Thursday, May 17, 2012

What you can and can't say on television

A few weeks ago I spoke at a comedy symposium at U.C. Santa Barbara (along with other panelists the students had actually heard of).  There was a good crowd, several hundred at least -- all the more impressive because the surf was really up that day.  During one of the panels (not mine), they showed a clip from an ALL IN THE FAMILY episode from the early '70s.  It's the famous scene where entertainer Sammy Davis Jr. finds himself in Archie Bunker's home.

The students were stunned.  The scene deals with racial issues and prejudice.  And some of the words uttered were absolutely shocking to them.   The "N-Word" for one. 

Today there is no way in hell you could do this scene.  You probably couldn't discuss this topic much less say the words bandied about in this piece.

On the other hand, in the '70s even vague euphemisms for sexual body parts was strictly forbidden.  You could say the N-Word, but you sure couldn't say the V-Word.   Today, not only can you say vagina, you are required to say vagina at least five times an episode (six during sweeps).

So which era's brand of comedy is better?  Which is funnier?  Has more social value?

There is no real answer of course.  It depends on your age and sensibilities.  But to help you decide, here's an example of both.   First, the Sammy Davis Jr. ALL IN THE FAMILY scene, and then a representative clip from 2 BROKE GIRLS.

Would love to hear your thoughts.


Rob Poodiack said...

The deck might be just a wee bit stacked here ... a 9-minute plus scene from "All in the Family" versus 42 whole seconds of "Two Broke Girls."

Of course the "All in the Family" scene is comedy gold. But I'm enjoying "Two Broke Girls" as it finds its way. It seems like most of the more recent episodes get the vagina jokes out of the way in the first couple of minutes, to appease the "Whitney" fans. Then everyone gets down to business. In general, though, the cast triumphs over the material, which is improving.

sephim said...

You can't trick me into watching TBG...

The Milner Coupe said...

I don't support this verboten word trend. Words are just that. Although I don't use certain words in my everyday speech, the mere uttering of any word won't turn one to salt. 'f' word, 'n' word, fuck, nigger, what's the difference?

When communicating, you mean what you mean. Whether you say it, spell it, hold a sign up, send it in Morse code. If a word is rude, it's rude in any fashion.

Anyways... All In The Family and Two Broke Girls in the same sentence? That's rude. Sorry Archie.

Yeah, I said that. What of it? said...

@ sephim: LOL

9 minute scene of All in the Family versus 42 episodes of Two Broke Girls... If that's all there was of All in the Family it still would be a Tv classic and would still be regarded so 42 years from now. That episode of Two Broke Girls won't be remembered 42 days from now.

I think that sums up the question.

Jer said...

There is no value in comparing "All in the Family" to "Two Broke Girls". None. It's not even a funny joke - you're basically just pulling your pants up to your armpits and waving a cane on your porch while yelling at the kids to get off your lawn and complaining about how back in your day you had to fight the Kaiser with an onion in your pocket.

You could compare "All in the Family" to "Community" if you'd like to make some valid comparison between "then" and "now" - at least the comparison would be relevant on the quality level so that you could judge the humor appropriately. Or you could compare "Two Broke Girls" to something equally farcical from the 70s. Unfortunately nobody remembers the truly crappy sitcoms that were on in any given era - we tend to remember the gems and forget that 90% of everything is crap. But at the very least you could go with something memorable that was shooting for the same kind of show that TBG is shooting for. You could compare it to, say, "Three's Company" - that would be closer to the mark than comparing it to "All in the Family" for crying out loud. At least they're comedies that are trying to hit the same damn target.

Anonymous said...

"Anyways... All In The Family and Two Broke Girls in the same sentence? That's rude. Sorry Archie."

No comparison in my mind. "All in the Family" was much, much better, and seeing the clip from the other show makes me glad I've never watched it. Those were the days, indeed.

Zappa the Unholy said...

I think the public could handle a show like All in the Family today. You'd need a brave studio and a cast that can pull off what they did. Well I just negated my theory. I can't see anyone capable of doing what Norman Lear and Carrol O' Conner etc. did. Sheer brilliance.

Blaze said...

