Tuesday, September 05, 2006

The 379 words you can't say on television

I recently saw the documentary, THIS MOVIE IS NOT RATED which is really a terrific film. Basically, the fate of every movie is in the hands of eight George Bush campaign stamp lickers.

But it brought to mind my many battles with network “Standards & Practices”. On MASH it was routine that we’d get a memo from S&P saying “cut the casual profanity in half”. Whether we had four “hells” or “damns” or eight, we’d get the same directive. So of course we’d start padding our scripts with double the casual profanity in order to keep the ones we needed.

One time we had Radar showing a visiting General to the VIP tent. Radar’s line in the script was: “Right this way, your VIPness.” They caught it.

Damn damn them to hell hell!!

When we did that ill-fated train wreck show for Mary Tyler Moore we wanted her say “ying yang” in a speech. S&P flagged it. We couldn’t say “ying yang”. “Why not?” I asked, “It’s the Asian symbol for opposites.” According to our assigned 65 year old S&P spinster, “ying yang” was a slang expression for penis. I told her I was unaware of that and we weren’t using it in that context. Plus, Mary Tyler Moore was saying it. She didn’t know what a penis was.

Ms. S&P insisted it was on the list. “What list?” I asked. Well, it seemed that CBS had a whole list of unacceptable words for penis. And since I didn’t know that, I asked her to read me the list.

So picture the Church Lady having to recite “dick, cock, pud, schmuck, petzel, pecker, schlong, sword, Johnson, wang, German helmet, wanker, hose, Mr. Happy, dork,” and about fifty others. When she finished it occurred to me that there must be a list for vagina as well. And breasts. And intercourse. And oral sex. For the next half hour over the speaker phone she regaled me and my hysterical writing staff with every sexual euphemism there was.

It was only after I had gotten home that night that I realized that “VIPness” wasn’t on her list.

But getting Mary to say it proved to be an even bigger problem.


Richard Cooper said...

What did MTM do? ? ?

Anonymous said...

I thought radar was supposed to say VIPness? MTM wouldn't say "ying yang"??? -- I'm confused

the third coast said...

"For the next half hour over the speaker phone she regaled me and my hysterical writing staff with every sexual euphemism there was."

Wish I'd been there!

I must admit I did a doubletake when I watched the Office and heard Dwight ask Toby, "Where is the clitoris?" Never thought I'd hear that on network TV.

Matter-Eater Lad said...

I had to read "VIPness" eight times before I figured out what the "problem" with it was.

The Curmudgeon said...

chris has a point --

I read the line several times as well before I figured out the perceived difficulty -- because Radar was saying it.

Radar wouldn't have meant anything disrespectful or off color. (Would he?)

Anonymous said...

Yes, VIPness took me a few readings to get also, because I was reading it as vipness, not as V. I. P. ness.
I once argued for ten minutes with Biggy Nivens, who was angry because I'd used the word "Vomit" in a comedy piece on KFI. I thought, and still think, the word has a strong comic impact. Biggy just felt it was disgusting. I guess he felt Sheridan Whiteside's opening line in Kaufman & Hart's "The Man Who Came To Dinner" should have been, "I may feel queasy."

Anonymous said...

It makes me wonder how CBS never had a problem with 'The Dick Van Dyke' show.

Daniel said...

Yes, anonymous user, I think Ken wrote "VIPness" instead of "ying yang" at the end of the post. I was a bit confused too.

But, as usual, it's a really funny story!

Jay said...

There was a moment on an episode of Iron Chef America where the lady taster commented on the pea-ness of the dish.

Surf over to tvgasm.com for the clip (it's on the site somewhere).

Anonymous said...

No.. The point was he was making reference to the fact that VIPness WASN'T on the list, and that he could have used it in the MTM show.

JP said...

Surely the real no-no on america sitcoms is to critise Israel or support the Palestinians?

Anonymous said...

Oh wow that VIPness line is golden! Too bad it never made it to air. Damn shame.

Laurie Boris said...

Would have loved to be there for that phone call, too!