Between the Hays Code that started in the 1930s to those parental advisory stickers on CDs, it's no secret that the Federal Communications Commission takes censorship in the U.S. very seriously. But, in case you didn't notice, there has been no medium under more scrutiny than television and its plethora of programming.
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Easily available for millions of Americans, the FCC deals with enforcing regulations on programming that is deemed "indecent, obscene or profane."
But given how the arts through its weekly content is the perfect platform to share philosophies, political statements and build opinion for thought on the state of our culture, it's not exactly surprising to learn that many television shows over the years have been pulled from air due to controversial topics.
While reruns of some of your favorites might be dated, the context is still fresh, which is why in 2016, it was reported by PEOPLE that 7th Heaven was pulled off the air as actor, Stephen Collins found himself at the center of child molestation allegations.
But while it's one thing for a series to be taken off the air years later for surfacing scandals, it's another matter altogether when episodes are pulled from rotation before they hit the air or even from syndication.
The FCC states that such measures are taken in response to either network executives rejecting ideas after watching bits on the cutting room floor or complaints from social groups when news breaks out about an episode. No series has been immune from this either.
Some of our absolute favorites, from half-hour sitcoms to hour-long dramas and animated series, many have seen their fair share of censorship. With the way the times are today, there is no telling what else is next on the agenda for censoring, but you can guarantee it doesn't stop at some of these classics that include a shocking bunch of ideas that really make you think twice.
“Seinfeld” – George starts a conversation about race
Seinfeld might have been touted a "show about nothing," but if you give it another look, it's actually a wise show with clever social commentary. During its nine-year run, the NBC sitcom tackled just about every subject from homophobia to disabilities, to sex and interracial dating. But one particular issue was never truly addressed — race. While this wasn't because the writers didn't try, it was because it created too much room for debate.
According to the book, Seinfeld Reference, an episode was pitched to NBC executives in which resident slacker, George Costanza (Jason Alexander) attempted to start a conversation about race. Unfortunately, this attempt failed and consisted of George commenting on the fact that he had never seen a black man order a salad before.
With a leading cast entirely white, there's no denying that this comment was downright racist, with NBC rejecting it entirely.prevnext
“Friends” – Chandler visits a strip club
Though Friends is one of the most beloved sitcoms in syndication, it's not exactly news that its character, Chandler Bing (Matthew Perry) is a tad homophobic. Not only does Chandler struggle throughout the series with accepting his transgender father because of his own personal discomfort, but he also has a fear of being mistaken for a homosexual.
With this trait regarded as a plot device by the writers for situations that question Chandler's sexuality, Matthew Perry actually intervened in hopes to not worsen his character's homophobia. In an interview with Andy Cohen on his Bravo series, Perry revealed that there was a storyline in which Chandler visits a male strip joint because he "really liked the sandwiches," telling the writers, "let's not do this one."prevnext
“Law & Order: Criminal Intent” – Anti-Brazilian message
Law & Order is one longstanding series that has branched out into various franchises, with stories ripped straight from the headlines. But in the case of one episode for season eight of Law & Order: Criminal Intent, the social commentary on timely events would it not only banned from television, but from syndication, DVD release and all digital download options.
The episode, "The Glory That Was…" details the murder of a Belgian consulate member who served on the committee to select the city for the 2016 Summer Olympics. Her death is later linked to a corrupt businessman who intended to secure his own future financial success by fixing the election process in favor of Rio de Janeiro.
Of course, the synopsis alone shows how understandably offensive that anti-Brazilian sentiment is, with reason for NBC to nix the whole episode. Yet as luck would have it for Brazil, they went on to win the candidacy in October 2009, so we see who got the last laugh here.prevnext
“Sesame Street” – Snuffy’s parents get divorced
Everyone at one point or another has watched this beloved children's program that covers a lot of tough topics. From dealing with death and grief, to introducing an HIV-positive puppet on the series, the PBS classic has always tried to address important issues for children and in 1992, they definitely tried to discuss divorce.
With the divorce rates increasing during the '90s and hitting staying steady now at that ratio of one in two couples, Sesame Street addressed the topic most gently, but it received much criticism after production during a test group. The children in the test group was apparently not ready, showing signs of both distress and confusion, as many didn't understand how Snuffy's father could still be a part of his life after the separation. Although the episode ultimately scrapped, a digital short explaining divorce was released 20 years later in 2012.prevnext
“Boy Meets World”
If you were a kid in the '90s, you know how important Boy Meets World was to your Friday night on ABC. The hallmark series chronicling the life of Eric Matthews (Ben Savage) managed to cover a slew of topics from domestic abuse, cults and bullying. But once the series entered syndication, three episodes were banned from being included in the lineup of repeats — and you might have noticed if you're a big fan.