I have to agree with Rob (above comment) about the scientific validity of the test. 9 minutes vs 42 seconds? But the "All in the Family" clip wins easily. And it is not just because of "then" versus "now" and the use of "vagina". That particular clip of "Two Broke Girls" is just is just a bit of shock value verbal slapstick. There's a momentary tickle value and then it's done, shrug, gone.

Perhaps a better comparison would be 42 seconds of "All in the Family" where Archie tells Edith to "stifle herself" five or six times in a row.

(Even though I've never seen "Two Broke Girls", the tone and pacing and style of that clip suggests to me it will never have 9 minutes of comedy gold admired by everyone three decades from now)

Tim Simmons said...

Wow, that is some wooden acting and forced delivery.

Mike Barer said...

I think I heard "ass" on network TV for the first time on MASH. I hear it all the time now. All swear words can be used now except for the old standbys "shit" and "fuck".
A few years ago I watched my all time favorite movie, Brian's Song and not only heard the "N" word, but a white man calling a black man that and they broke out laughing It was so normal then, but so out of place now.
As far as what is funnier, it tends to even itself out.

Mike Barer said...

As far as what is funnier between those two shows, All IN The Family. What an incredible cameo by Isabel Sanford.

Mary Stella said...

I wonder if television shows would ever be leaned on to dub in alternate word choices in different parts of the country, or on different stations, the way that artists have to do with songs.

Hearing altered versions of songs annoys the crap out of me. I listen to a lot of country radio so maybe it's simply more prevalent in that genre than rock and roll, but I get angry that artists have to somehow make their lyrics more "acceptable" in order to get airplay.

Brian Phillips said...

To Mr. Levine: Not only are the scenes different lengths, the 42-second scene is an edit. However, I find it fascinating that you picked these two shows. Both have themes that people can relate to, whether it is being short of money or living with people that grate on you, but I suspect that "Two Broke Girls" will age in the same way that "All in the Family" did. "All..." has a few too many political references and "Two..." has a few pop culture refs that will be forgotten ten years from now.

TBG could have fared better had they changed words or better yet, referred to it in a sly way (i.e. washing the sheets in vinegar and water).

"All..." is funny even if you don't know who Sammy Davis, Jr. is. He's an African-American celebrity and that's all you need to know.

You can't do a scene like this nowadays? You can't, but not for just the reason I suspect you're thinking about. You can't do this scene nowadays in a contemporary setting, because it is generally considered old hat. It would be like having a "Modern Family" episode about the women not being allowed to vote.

To the Milner Coupe: Do not discount the power of words. Out of context, they are exactly what you say, just words. But suppose you are cuffed by the police just to be questioned on the street, stopped twice for running across the street on green lights, have people yell "hey, bro" when you walk down the street, have some fellow tell you a joke about why do my people wear high heels... you think that calling that someone "nigger" is going to be viewed as just a word that makes no difference?

By the by, all of the above happened to me and I'm only 48. And I think I've had it comparatively easy.

YES, you can go overboard with censorship, but creative freedom has been and still is abused by hacks.

TMC, I do not think you are a racist, heck you probably agree with what I've said. All I ask of you is to think of something that separates you from the crowd, something that you cannot hide. Then imagine if that trait is enough to bring people to blows.

That's the difference.

Jim said...

Every few years a bunch of white men get on their high horse about how they can no longer say hurtful words, and you Ken, are right on schedule! I guess "Nigger" would be funny to you. But for some of us - having had that word hurled, snarled or spat at us in sheer unadulterated hate - hearing that word delivered in that context by a white actor WAS NEVER FUNNY.

So sorry, we will not be bringing back the "good old days".

And if you really want to be provocative, why dont you rewrite the blog post and subsitute "nigger" with the term "oven-dodger". Because surely that too would add real social value *cough*

Brian Phillips said...

Mary Stella: You might have enjoyed this bit of word substitution that was used for "Locomotive Breath" by Jethro Tull:

"He hears the silence howling,
Catches angels as they fall,
And the all-time winner,
Has got him by the fun."

It was a real kick in the FUN to hear slang for testicles referred to in that manner.

Terry said...

I have to agree with some of the comments on here that comparing these two shows (and the length of clips given) is like apples and oranges. Though if that clip is at all indicative of the overall humor and tone of "Two Broke Girls" I'm glad I haven't ever watched it before. That having been said, I tried to think of a current sitcom that tackles social issues and makes daring commentary the way "All in the Family" did and I'm coming up blank.

