Saturday, July 05, 2014

How to get back at network censors

Battles between show runners and network Standards & Practices (i.e. Censors – despite what their business cards say) are common. Personally, I never had a major run-in with them. They have been annoying and at times infuriating, but that’s just part of the process. Most of the time you can work things out. They tend to be reasonable.

But we had an incident in the mid 80s when we were doing MARY (the Mary Tyler Moore comeback vehicle) that at least gave us a chance to get back at them… in some small, admittedly immature, but mirth provoking way.

Our S&P person was a middle-aged spinster. Picture: Aunt Bea from THE ANDY GRIFFITH SHOW. In one episode we had Mary innocently say “yin yang” in a speech. "Aunt Bea" called and said we’d have to lose that. Why? She said it was a euphemism for penis. Well first off, I had never heard it used in that context and secondly, we weren’t using it in a suggestive manner. “Yin yang” is the Chinese symbol for opposites. Plus, Mary Tyler Moore was saying it. We were not going to have America's sweetheart do a dick joke.

Still Aunt Bea was adamant. She had a list of euphemisms for penis and none of those words were allowed.

She had a list? An actual list?

I got an idea. I said to her it would be very helpful to hear the list so we’d know in the future what words to avoid. Would she please read them aloud to me?

I then put her on speaker phone so the entire writing staff could hear as Aunt Bea went down the list. Just imagine your dear sweet grandmother saying, “willy. wang, dong, baloney pony, Captain Winkie”.

We were dying.

She was clearly uncomfortable too. But when she finished I asked if there was a list for breasts. As a matter-of-fact there was. I had her recite that list to the gang. “Hooters, kazonkas, sweater meat”.

She reeeeally wanted to hang up after that list. But there was yet another list we really needed to hear. “What about vagina?” I asked.

She took a deep breath. And then from “cha-cha” to “hoo-hoo” with every “man in the boat” in between, she rattled off the terms. Dropping the “C-bomb” and a few that were so ugly that I could only picture Andrew Dice Clay saying them.

I thanked her, she hung up, and we howled for twenty minutes.

We got very few S&P notes after that. And to be fair, we always tried to take the high road on that show anyway. We weren’t looking to slip in dick jokes. .

Here’s how far television has come: For a full list of those CBS euphemisms for “penis” watch any three episodes of TWO AND A HALF MEN.  And for "vagina" watch any ten minutes of any episode of TWO BROKE GIRLS. 

26 comments:

Brian said...

I believe you have told us this story before Ken, but glad to read it again. Made my Saturday Morning. I bet it was hard not to crack up while she was reading the list, you must have been on mute.

Mike said...

Another nice story is how Matt Stone and Trey Parker wanted to put in a scene of Puppet sex in "Team America". it was seen as too raunchy. instead of cutting it they put in even more outrageous stuff like a puppet urinating and defacting on the other one. so that was cut and the original version stayed.
it makes it all so much funnier when you think about that there were actually meetings of educated people having to watch that and then discuss if a puppet urinating on another puppet during intercouse is appropiate.

(by the way the same tactic was used in east germany and the UdSSR to get material criticial of the government past the censores: use very offensive, outrageous stuff and they will be happy to cut that out and think they saved the world from that dirt while in reality everything the creators wanted to say still stayed in)

Scooter Schechtman said...

Remember Nancy Reagan's "Just Say No" campaign? There was a time in the 80s when, if a comedian on Johnny Carson made a drug reference in a joke, the audio was scrambled (funny as hell if you were stoned). For some reason this detail is left out of "OMG I LOVE THE EIGHTIES!" nostalgia wankfests on tv.
Yesterday I watched "1776" on TCM and it included the scene Nixon wanted cut from the movie (which it was at the time).

Jake Bell said...

We often have to use that Mike's tactic in dealing with children's book publishers. When my artist submitted rough thumbnail sketches of the artwork for our first Nate Banks book, he got a slew of note, including one that a woman's hips were too round (read: too sexy). He got paranoid because his style is not at all exploitative to begin with, and these were just rough sketches.

He called me one night practically having a nervous breakdown while drawing the very last panel of the artwork. He was convinced no matter how he drew the woman in it, he would get complaints about her boobs being too big. Finally, I told him, "Make 'em HUGE. That way when they complain, you can draw her the way you think she should actually look and they'll be happy."

It worked so well, for the rest of the books in the series, I started purposely including things specifically to be excised, but it came to backfire on me. After a few books, our editors started to trust us and would let things slide.

And that's how a diarrhea joke wound up in the fourth Nate Banks book.

Markus said...

You don't learn penis euphemisms on Two And A Half Men. They simply say "penis" - over and over and over and... ohgod...

Aaron Sheckley said...

I can watch an episode of The Inbetweeners and laugh and revel in the raunchiness of it, and yet watching a few minutes of Two Broke Girls is about all I can take before changing the channel. The only explanation I can think of is that the vulgarity of the Inbetweeners seems to flow naturally from the characters, whereas on Two Broke Girls the penis and vagina jokes always seem to be just that: jokes. They always sound like they were written by a bunch of people in a room for the express purpose of making an audience go "Ooooooooooooo". The writers want to seem edgy, when in fact they are the overpaid equivalent of 12 year old boys writing on a bathroom wall.

I have the uncut version of Team America-World Police on DVD, which includes the puppet scat and puppet golden shower scenes. They are as filthy (and funny) as you can imagine (provided your imagination wanders in those directions....)

Paul said...