Two episodes from season five episodes were cut, "If You Can't Be with the One You Love…" and "Prom-ises, Prom-ises," in addition to season six's, "The Truth About Honesty."
It might seem strange to single out these episodes in particular considering the weight of past topics, but Disney had some clear reasoning behind this decision.
While "Prom-ises, Prom-ises" and "The Truth About Honesty" contain discussions of teenage premarital sex, including characters kissing in bed, while the episode, "If You Can't Be with the One You Love…" finds Cory and Shawn experimenting with alcohol, with naturally disastrous results. And of course, these episodes don't exactly match Disney's target audience and demographic.prevnext
“The X-Files” – Baby-burying scene...
The X-Files was known to push the boundaries with its grotesque and supernatural plots, but it was one episode, titled "Home" that was pulled from reruns and syndication that might have crossed a line with audiences.
With FBI agents, Mulder (David Duchovny) and Scully (Gillian Anderson) called to investigate a congenitally deformed baby from a small, rural community, leading them to a family of inbred folks who live in depravity and turn murderous when forces of modernity intrude on their incestuous lifestyle. Not only was it the first episode to air with a "viewer discretion message," but it was also the only episode never to be re-aired on its home network of Fox due to its fatal beatings, decapitation, impaling, a home childbirth sequence and lots of shooting.
According to UPROXX, the late Kim Manners, director of the show said the scene where the inbreeds are burying a baby was the "most awful shot" of his career.prevnext
“Family Guy” – Abortion discussion
FOX's Family Guy might not be an animated series for everyone. With its particularly off-color humor, it's an acquired taste for audiences. However, in one episode, FOX decided it was best to ban one episode in particular for its commentary on the topic of abortion.
In the episode, "Partial Terms of Endearment," Peter and Lois Griffin shared very opposite opinions about abortion after a tragedy left Lois pregnant as a surrogate mother for a couple who unexpectedly died. Despite the controversial take on the episode's topic, series creator, Seth MacFarlene told The New York Times that it was an issue that is in the news constantly.
"You read about in the papers all the time, like anything else," he said. "So that is fodder for political and social satire. There's nothing about that issue that should be any different than doing an episode about gay marriage, or an episode about the oil spill."
The episode has still never aired in the U.S., but did air in the U.K., and is found on DVD and digital download options.prevnext
“Cheers” – AIDS diagnosis
Over the course of 11 seasons, Cheers was an incredible show with its lead, Sam Malone (Ted Danson) being quite the ladies man, teasing audiences with his "will they, won't they" coupling alongside Shelley Long's Diane Chambers. But the showrunners wanted to dive into a far more dramatic direction for his womanizing ways and considered Sam being diagnosed with AIDS.
In the midst of the AIDS epidemic in 1988, the idea of Sam having the autoimmune disease was seriously considered, with a script written up and rehearsals taking place. However, co-creator, Les Charles told The New York Times that, "the specter of AIDS was taking all the humor out of it."
The show, known for its wry bar humor was a distinctive signature of the series, burdening its beloved male lead with a tragic diagnosis he could never come back from, even if it was an issue worth talking about.prevnext
“Hannibal” – Sensitive timelines
NBC's Hannibal might be one of the most deranged series on television in recent years. That said, it definitely had its own fan following with its twisted tales that gives the TV formula for "case of the week," a run for its money.
However, one episode centering about kids who were kidnapped and brainwashed to kill their parents was pulled from schedule entirely. Titled, "Oeuf," as in French for egg, the episode was scheduled to air the week following the Boston Marathon bombing and just months after the Sandyhook massacre. Due to the sensitivity, showrunner, Bryan Fuller felt it was best to pull.
It did air in international markets and was available for purchase on iTunes, but the episode never saw a broadcast schedule. It was later included on the Blu-ray release with a heavily "cannibalized" version available on the NBC website.prevnext
“Married…With Children” – “I’ll see you in court…”
One of the most beloved families on TV might have just been the Bundy clan. Symbolizing blue-collar Middle America, the Bundy family saw their fair share of conflicts with their economically superior neighbors, the Rhoades. But in all its 11 seasons, the series also tackled homosexuality, promiscuity and gender equality, yet one cast was seen as too hot a topic.0comments
In the episode, "I'll See You in Court," the Bundy family and the Rhodes are involuntarily filmed having sex at the Hop On Inn. The plot points to the two families of court not only viewing the sex tapes, but suggesting intercourse is taking place. Because of its high volume of sexual content, FOX objected to airing it and pulled it from schedule. It was banned from airing for more than a decade after the series ended.
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