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When Monty Python Took American Television to Court

The TV show Monty Python's Flying Circus aired on the BBC from 1969 to 1974. By 1974, some PBS stations in the U.S. were rebroadcasting the show, where it gathered a small but dedicated fan base. Eventually, ABC saw the value in the show. The network acquired the right to six episodes (which they were to present in two 90-minute specials) from Time-Life, which had gotten the rights from the BBC, which had an agreement with Monty Python that no episodes would ever be re-edited. You might see where this is going. ABC, as an American broadcast network, felt the need to heavily edit the British humor for American viewing -and to squeeze plenty of ads in.

When the special aired at 11:30 p.m. on October 3, 1975, 22 minutes had been clipped from the original material. Gone was a cat used as a doorbell; a mention of “colonic irrigation” had also disappeared. ABC’s censors had snipped several “Good Lords,” “damns,” and other near-profanities. Any mentions of pooping were also trimmed. For Python fans, it was something akin to comedy castration.

The group didn’t learn the full extent of ABC’s meddling until late November, when they were shown a tape of the edited broadcast. Outraged, they demanded that ABC not re-air it.

The network had planned something worse: A second special was due in December, with the remaining three episodes due to be spliced in a similar manner.

With just days before that second program was scheduled to air, the Pythons filed a lawsuit seeking an injunction against ABC. They wanted their work removed from American broadcast television.

And that's where the story really begins. Read about the ensuring legal battle and its results at Mental Floss.


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