It's "wang", not "yang" that I know as the synonym for penis...to me "yin(g) yang" meant backside.

Toby O'B said...

"Plus, Mary Tyler Moore was saying it. We were not going to have America's sweetheart do a dick joke."

But she went on to do one anyway as herself. I think she was on Letterman when she "revealed" that Dick Van Dyke's real name was Penis Von Lesbian......

Brian O. said...

Geez, in 1990 I remember the outrage when a little girl shouted "You suck!" On CBS' UNCLE BUCK. Today the audience would sweetly react with a sticky, "Awwwwwww!"

davewillie said...

I think she forgot one for breasts...fun bags.

DBenson said...

Happened to catch an ancient Batman yesterday. At one point Catwoman (Julie Newmar in the puberty-inducing costume) tells a minion, "You can brush my pussy willows." Said minion picks up a vase of plants.

I still remember the shock when I read something (not here, surprisingly) that pointed out "Beaver Cleaver" offers more than a rhyme. It had never occurred to me -- was I the only one (outside of the network) not in on the joke?

Matthew said...

There's a lengthy series of TV Tropes articles devoted to this:

http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/GettingCrapPastTheRadar

Craig L. said...

One of my proudest achievements in Radio was when I was entrusted with the "Dr. Demento Clone" show on an L.A. college station. The controversy over George Carlin's "Seven Words You Can't Say on Television" was in full swing and meanwhile, I had received a bootleg copy of a record of Hanna Barbera Sound Effects (they were a rather closely held asset at the time). It took a couple hours in the editing room (more laughing than editing) to match up specific sounds to use as "bleeps" over specific words, but it came out wonderfully, making the routine sounding even dirtier than Carlin's matter-of-fact delivery intended it to, and I have never been able to hear a cartoon "BOINK" the same way. Sadly, the one tape did not survive after I left the college station and a couple years later I heard Dr. Demento play a tape of somebody else's attempt to do the same thing, but with much less cartoony sound effects. A lost opportunity.

Eric said...

I wrote on a show where one of the characters wanted to change their last name to "Disney." Another character recommended against it because Disney was "very litigious."

Of course we got the note saying to not use it because Disney could say it was defamatory. I pointed out that if Disney sued us for saying they were litigious, that kind of proved our point.

Seattle middle-aged woman said...

Ugh. She may not have liked doing that, but it was her job. As a middle aged unmarried woman myself, I could easily see myself getting stuck doing some damned job that I hated, that made me look like a prude or some other kind of asshole, and not being able to find anything else because of being middled aged and not very good looking. In fact, in the job I have now, I occasionally have to deny some stuff, and I'm sure people see me as Aunt Bea or worse, and I hate it,but can't get anything else.

Dana Gabbard said...

On Stu's Show Mark Evanier recently told a very funny story about getting back at a censor when he was working on That's Incredible. Well worth the 99 cents to download (note Ken and Mr. Isaacs have also been on the show so maybe you should go for the 4 for the price of three special).

MikeN said...

You claim you don't go for that sort of thing, but you have admitted trying on Mash 'Your VIPness'. Without the censors, your shows would be worse. I think Becker suffered for this as standards evaporated.

Powerhouse Salter said...

I'm thankful that NBC censors didn't reject those hilarious SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE wordplay skits with Alec Baldwin as proud family owner of the Schweddy Weiner Company, or the skit with host Christopher Walken as Confederate war veteran Colonel Angus (pronounced "cunnilingus" by the local belles).

Pseudonym said...

Have you seen the "BBC Head of Rude Words" scene from HOLY FLYING CIRCUS?

Cap'n Bob said...

Since you have a photo of Aunt Bee up there, may I ask the assemblage if anyone has seen a photo of her when she was young. I saw her in a movie from the fifties and she looked the same. But she'd been in show biz since the Flood so there ought to be photos of her somewhere. Little help?

emily said...

Cap'n Bob,

http://theschoolmarm.com/glamour-girl-to-matronly-aunt-francis-bavier/

Cap'n Bob said...

Thanks, Emily. What a contrast.

jbryant said...

Weird thing about that Frances Bavier link -- the accompanying article mentions that she "won an academy award in 1967 for best supporting actor." How do goofs like that happen? Most obviously, of course, Best Supporting Actor is an award for males. But info on Oscar winners is readily available online. Francis Bavier made a grand total of zero films in the 60s, and I can hardly believe the article writer mistook her for Sandy Dennis (winner in '67 for '66) or Estelle Parsons (winner in '68 for '67). They go to the trouble of finding the photo and including some anecdotes, but botch something so easily refuted? It happens to the best, I guess -- I recall the New York Times obituary for character actor Howard da Silva crediting him with Oscar nominations for The Lost Weekend and Two Years Before the Mast when he had in fact never been nominated. In that case, I suspect a relative with a faulty (or revisionist) memory provided the "fact," which then went unchecked.

Derrick said...

Bavier won an Emmy for Best Supporting Actress in 1967, but you know, those awards -- Oscar, Emmy, Tony, Grammy, Pulitzer -- they're all pretty much interchangeable, right?

chuckcd said...

So who says "2 Broke Girls" serves no useful purpose?

Bob Sharp said...

This is only about three weeks late, but then, I've only stated reading the late James Clavell's Gai-Jin. In that book he has numerous characters, usually Chinese or Japanese, refer to the penis as the yang, (and the vagina as the jade gate or golden gully).

Maybe your censor was a Clavell reader.