wives had in the 40s/50s and most of the 60s. Guess the censors figured all good American boys and girls would NEVER succumb to such carnal pleasures. If they had kids I guess the censors thought the stork really did bring them in TV land.

Johnny Walker said...

@Hank Gillette A son of a pastor, and someone who was against seeing nudity in movies, but was fine with violence, once told me he thought that might be the reason, too.

I have no doubt, however, that cartoons of sex/nudity would have made him just as uncomfortable.

I think it's possibly just that watching such scenes with your family in the room ARE the ones that make you all feel the most uncomfortable. I get that. I just don't get why violence is fine -- especially on TV.

Some of the stuff on CSI is just HORRENDOUS. You can literally imagine the writers in the room wracking their brains to pitch the most disgusting crimes they can think of.

YibbleGuy said...

That must have been the same censor who first edited "Young Frankenstein" for network television.

In the original TV edit, here's what they did to the gag where Gene Wilder is arriving at Castle Frankenstein for the first time. You know the scene: Wilder is taken aback by the huge doorknockers at the castle entrance. He exclaims, "What knockers!" Teri Garr blushes and says, "Why, thank you, Doctor!"

In the original edit for network TV, did they cut the scene? No. Did they bleep or replace the word "knockers"? No. They LEFT IN "What knockers!" ... but CUT OUT "Why, thank you, Doctor!"

You see, it's okay to HEAR the word "knockers" ... but it's not okay to ENJOY it.

The Puritan mind, ladies and gentlemen.

Liggie said...

@Johnny: Canada never had a beef with the British, and were welcoming loyalists when the US revolution was going on. Their eventual independence was nonviolent by comparison. That may be why their entertainment tends to show far less violence than American ones.

As for sex, there's more of it up there. I recall a show about a hockey player where the French-Canadian actresses were taking it all off, and it was broadcast at ... 8 O'CLOCK! (Not that I was complaining, of course.) And I've seen English-Canadian shows that displayed skin, too.

Wendy M. Grossman said...

Tony: I'm thrilled to hear the story is true.

Johnny: My theory has always been that parents worry about their kids picking up bad language and embarrassing them in public and/or experimenting with sex - but they *don't* worry about their kids deciding it would be a fun night out to murder a few people. I think, in other words, that they worry about the stuff they think their kids will copy.


Johnny Walker said...

Personally I think it's more to do with feeling uncomfortable while being in same room as your family. It's awkward when there's a sex scene on TV and your parents are in the room - I don't care how old you are!

Also, porngraphy is just a click away on the internet, but puritanical parents in America aren't up in arms about that (at least not to the degree they were about Janet Jackson's nipple).

So I think it's less to do with "copying", and more to do with sheer uncomfortableness.

But I admit that still doesn't explain why SAW 2 can be broadcast more or less uncut in the middle of the day in the US.

Mike said...

@Johnny Walker: I refer my learned colleague to my earlier answer.
Violence sells to teenagers. If the industry (and in America, it is the industry) bars nudity & language, it can (falsely) claim to be upholding "family values", while maximising revenue. The industry is pushing & skewing the boundaries of society's acceptance. Obviously, there's also desensitisation. (The BBFC wouldn't certify Texas Chainsaw - it was screened at school film clubs. Nowadays, it's on terrestrial broadcast.)
The PG-13 & R ratings are a scam (open to all children) - there's no hard age limit until NC-17. (The UK has always had two hard age limits: 14/15 & 18.) The Saw films are R in the US, 18 in the UK.

Liggie said...

@Johnny: Trust me, those parents *are* up in arms on Internet porn. And sex education classes in schools. And a whole lot of other things, too.

Tonio Kruger said...

Carol Burnett actually mentioned that bit about the nudist sketch on one of her anniversary specials. So I am guessing it really happened.