Thursday, July 15, 2010

How to get back at the network censor

I applaud the Appeals Court for overturning the FCC's "Indecency" rule this week. So while this is a hot topic...

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.

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 get back at them… 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 Mel Gibson 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 TWO AND A HALF MEN.


Mary Stella said...

I love this post. I'm a romance writer and for years, most houses wouldn't let authors use the word penis. You want additional euphemisms? Read romance novels from several years ago that are set in historical times. Throbbing manhood, man root, sizing, steel hard shaft, pulsing tool and, for the truly romantic moment, bulbous phallus.

Things have eased up a bit since then, thank goodness, but there are still lots of hard ridges and the like.

I'm a little envious that I never thought of using baloney pony. I might make a point of it in the next book.

Anonymous said...

you let her off easy, didn't even get to the euphemism list for masturbation or sexual intercourse...that could have been good for another 20 minutes.

Guess the Networks were paranoid after that classic
"ward, you were a little hard on the beaver, last night" comment slipped thru

Anonymous said...

My BS&P story isn't quite as sexy. The day we started shooting an episode, our censor finally realized what the story was about (we were years ahead of the Davinci Code) and we had a three hour fight on the phone with her while one of the other writers was in the room listening. He got enough material from the call that his episode featured a network censor who went insane, which included our censor's show-stopping, "Because I'm broadcast standards!"

benson said...

I wonder if "Aunt Bee's" list was the inspiration for Burgess Meredith's outtakes in "Grumpy Old Men"?

Jeff Lebowski said...


bevo said...

My son returned from his first summer at camp. He could add to Aunt Bea's list.

wv: unist - someone who believes in the power of one.

JC said...

Anonymous ... was there a dancing devil baby present in that scene the writer eventually wrote? =)

cb said...

YIN yang is the chinese thingy...YING yang is a corruption thereof...

D. McEwan said...

"Just imagine your dear sweet grandmother saying, 'willy. wang, dong, baloney pony, Captain Winkie."

I'm sure you meant "remember your dear sweet grandmother saying, 'willy. wang, dong, baloney pony, Captain Winkie."

Ah, my grandmother and her potty mouth. She sure livened up rehearsals back when she was in The Mormon Tabernacle Choir.

D. McEwan said...

I just remembered seeing Mary Tyler Moore, on Letterman's show, once refer to Dick Van Dyke as "Penis Van Lesbian," so Potty Mouth Mary struck again. Somewhere, Aunt Bea was raging!

Tallulah Morehead said...

I think we know the source for those lists now: Jacob on Lost. "All those lists," Ben complained right before stabbing him. Now we know what he meant. And when he said stuff like: "You broke the rules, Charles," he meant Charles had used terms like "flesh pillows," or "trouser python," or "yodeling in the canyon."

Finally Lost makes sense.

WV: doche: Isn't that word on Aunt Bea's list?

Buttermilk Sky said...

"For a full list of those CBS euphemisms for 'penis' watch any three episodes of TWO AND A HALF MEN."

Have you watched ONE episode lately? They just say "penis." Especially the kid.

My favorite euphemism for male genitals was on WILL & GRACE: "Master Harold and the boys."

Anonymous said...

I distinctly remember and Andy Griffith episode where Andy was complaining about Aunt Bea "ragging" on him. I was surprised that got through.

Jeffrey Leonard said...

In 1982, when Tom Rounds sold Watermark, Inc. (famous for American Top 40) to ABC, we acquired a 'standards and practices' reviewer who was very much like the lady you described...very Aunt Bea. At the time, I was co-producing a syndicated show for them called "Soundtrack of the 60s" with Gary Owens. One week we decided to pull one over on her and wrote a complete show with every foul word we could think of. I will never forget when we handed her the script to read it took her about two pages before she started huffing and puffing and yelled..."we can't say these things". We almost died with laughter. She actually laughed when we told her it was a joke.

Gary said...

I'd need to see some evidence that Andy said "ragging." It wasn't really a popular expression at that time, and I doubt it would have gotten past the network if he had used it.

Anonymous said...

...whoa, *that's* what ragging meant? Holy crap; we used to use that all the time in elementary school and obviously did not know what its etymology.

Brian Smith said...

The term "yin yang" -- albeit in the wrong context -- was ruined for me by a "3rd Rock From The Sun" episode in which the Solomons get into the stock market, buying shares of a manufacturer called Ebersol (possibly Eversol, but Ebersol is more in-jokey). When the stock goes down, Tommy and Dick take it upon themselves to loudly promote Ebersol in public:

Tommy: "The Chinese love toast! They're going to be buying Ebersol toasters up the yin-yang!"
Dick: "Then we'll be buying EBERSOL up the yin-yang!"

To this day, "Then we'll be buying EBERSOL up the yin-yang!" is my internal monologue whenever somebody says that "they" are going to do something. Doesn't matter what they're doing, or who "they" are. Man, John Lithgow sold that line.

saskboy said...

That's hilarious. I'm not sure if American TV is more prudish than Canadian, but stories like that lead me to think it was, and maybe is still.