A Timeline of TV Censorship

1942: Tweety Forced to Wear Clothes
Tweety Bird first appears in "A Tale of Two Kitties." Animator Bob Clampett originally draws him without feathers but the Hays Office censorship bureau thinks the plucked bird is just a little too naked. So Clampett covers Tweety's titillating flesh with yellow plumage. (Note: Clampett doesn't let this pass quietly, though. In the episode, a cat yells to his partner, "Give me the bird!" To which the other cat responds, "If the Hays Office would let me, I'd give him the bird, all right!")
1952: Lucy Gets Knocked Up
Despite Lucille Ball's pregnancy during an entire season of I Love Lucy, the actual word "pregnant" isn't allowed on air. Instead, the show uses phrases that seem equally informative but (somehow) less fraught with sin, such as "with child," "having a baby," and "expecting."
1956: Elvis' Pelvis Shoved Off Screen
Elvis' first appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show is seen by 60 million people (about 80 percent of America's TV owners at the time). His hips, however, aren't so lucky. After his cover of Little Richard's "Ready Teddy" - complete with trademark gyrations - the camera switches to a close-up of his face as not to over-stimulate the American public. By the time he appears on the show for the third time (in January 1957), he's only shown from the waist up.
1959: Advertisers Rewrite History
On the dramatic anthology series Playhouse 90, an episode titled "Judgment at Nuremberg" has all references to gas chambers eliminated from its re-enactment of the Nazi trials. This is done at the behest of the show's slightly sensitive sponsor, the American Gas Association.
1964-1966: Censors Throw Down in Navel Wars
Mary Ann from Gilligan's Island, Jeannie from I Dream of Jeannie, and Gidget are all barred from baring their navels. Actress Mariette Hartley receives the same treatment in a 1966 episode of Star Trek, but the show's director, Gene Roddenberry, gets his revenge in 1973. He recasts Ms. Hartley in the pilot for his new show, Genesis II, and gives her two belly buttons.
1967: Actors Successfully Hide Pot on Set
It's a tough year for network censors struggling to keep up with the hippie culture's profusion of drug slang. Ed Sullivan requests that the Doors change the lyric "Girl, we couldn't get much higher," since it sounds suspiciously like a drug reference. Meanwhile, The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour has a recurring skit about Goldie, a housewife with her own talk show called Share a Little Tea with Goldie. The skit constantly plays on the tea/marijuana connection, which goes straight over the censors' heads. Goldie's opening lines include "Hi[gh]! ... And glad of it!"
1970: Studios Learn to Cope with Cannibalism
Monty Python's Flying Circus airs "The Undertaker Sketch," in which an undertaker convinces a man that the best way to dispose of his deceased mother is to eat her (with French fries, broccoli, and horseradish sauce). Bizarrely, the BBC allows this to be shown, but only if the sketch ends with the studio audience storming the stage in disgust.
1979: Miss Piggy's Ultimate Rejection
The Muppet Show is banned from TV in Saudi Arabia, due to Miss Piggy's, well, pig-ness. (The Prophet Muhammad declared the flesh of swine "an abomination.") Merchandise bearing her likeness is confiscated from shops and destroyed.

2004: Nipples by the Number
We know it's a little obvious to mention Janet Jackson's "wardrobe malfunction" during Super Bowl XXXVIII, but it's worth recapping a few stats:

» Amount of time the nipple spent on-air: 1.01 seconds (we actually timed it)
» FCC fines levied on CBS: $550,000
» Cost to NFL (in sponsor refunds): $10 million
» Ranking among 2004 Internet searchers: 1
» Ranking in TiVo's "most rewound moments": 1
» Number of American complaints to the network: more than 500,000
» Number of Canadian complaints: about 50

2006: South Park Draws Up Controversy
Comedy Central prevents South Park from using the image of the Prophet Muhammad in the episode "Cartoon Wars." However, for the benefit of freeze-frame geeks everywhere, Trey Parker and Matt Stone sneak a tiny Muhammad into the opening credits in a shot that shows every resident of the town.

Bonus: The Turbulent Life of the TV Toilet

1957: Before it airs, CBS yanks the pilot episode of Leave It To Beaver because of its plot: Wally and the Beav mail-order a baby alligator and are forced to hide it in the tank of the family's toilet. CBS finally decides the show can air, but only if all shots of the toilet seat are excised. The toilet tank is left unharmed, marking the first time a toilet (or half of one, anyway) appears on TV.
1960: Host Jack Paar walks off the set of The Tonight Show in the middle of taping an episode. He would not return for a month. The reason? Censors cut a joke that used the phrase "water closet."
1971: A major breakthrough occurs as the toilet is finally allowed to perform its function. The first flush is heard, but not seen, on the first-season episode of All in the Family. TV's first flusher is, of course, Archie Bunker.
1973: Jack Paar's censors are proven right about the toilet's power over The Tonight Show audience. In the era of gasoline shortages, Johnny Carson jokes about an imminent shortage of toilet paper. Across the country, panicked viewers go on a hoarding spree, emptying store shelves and forcing Carson to publicly apologize the next night.

The article above, written by Ian Lendler (July-August 2007 issue - a really neat issue, guys!), is reprinted here with permission from mental_floss magazine.

Don't forget to feed your brain by subscribing to the magazine and visiting mental_floss' extremely entertaining website and blog today!


Newest 5
Newest 5 Comments

Liane wrote , on July 13th, 2007 at 9:13 am
"the first couple actually seen in bed together on TV was Fred and William Flintstone."

the first gay couple?
I think you meant "Wilma" ;)
Abusive comment hidden. (Show it anyway.)
The fact that cartoons can cuss on television now is so funny, well not really. But compared to what was not allowed on cartoons back then and whats allowed now, its so obsered.
Abusive comment hidden. (Show it anyway.)
Commenting is closed.





Check out Twaggies' very funny clip:

Om Nom - Twaggies by Twaggies
Email This Post to a Friend
"A Timeline of TV Censorship"

Separate multiple emails with a comma. Limit 5.

 

Success! Your email has been sent!

close window