That's not to say there aren't shows on the air today that are just as funny - the aforementioned "Community" and "Modern Family" to name two - but there's nothing that really holds a mirror up to society the way Archie Bunker did. Although if you really wanted to over think it, you could draw some comparisons between "All in the Family" and "Modern Family," apart from just the word "Family" in their titles.

Jaime J. Weinman said...

Jim: Actually, I don't think All in the Family ever used that word from a white actor for laughs. The writers avoided having Archie use that word (and later explained it by saying he used to use it, but stopped three years ago). It's only Davis who uses it in this clip. So there were taboos, not necessarily in the use of the word, but in how far they could go with Archie and still keep him at least somewhat sympathetic.

I agree with everyone that All in the Family vs. 2 Broke Girls is not a fair comparison, but there is something about AITF that stands out for its... not necessarily honesty, but frankness about big issues. That's one of the reasons it's still popular, I think. For years after it ended, it wasn't doing well in syndication and was sort of seen as a relic of the Nixon era, with all those topical references. And then people started to rediscover it and realize that a) Most of the issues remained hot-button issues, and b) No TV show, good or bad, was dealing with these issues in such a direct way.

Television comedy since at least the '80s has gotten a little more shy about dealing directly with racism, sexism, abortion, etc. Partly I think it's because networks are a bit timid in those areas and partly because comedy writers don't want to be seen as preaching. But the fact that some shows use the word "vagina" isn't really the problem. There's nothing very shocking about that word. It's just that 2 Broke Girls has no frame of reference for its jokes other than sex and bodily functions, just like New Girl has no frame of reference other than dating. But there are still some comedies that deal with bigger issues - just usually in an oblique or off-kilter way, like 30 Rock.

The Milner Coupe said...

To Brian Phillips,

Who said that words weren't powerful? And if you are insinuating that I somehow advocated the calling of names, you are mistaken. The point I was attempting to convey in a very short comment was that in the context of talking about a word, we cannot be afraid to say the word. The letters aren't scary, the meaning is and whether you say nigger or spell it, the meaning is the same. And not for nothing, I grew up haole going to school with the Waimanalo boys. I know a little about discrimination from both sides. But thanks for the conversation.

SimonMoon5 said...

As far as modern shows that make social commentary, the only one that I can think of is South Park. Granted, it often takes a more low-brow approach to social commentary (and there are some feces-filled episodes that I can't watch), but it does at least try to address issues of the day.

Blaze said...

If you want a modern comedy that punctures bloated, self-important institutions, I immediately think of "The Simpsons". The most recent episode took jabs, uppercuts and solar plexus shots at organized religion and marriage. If you blink, you might miss some of the zingers, but they are definitely there.

Brian Phillips said...

To The Milner Coupe: Thanks for seeing this as a conversation and not a swipe.

Had we met face to face, there probably wouldn't have been any misunderstanding. Thanks for clarifying.

RCP said...

"Today there is no way in hell you could do this scene. You probably couldn't discuss this topic much less say the words bandied about in this piece."

Though (obviously) I haven't watched every show on television, I find this to be true about abortion. When Maude was on the air, a full episode was devoted to this subject and if memory serves, the actual word was used. In every show I've seen in recent years in which a woman finds herself pregnant and uncertain whether or not she wants to have a child, the word "abortion" is never used and never even suggested as an option. One exception was Roseanne, where it was not only presented as an option but as the woman's choice.

All in the Family also dealt with gay characters early on (1970, I think), which at the time was shocking, judging by audience reaction. On The Mary Tyler Moore Show, the audience audibly gasps when Rhoda informs Phyllis that her brother is gay. Shows featuring characters like Cam and Mitchell (Modern Family) were light years away.

I sure ain't a prude, but find a lot of today's sexual references to be superfluous - a lazy way to get a reaction.

jcs said...

In ALL IN THE FAMILY the word "nigger" is used during a serious discussion about racism. Context matters and in this case the offensive expression is used to illustrate and expose a more subtle shade of racism. The intention of the authors and actors is perfectly clear.

Unknown said...

