Censorsh…um… I am too braindead to think of something right now.
TV has been a bastion of creativity and has been the pushing boundaries since it’s very inception and has always allowed for the full and open expression of ideas and language. That previous sentence was all lies, Television has always been a place where ideas go to die, were the lowest common denominator was the high point and were the censors had all the control.
From the moment of it’s onset, television has needed to appeal to everyone and therefore needed to be as bland and cross-cultural as possible and with that blandness comes censorshit. Television censorshit has always been so pervasive that even in 2013 broadcast television is still at the level of a 1986 PG-13 movie (for the most part). You can’t really show nudity of any kind, you really can’t show true violence of any kind and you really can’t have any real usage of language on broadcast TV. Sure, there are always things that slip past the censors or get a one time pass but those things are the exception rather than the rule. NYPD Blue for example pushed the level of violence and language farther than any other mainstream TV program had and still has things in that 90’s series that you can’t do again on broadcast TV. St. Eleswhere had episodes were I can’t believe this aired in the 80’s kind of graphicness, such as the scene were main character Dr. Jack Morrison is gang raped while volunteering at a prison… the scene is GRAPHIC and realistic as was the aftermath of that scene… I am not sure you could do that today on TV, and this was the mid 80’s. Chicago Hope had 2 examples of breaking the walls of the FCC, one where they showed an uncensored breast post reconstructive surgery and once with the famous “Shit Happens” episode. (Jowski will not let me show this pic without little black things on the nipples… which aired on TV uncensored… yeah that makes sense. ) So there are always examples like that where regulations are relaxed but those do not happen often, most of the time TV is a safe wasteland of mediocrity and banality. For every one of those there are a hundred movies that are now bad TV series, Three And A Half Men, Will And Grace, Buffy The Vampire Slayer or Adventure Time’s which disgrace the airwaves in their grand mal stupidity.
Why is it like this though? Why does TV (broadcast TV really, lets leave cable for another time) as a medium require the safety of the mainstream? Why must TV appeal to everyone and by extension why do the shows on TV feel the need to be accessible to everyone? You all knew I was going to get to this at some point… advertising is why. Advertising is the reason television has always been “safe”. Advertisers pay for the shows on the TV so the shows on the TV must appease the advertisers and the advertisers wish to hit the largest market possible which means the producers of the shows and the networks which these shows are on desire to hit the most people and it’s a circle jerk of no one that will take a chance on anything. If you have a violent edgy show you are cutting out kids, old people and women most likely… so the advertisers don’t like that. If you have a smart, sharp and intelligent show, well then you have cut out most of the audience for television and advertisers don’t like that. So you have to water everything down so kids, moms, dads, teens, drunks, sluts and everything in between can all not like the show. That is what happens, when you aim for the middle you end up making no one happy and that is what TV is and has always been.
How many of you know who Terry Rakolta is? She was a bored rich cumdumpster of a wife who made it her one moron mission to clean up television in the late 80’s (thank of her a less credible Tipper Gore… if that is possible). Rakolta saw an episode of Married… With Children (“Her Cup Runneth Over”) and was so offended that she set out to get the entire show removed from the air to protect the eggshell minds of people like herself. What was she so offended by in that episode? Honestly? I am not sure. To hear her tell of the horrors she witnessed in that single 30 minutes this was the most vile and reprehensible thing ever to (dis)grace the television screen… yet her description of the episode in question is odd since she describes things NOT in the episode and even reads into things that are not even close to being there. So her view was skewed from the very start, but who has ever let reality and/or facts get in the way of a good lynching or witch burning right? Rakolta set out to spread the word (and I am sure her thighs) to the advertisers of Married… With Children (this was after FOX Broadcasting told her to get fucked). She got many of the advertisers to pull out of the program but as with most campaigns of this nature this only brought more publicity to the show and new advertising was secured as fast as the old ones departed. Morons everywhere it seems.
Here are some quick examples of the limits that TV has foisted upon the viewing public which you were thankfully protected from in an effort to keep you as lifeless and thoughtless as possible. I assure there are many, many, many more but here are some that I think are telling.
Rod Serling used to run Playhouse 90 prior to creating The Twilight Zone and he ran into a particularly odd issue with the episode that was a dramatization of “The Trial At Nuremberg”. GE was a sponsor of the show and they objected to the lines about jews being led to the gas chambers… see they sold gas ovens and didn’t want people to confuse the two. They told CBS that any/all references to gas chambers were to be excised from the script. Serling was not happy about this as you might guess so he did what any good TV producer with a spine would do… since it was a live broadcast he would go ahead and have the actors say the lines anyway. CBS was not happy with this and the reruns of that episode had the word gas silenced out. Sniveling cowards.
