How’s that for a subject heading? My traffic should explode today. Actually, that was a Friday Question that became an entire post.
It’s from Igor:
Friday question: How do you handle breasts?
I mean as a director. I thought of this when I recently saw an episode of Taxi in which Marilu Henner in a silk top was clearly braless. (No, at that moment this question is not all I thought of.) Certainly that was a different time. Today, if an actress's top is too tight or there's too much cleavage I assume it's easy to request less. But what if you as an (honorable) sitcom director want more? "Could you undo one more button?" "I think this scene would be better if you didn't wear a bra." Have you had to do that? Awkward? Changed over the years?
I know men everywhere are going to hate me for this answer, but as a director (and writer) I don’t want anything to distract from the comedy. Even if it’s a seduction scene, I would rather focus on the person being seduced and his reactions. So, to borrow an expression, breasts get in the way.
I’ve never directed a cable or streaming show where I had the freedom to show exposed breasts, and I’m sure some shows like CALIFORNICATION required partial nudity, but personally I’m way more interested in making the story and comedy work than titillating viewers.
Even directing episodes for Fox I’ve never had an executive or showrunner tell me to have an actress unbutton a button or push up her breasts. Maybe it happens. Just never personally encountered it… although restrictions are much looser now than in the past. I'll never be accused of being the next Russ Meyer.
Our plan was to show Wendy from the back, and focus on David’s reaction. We would see her bare back but costume her so she wasn’t really topless. And even then, after she stands up and we establish that, we cut to a close-up of David’s initial surprise, and then a close-up of Wendy delivering her speech, back to a close up of David reacting.
So we’re talking three seconds on her back, maybe four?
CBS wouldn’t let us do it.
We said, okay, what if we comprise? Show the top half of her back. Mostly we’d be seeing David over her shoulder.
Sorry. “Half” was too much. We had to literally negotiate how many inches of Wendy’s back we could show.
At one point we said, instead of showing her back, what if we showed the back of her bare legs?
The back of knees was apparently too racy for the Tiffany Network.
Through it all I might add that Wendy was a terrific sport.
Today on CBS I bet the argument would be reversed. We’d want to show less and they’d be saying, “Can we see her entire back?” “Can we play the whole scene on her back?” And then they’d use it for the promo.
I’m sure network standards have relaxed because of the competition with other delivery services that can show much more. But only to a point. The Janet Jackson wardrobe malfunction was ridiculously a huge deal. There is much more leeway with language than actually showing something risqué. Hence, 2 BROKE GIRLS can get away with saying “vagina,” which they do twelve times an episode.
But if someone wants to see nudity, it’s there in unlimited quantities on the internet. Less easy to access is decent comedy.
If you want to see that AfterMASH scene, it's 15:06 in and the quality of the print is pretty bad.