This classic quote illustrates the limit at which a word should not be used:

Richard Pryor: Honkey.
Chevy Chase: N-----
Richard Pryor: Dead Honkey.

With exceptions, the N word being chief among them, words should be subject to context. It's all in how you use it.

Chris said...

Touching only tangentially on this, I remember years ago, my favorite hour-long drama, "St. Elsewhere" had a scene in the hospital chapel between Ed Flanders and William Daniels in which the placement of a vase of flowers was being debated. One of them was forced to say "Put your tulips on the organ." If memory serves, the actor objected because it was pointless, juvenile, etc. and had nothing whatsoever to do with the scene. It was just a writer trying to get away with something on network television. I remember agreeing wholeheartedly with the actor, and thinking did they really waste that kind of time and money on a joke that wouldn't have gotten much of a laugh in junior high--if at all? Totally pointless. Who would have thought that would have been Oscar Wilde caliber compared to some of the lines on "Two Broke Girls." Still pretty dumb, though.

chuckcd said...

All In The Family would have to be on HBO these days, and even then, it would be very controversial.
But then and now, it would still wil Emmy's.

chuckcd said...

I meant "win", of course

Matt said...

The "N" word (dramatic sting) was used quite often on network TV in the 70s and 80s. Off the top of my head I remember it being used in an episode of "Little House On The Prairie" and in an episode of "Magnum P.I."

Today, the use of the "N" word (dramatic sting), in any context, is worse than murder .. so it seems.

Also, if I'm not mistaken, the M*A*S*H episode "Point Of View" is the first time I ever heard the phrase "Goddamn it" on network TV. It occurs at the beginning when a soldier is screaming for a medic.

Mike Schryver said...

Re: the dated nature of ALL IN THE FAMILY

I read an essay a long time ago, and I'm sorry I can't remember who wrote it, that nailed this.
The author said the way to watch the show if you don't get the references is just to see Mike as the earnest, idealistic youth, and when Archie speaks to Mike, just translate whatever he's saying as "How dare you marry my daughter when you can't support her!" Those relationships are timeless.

I'm not sure the topical aspects of the show matter much, except for episodes like the one Ken points to here, where the ability to address important issues was actually part of the story.

Mike said...

Boston Public had an episode devoted to nigger. They thought it was such a big deal, they had a special postshow telecast and web chat devoted to it. I thought they were being overdramatic.

That said, I asked a few weeks ago about shows that could not air today, and I think I can go to the 80s to find something that wouldn't get past censors.

Brian Phillips said...


"In every show I've seen in recent years in which a woman finds herself pregnant and uncertain whether or not she wants to have a child, the word "abortion" is never used and never even suggested as an option."

This is after the fact, but on "Anything But Love", Catherine (Ann Magnuson) confides in her assistant Jules, "I had an abortion."

Not that I've looked for the word, but I agree, I haven't heard it mentioned.

Rob L. said...

For me, the discussion isn't necessarily about which words should be taboo and which shouldn't. I, for one, would not argue that the language in ALL IN THE FAMILY should allowed on today's network tv.

As for the idea that it is unfair to compare ALL IN THE FAMILY to TWO BROKE GIRLS, I believe the comparison is spot on. Ken is contrasting what a show using taboo language in the 70's was like to a show using taboo language today. Neither THREE'S COMPANY nor MODERN FAMILY really uses taboo language on a frequent basis. I find it extremely interesting that using taboo language used to be done to provoke thought. Shows that focus on taboo language and subjects today seem to only be aiming for schoolyard antics. While there is nothing inherently wrong with that, this change tells us a lot about where our comedy is at today.

Richard J. Marcej said...

Everyone's missing another reason why this (very funny) scene from All In The Family, could never be made today (at least not without a huge disclaimer beforehand).

Sammy Davis Junior is SMOKING!

Even though smoking is still legal (and I don't and never have smoked) you can't feature a character on TV or even in the movies smoking a cigarette.

Kirk said...

What those college students--and perhaps some people in this comment section--don't seem to realize--is that ALL IN THE FAMILY was a SATIRE of racism. That's why Archie Bunker was portrayed as a perfect fool, why almost every episode (such as this one) ended with Archie being hoisted on his own petard.