In the late 70’s Harlan Ellison was tasked with writing a script for a TV movie based on the Richard Speck murders. Now, obviously when you are tackling subject matter like this violence is required for the story, I mean Speck killed like 8 nurses, how do you make that into a movie with no violence or at least acceptable violence? Well, Ellison did it… his script called “The Tigers Are Loose” made it past the censors and even the head of Standards And Practices himself said this script was (and I am quoting here) “Another Emmy Winner”. Why was this movie never made then? That is up for debate, Ellison claims it was the head of the network whom he had butted heads with previously who shelved it out of contempt for Ellison but others in the field think that the script was actually to smart for it’s own good, that Ellison was so clever in how he circumvented the confinements of television that it would go over the heads of the audience. Remember people, they think you are as dumb as the worst of you actually are. Prolific 70’s TV producer Stan Shpetner once said “We are making the Saturday Morning funnies for these people, they’re all monkeys out there” and they really believe that. Smart is a no go, but fart jokes and cop shows are okay.
Back in the far past year of 1980 the FCC decreed that the first hour of primetime was “The Family Viewing Hour” which meant that everything the networks aired had to be palatable for the entire family… no blood, no hard(er) language, no implied sex, nothing. It had to even include %20 “educational content”. This lasted for only a short period of time but it showed an even larger contempt for you as an audience member, that we have to dumb it down even more than we normally do, you are just that devolved. So as safe and non-threatening as TV normally was, it was almost Disneyfied for the 1980 season.
Lucielle Ball was not allowed to be pregnant on her own show. She was… with child or… expecting, but not pregnant. Also how did she become pregna… with child when she and Ricky had to sleep in separate beds? Didn’t want to rile up the blood you know, having a married couple sleeping (not sex) in the same bed could have caused riots and they would have burned down Burbank right?
Hill Street Blues was one of the greatest series to even air on American TV… despite the roadblocks set upon it by the networks (possibly great because those roadblocks forced amazing creativity on the writers). The network wanted a realistic police drama… yet you could not show real violence past that of the old western style “guy gets shot and falls down with no blood” kind… you could not use language that even a PG movie would allow and you could only IMPLY sex even when prostitutes are a regular thing encountered by police. Hell, they got in trouble for Belker’s use of the word “Scumbag”. That was to graphic for the network censors. In the end, Hill Street Blues found very clever and ingenious was to get around most of these issues even inventing terms that are now part of the normal TV lexicon.
Archie Bunker was a censors nightmare. He was just this side of going over the line yet they could not stop him. Fag, nigger, hebe, jiggaboo, kike, wap, guinea, dyke and many other words that you COULD NOT SAY ON TV got on the air from Archie Bunker. Hell, before him you could not FLUSH A TOILET on TV. The entire run of All In The Family was marred by the Standards And Practices people hounding Norman Lear to tone it down, but he was just too powerful and for once the quality was able to shine through.
NYPD Blue ran into the most odd of all censors issues… made up words. In one episode Andy Sipowicz said “So, you were rubbing all up and down in her GoonYa” and the network would not allow it. The producers said they made that word up, it is not a real word, how can it be verboten? Their response? It just sounds filthy. Argh. Also, NYPD Blue ran into the issue of how many times you can use a slight in a single show… 26. Twenty Six. Why 26? I have no idea, but 27 is to many. How do you decide that 26 uses of something like nigger is okay but 27 is to far? This is the problem with censoring in general, it’s so arbitrary that it makes no sense. Why do you have to dance around the word fuck in a scripted TV show but you can say it unbleeped in a documentary? Why does the context of nudity and sex alter it’s acceptability? Miami Vice ran into an issue once where they intercut a lovemaking scene with a murder scene and the network would not allow it… each scene on it’s own was fine… but crosscutting between them somehow make it not okay.
There was a recent controversy over that Kesha TV show on MTV where she drank her own pee. They cut away when she was peeing in the bottle yet they show her consuming the urine. You can’t show her pissing but you can show her ingesting her own urethral discharge? Makes sense to me.
Television is a wasteland of the mediocre where the occasional bright spot will shine though but by that point you have been brow-beaten to the point you no longer care. It’s like climbing a mountain of bullshit all your life to reach that single rose at the top… only to discover when you get there you have lost your sense of smell.
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