Saturday, May 21, 2016

My favorite network censor story

Battles between show runners and network Standards & Practices (i.e. Censors – despite what their business cards say) are common. Personally, I never had a major run-in with them. They have been annoying and at times infuriating but that’s just part of the process. Most of the time you can work things out. They tend to be reasonable.   A good friend of mine is the head of Standards & Practices at one of the major networks.  We go to lunch and just wait for him to say "fuck" so I can bleep him. 

But we had an incident in the mid 80s when we were doing MARY (the Mary Tyler Moore comeback vehicle) that at least gave us a chance to have a little fun at their expense… in some small, admittedly immature, but mirth provoking way.

Our S&P person was a middle-aged spinster. Picture: Aunt Bea from THE ANDY GRIFFITH SHOW. In one episode we had Mary innocently say “yin yang” in a speech. Aunt Bea called and said we’d have to lose that. Why? She said it was a euphemism for penis. Well first off, I had never heard it used in that context and secondly, we weren’t using it in a suggestive manner. “Yin yang” is the Chinese symbol for opposites. Plus, Mary Tyler Moore was saying it. We were not going to have America's sweetheart do a dick joke.

Still Aunt Bea was adamant. She had a list of euphemisms for penis and none of those words were allowed.

She had a list? An actual list?

I got an idea. I said to her it would be very helpful to hear the list so we’d know in the future what words to avoid. Would she please read them aloud to me?

I then put her on speaker phone so the entire writing staff could hear as Aunt Bea went down the list. Just imagine your dear sweet grandmother saying, “willy. wang, dong, baloney pony, Captain Winkie”.

We were dying.

She was clearly uncomfortable too. But when she finished I asked if there was a list for breasts. As a matter-of-fact there was. I had her recite that list to the gang. “Hooters, kazonkas, sweater meat”.

She reeeeally wanted to hang up after that list. But there was yet another list we really needed to hear. “What about vagina?” I asked.

She took a deep breath. And then from “cha-cha” to “hoo-hoo” with every “man in the boat” in between, she rattled off the terms. Dropping the “C-bomb” and a few that were so ugly that I could only picture Andrew Dice Clay saying them.

I thanked her, she hung up, and we howled for twenty minutes.

We got very few S&P notes after that. And to be fair, we always tried to take the high road on that show anyway. We weren’t looking to slip in dick jokes.

Here’s how far television has come: For a full list of those CBS euphemisms for “penis” watch any three episodes of 2 BROKE GIRLS. 

29 comments:

Wendy M. Grossman said...

Today you'd probably be done for sexual harassment.

I read in the most recent issue of PRIVATE EYE, Britain's satirical/hard news fortnightly magazine, that the filmmaker Charlie Lyne got so fed up with the cost of getting a ratings certificate made a movie called PAINT DRYING and submitted it for a rating. The movie consisted of watching a painted wall dry. It was 607 minutes long. The censor eventually awarded it a U certificate.

wg

tavm said...

Reading that MTM might have accidentally said the Chinese word for "penis" just reminded of her only stint hosting "Saturday Night Live". It was a week after the sketch where that word was said/sung 32 times taking place on a nude beach and it was co-written by Conan O'Brien! So during her monologue she "reluctantly" said the word once and it then ended with her saying "We have Elvis Costello's penis so stick around, we'll be right back!"

Fred Nerk said...

A great moment in baseball history. R.I.P. Wilbur -
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NlVr45CHOuA

YEKIMI said...

I'd say you're a dick for doing that to her but it might get censored......

Mike Barer said...

I've noticed on cable shows that are out of S and P realm, the swearing is overdone. On network TV, it has always been underdone. There has got to be some a happy medium where it is done in context and appropriately.

Mike Barer said...

I think that the term "bullshit" should be used on network TV because it is so harmless. Of course to that, S and P may say "Bullshit."

Joseph Scarbrough said...

Wait a minute ... Standards & Practices still exist? Are you sure about that? If that's the case, why are there so much vulgarities and obscenities allowed on TV today?

Well. . . . this actually explains why when I contacted the FCC a couple of years ago, they actually denied any responsibility/involvement and told me it was up to individual networks.

Diane said...

I don't think that was a very nice thing to do. Neither do I find it funny.

ELS said...

Any three episodes of "2 Broke Girls"? They must be having a slow month.

Tom Lawrence said...

Don't be a yin yang, Diane.

Aaron Sheckley said...

Yeah, Diane, it IS funny. She, or people in the same position as her, sat around and made up those very same lists, so at some point a bunch of people were sitting around a conference table openly discussing terms like "woo woo" and "pee pee". These are ADULTS, mind you. Making her speak the list out loud is funny because it exposes it for the stupid insanity that it is; adults deciding for other adults what words are taboo.

Breadbaker said...

Am I the only one who saw the headline and photo and thought, "Andy Griffith was censored??"

Lew Irwin said...