While it nay have been unfair to show only 42 seconds of TWO BROKE GIRLS, I think the overall comparison is valid. When I was growing up in the 1970s, ALL IN THE FAMILY was regularly described in the press as the "show that changed television", that included both it's use of language (though even it never used the word "vagina") and its' handling of serious topics. What's happened to sitcoms--much less so with TV dramas--since the 1970s, is that sexual language has gotten more explicit, but any discussion of serious topics--again I'm talking sitcoms, not dramas--have all BUT disappeared (I emphasize the word "but"; there are exceptions, of course). Basically, as long as your sitcom doesn't challenge the status quo, you can use all the sexual innuendo you want.

Incidentally, the n-word was also used by George Jefferson in a later episode. Archie overhears it and says, "I haven't used that word in three years." Which reminds me, while some aspects of ALL IN THE FAMILY may be dated, is racism one of them? Is that problem REALLY behind us? Not when some people are implying others are racist right here in this comment section!

Joseph Aubele said...

Another great post; which got me to thinking about this a bit more. Another television moment that the panelists could have used, and one that might have been even more shocking to those in attendance, is the "Word Association" sketch that Chevy Chase and Richard Pryor performed during the first season of Saturday Night Live -- a classic!

Mike Schryver said...

"...while some aspects of ALL IN THE FAMILY may be dated, is racism one of them? Is that problem REALLY behind us? Not when some people are implying others are racist right here in this comment section!"

Agreed, but I'm not sure anyone thinks the problem is behind us. If it were, the Tea Party wouldn't exist.

Chris said...

The official stance of the Tea Party has nothing to do with racism. Claiming that it is is just an intellectually lazy way of trying to discredit a political movement that you don't agree with.

Anonymous said...

I'm curious as to how many complaints CBS got on this episode and how many of them were about the uttering of 'nigger?'

By Ken Levine said...

This post was not meant to compare the two series, just the use of words each show could use that the other couldn't.

Did I stack the deck? I suppose. But my point in using that clip of 2BG is that it used the vagina numerous times and none of them were particularly funny or even clever. The thought must have been just say the word and it will get a laugh, and if so, just keep saying it.

I do believe that ALL IN THE FAMILY, at least, strove for more.

Mike Barer said...

After nearly 40 years, I never forgot his line about toasting marshmallows on a burning cross.

Writer said...


I will be pitching my sitcom "pilot" in a few weeks at this years' Pitchfest, and was wondering if I should exclude some "underscores" I have included in certain bits of dialog?

That said, I just finished reading the FRASIER "PILOT" EPISODE which I found online, and there seems to be no underscoring whatsoever.



JenW said...

There really is no fair comparison between All in the Family and Two Broke Girls (and I like TBG). In one you have several minutes of important dialogue for the time (or this time for that matter) and in the other, less than a minute of frivolous banter. This is not a sign of the times, just a poor comparison of two shows that are alike in no way at all. (I really do love your blog, just happen to disagree sometimes)

Franco said...

Social value?

Just as an example, would anyone have taken Martin Luther King, Jr. seriously if during his, "I have a dream" speech he took a break to tell us about a new mouthwash, or body spray that will get you laid, or a new pill you should talk to your doctor about?

TV should always stick to what it does best: entertaining

Austin in Tokyo said...

I think the writing approach is different. In the "All In The Family" skit, the issue is racism, and the N--- word worked its way in there. I think for the TBG skit, the writer(s) started with the word vagina, and brainstormed for vagina jokes...and in this comment I am proud to say I was able to use the word vagina, 3 times.

jbryant said...

A superb Season 2 episode of LOUIE had Louie taking his daughters to visit his ancient aunt in hopes that they'd enjoy hearing about her life and benefit from her wisdom. That was shot to hell when the old lady offered them a snack of Brazil nuts or, as she called them, "niggertoes." She went on to express disgust that Louie and the girls lived in New York City, because it's home to so many--well, you get the idea.

Granted, LOUIE is on FX, and probably couldn't get away with such content on one of the major networks.

Johnny Walker said...

I guess Ken's point can be summed up thusly: If you're going to use shocking l language on TV, at least try and put something of value behind it.

Barry Traylor said...

Considering the dumbing down of America perhaps they should just skip the word vagina and go straight to cunt or twat.

Johnny Walker said...

Jim, I totally agree with your sentiment, but I don't think that was what Ken was saying. The humour in ALL IN THE FAMILY (and, originally, TIL DEATH DO US PART) was supposed to be making fun of racist attitudes. The sentiment behind those shows was a good one; The audience was never supposed to be laughing with Archie Bunker/Alf Garnett, but at him.

I don't know about the US remake, but here in the UK this intention was lost on some members of the audience: A lot racists loved Alf Garnett, without realising the aim was to mock him.

Here's a sample for those who are interested in seeing where Archie Bunker originated:

Brian Phillips said...

To Johnny Walker: Thanks for the link!

I'm rather surprised to see the physical resemblance of Jean Stapleton to Dandy Nichols.

To answer your question, I do recall seeing, "Archie Bunker for President" buttons as a little boy.

The strangest tie-in to "All in the Family" would have to be the records. Some of them were audio recordings of clips of the episodes (this was before the days of VCR's), but some featured Carroll O'Connor and Jean Stapleton singing in character. One featured O'Connor and the title was "Music for Old P.F.A.R.T.S*"

So, if any of you are over to my house, would you care to listen to Archie and Edith sing "When I'm 64"? Anyone? Where are you going? I made espresso!

To Ralph: Yes you can have people smoking on TV, even without a huge disclaimer. To be fair, it's usually shown in a negative light, from what I've seen. On "Friends" Chandler's love of tobacco is almost erotic. On "Becker", Dr. Becker smoked, but usually it was shown as a punchline, or decried by other characters. On "Cheers", I seem to recall some of the regular cast smoking cigars in one episode.

I will concede that TV is pretty much anti-smoking. The ads have been banned since the '70s which I don't have an issue with. In a Vance Packard book, he recalls hearing his daughter singing an ad jingle, "Don't miss the fun of smoking..." Considering what tobacco did to my parents' health, were that my daughter, I would've pitched a fit.

*People for a return to sentimentality.

Terrence Moss said...

I would have LOVED to been in that room for the screen of "Sammy's Visit".

I have the second season DVD of "All in the Family". I showed it to a friend of mine, a comedian with dark, twisted humor. He was SHOCKED. SHOCKED. 40+ years later.

I've watched the episode a million times. It's hilarious, it's brilliant, it's classic and ends with one of the greatest comedic moments in TV history.

I wish I could write shit like that.

Kirk said...

Interesting, as well as funny, clip from TIL DEATH DO US PART. Even in ALL IN THE FAMILY's heyday, I can't imagine Mike Stivic calling Jesus a Marxist. But British sitcoms were always a little edgier than American ones.

Dana Gabbard said...

Some years I realized you couldn't do a character like Reverand Jim from Taxi. Or the SNL skit about union grown pot. For a long time the Just Say Now mentality meant drugs could only be presented in a negative light. The difference is exemplified by the casual drug use in David Gerrold's When HARLIE was One (1973) versus Version 2.0 (1988) where that was excised.

From what I can tell Weeds doesn't demonize drug growing, so maybe thing have softened a bit these past few years.

RCP said...

Johnny Walker...

Thanks for the link. "It couldn't have been Christmas! He hadn't bloody well been born yet!" lol. I'd probably find it even funnier if Alf didn't remind me so much of my uncle.

Brian Phillips said...

"So, if any of you are over to my house, would you care to listen to Archie and Edith sing "When I'm 64"? Anyone? Where are you going? I made espresso!"

You'll have to do better than that. Fine wine, a four-course gourmet meal, an exotic dessert (with flames), espresso, AND cognac. Then maybe I'll listen to your record.

Edward Copeland said...

The most important criteria is that it be relevant to the scene and funny (assuming we're talking comedy). For myself, I'm pretty libertarian as far as language goes and say let them both go as long as there is a purpose. If it's just to be shocking or vulgar, then there isn't a point and we don't need it. However, we shouldn't be puritannical about either subject either. Just make sure to place them in the proper hour. What drives me nuts is that the people who complain either A) want to decide my morals for me or B) are too distracted by their own lives to monitor their own children. I sensed that same attitude during that horrible HBO Weight of the Nation obesity epidemic scarefest that passed off everything it said as a "fact" neglecting to tell anyone that the statistics came from surveys whose own guidelines had sampling errors and admitted their samples were too small to read too much into without combining them with previous surveys -- none of which were done or mentioned in the show. They even ignored more recent surveys that showed leveling off of weight increases in adult women and children in recent years so they could use the older, scarier ones. Pretty despicable.