While we were doing the Credibility Gap, we didn't have S&P censors to be concerned with, but we did have the FCC looking over our shoulders. We couldn't even say "hell" or "damn" in those days (1968-69). But Richard Beebe often came up with some ingenious ways to sidestep the restrictions. For example, one of his favorite epithets was, "You muthahfathuh."

SharoneRosen said...

baloney pony????

Loosehead said...

Over here in Britland we have a whole family of euphemisms based on cockney rhyming slang. For example, the wonderful city of Bristol has a football team called Bristol City, so naturally many women have "a fine pair of bristols". We used to have a coin worth three pence, called a threepenny bit (or more properly a thrupney bit), so those same women might have a fine pair of thrupney bits. Likewise there is a lovely town on the river Thames called Hampton, with a sub-district called Hampton Wick, so men often describe various things they have done with their "Hampton". King Henry the Eighth had a palace built called Hampton Court, giving schoolboys hours of fun.

Donald Benson said...

Back in the day. W.C. Fields got around censors with the expletives "Godfrey Daniel" and "Mother of Pearl".

The exchange we all waited for on Batman:
-- "But where was the Joker all this time, Batman?"
-- "In the outhouse, Robin."
-- "The outhouse? Holy s**t!"

Joseph Scarbrough said...

@Lew Are you sure about that? Because Jim Henson's THE CUBE aired on NBC February 1969, and it had both "hell" and "damn" in it . . . a few times, too.

Mike said...

Through the '70s, along the length & breadth of the UK, once a week in the early evening, families would pull their chairs around their shared television, tune in to the BBC's light entertainment channel and be regaled with tales of Mrs Slocombe's pussy. As in "If my pussy isn't attended to by eight o'clock, I shall be stroking it for the rest of the evening".

wallymarcel1 said...

On Laverne and Shirley we had a lot of fun with the censor too. My favorite directive that came back via memo was " Please delete Carmine's line,"boff the living shit out of her."

Diane D. said...

No, Breadbaker. I thought the exact same thing!

Diane, indeed it wasn't very nice, but of course it was funny. It would have been even funnier if they had made a network suit read that list.

gottacook said...

Don't know about "damn," but a certain famous Star Trek episode that aired in spring 1967 ends with Captain Kirk saying (quite justifiably) "Let's get the hell out of here."

Elf said...

@Mike Barer: I'm positive that NYPD got to use "bullshit" sparingly and not surprisingly, it was met with ridiculous backlash. They eventually gave it up. Of course, the show sounded even more ridiculous without it.

Joseph Scarbrough said...

@Breadbaker That reminds me of this promo from eons past:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fU8fHw6KHJQ

Just look at the tagline: "Times change. Great TV doesn't." Really ironic, considering what's become of TV Land in the last ten years.

MikeN said...

Shows the importance of having censors, which you mock so much.
I think even Becker suffered for lack of proper censors.

Donald Benson said...

Jay Ward was told by a network exec he couldn't have island natives preparing to cook Rocky and Bullwinkle because the rules forbade cannibalism. Ward pointed out that eating a moose and a squirrel was not cannibalism.

Another celebrated Ward moment was in a Fractured Fairy Tale, where a prince -- a caricature of Walt Disney, turning a castle into a tourist trap -- confessed he wasn't a prince at all. He flogged hogs for a living:
"I'm a hog flogger."
Don't know if that was in common use at the time, but you'd think they'd flag it for SOUNDING dirty.

And a throwaway in the saga of Wotsamatta U, when R&B find the visiting football team is (seemingly) all female.
Rocky: "Girls? What kind of game can we play with girls?"
Bullwinkle: "This really is a kids' show, isn't it?"

LouOCNY said...

Diane D: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=K0oDbfvy-l0

Jason said...

@wallymarcel1

That comment made this whole page worthwhile.

Jahn Ghalt said...

I sure am glad that a pay-channel (HBO) was the one that made a movie version of the play starring Bryan Cranston as LBJ (All The Way). He was colorfully profane throughout that film to great effect - and so natural that his "blue" tongue was never distracting.

As for yin-yang, I'll be the writers and Aunt Bea (and most Americans) pronounce "yang" as rhyming with "bang" or "Wang" as in PJ O'Rourke's Rolling Stone article:

"How to Drive Fast on Drugs While Getting Your Wing-Wang Squeezed and Not Spill Your Drink."

I have heard one scholar pronounce it as rhyming with "bong" - a term which some old time censors might disallow as constituting a drug-reference. The writers could say "No, no. 'Bong' is the sound a gong makes!"

Jahn Ghalt said...

@MikeN:

Censors may sometimes be 'important', but its also 'important' to read carefully.

Ken did not mock censors in general ("They tend to be reasonable") but Aunt Bea in particular ("Captain Winkie") and her uneducated objection to a term from Eastern Philosophy - which bespeaks a level of naivete beyond garden variety prudishness.

Plus, if Ken and colleague REALLY wanted to "mock" poor Auntie, they wouldn't have waited to howl with laughter.