Jeffrey Mark said...

I was in high school and never missed an All In The Family - every season. Teenagers or people in their early 20s didn't have TV shows especially written just for their specific age demographic the way it's all done nowadays. Shows were shows...they seemed to appeal to a wide variety of ages...I found nothing uncool about watching All In The Family or Maude at 17-20. I was well aware of the social commentary about the times used in the shows - that's exactly why I tuned in and watched...and besides being entertained, I was also, on some level, educated about the political system back in the early-mid '70s, through the eyes of both Archie and Mike. Today none of this is no longer done on sitcoms. Whoppeee! Vagina jokes abound! (If you can even call them jokes), oh, how fun-nee, tee-hee. That's sad. That's very sad that after all of the brilliance of MASH, ALL IN THE FAMILY, MAUDE - the rich comedic writing...that all a dumb 20 year old wants to watch is a dumb show where the main characters get to say vagina.

Didn't get to hear the word enough in your Human Sexuality class back in high school, huh?

Andrew said...


It certainly happened here in the states that Archie Bunker was misread by certain audience members. My father was among that number. He never saw that the series was poking fun at Archie's ignorant, racist attitudes. To him, ALL IN THE FAMILY was more the story of a sane man struggling against a world turned upside-down, trying to tell him that everything that he *knew* was right, was wrong.

If you read print reviews and discussions of ALL IN THE FAMILY from very early in its run, you'll find that the absence of the word "nigger" from Archie's vocabulary was frequently discussed, some feeling that it was a failure on the show's part not to use the word and others arguing that it would have been too inflammatory and would have worked against what the series was trying to do. Norman Lear's response to the question at that point was that he felt the word "nigger" was used only by people who genuinely hated blacks, whereas Archie's brand of racism, Lear argued, was rooted in ignorance. Not hatred.

Mike Barer said...

Actually, both shows have are similar in the fact that they derived humor from shock value.
It's the only similarity, though. One is a show that is remembered 40 years later, the other may have already been forgotten.
It was a much different world back then, no VCRs,no "On Demand", no desktop computers. Very little in the way of cable options. You had a time of the evening that you would watch a show, if you missed it, you had to wait for the reruns. It was not uncommon back then for the whole family to gather in the living room to watch a certain show.

ARon23 said...

I would have to agree that the comparison isn't fair.
Surely there is intelligent comedy on TV today, but how many scenes in sitcom history would stand up against that one from All In the Family?
3? 5?
I don't know if a 20 min sitcom would ever use 9 minutes to set up that pay off today.
But if someone told me that they had written seasons of All in the Family and developed the Archie Bunker character just to get to that kiss, I would be of the opinion that it was worthwhile.

Anonymous said...

Thank goodness I have satellite! Japanese sitcom writers are far more progressive than Americans when using the N word.

If you doubt me, check out this hilarious clip:

Mike Barer said...

I just found out last night that you can call someone a "dick" on TV, as witnessed on Celebrity Apprentice.

McAlvie said...

I think I prefer 70s values over today's. It's one thing to be politically incorrect to make a point, quite another to do it just for shock value to hide the fact that you aren't really funny.

Daryl S. Herrick said...

What makes “All In The Family” important is that it exposed what people really said and professed to have thought. The reality was that many, many people thought that the races should be separated and were unequal. As teenagers in the 1970s, we glommed onto the counter-culture, as it was known then, and could be self-unctuous: Who me? Never! However it was hard to remain unsullied where in the family, in the street, everywhere; people espoused to greater or lesser degrees those views expressed through the character of Archie Bunker. It took guts to turn the camera around and instead of the television broadcasting into the living room; our living room--America’s real living rooms--was being broadcast onto the t.v. set. Now forty years later, we snicker like junior high students when someone mentions a private part on television. We must have reached a point where we live in such social harmony that there is no need for a show like “All In The Family” to reflect that we are anything less than perfect.

Anonymous said...

Ive seen every MASH episose dozens of times, they only used the word ass as in "foolish". Never referring to the body part.