Things That Were Banned on TV for Longer Than You Think

3 min read

Every generation screams about how evil the current generation’s TV viewing habits. Grandma is horrified by what her grandkids watch on TV But Grandma’s grandma was just as mortified. There’s more to the story – TV censorship has a long history of hypocrisy, contradiction, and just general goofy principles.  Here are some of them.

You Could Not Say “Toilet”

You have a toilet in your house, don’t you? It seems like everyone has one, perhaps even more than one. But in the early days of TV, they were strictly forbidden, except on Leave It To Beaver.

The first toilet appeared on that show. But the network was still afraid that the sight of a commode on the screen would send viewers running for the hills – God forbid the viewers to see a common household appliance. They debated this for some time, as the toilet tank was being used as a hiding place as the kids played games. Eventually, the tank only was permitted.

But the toilet wasn’t yet liberated. Saying the word “toilet” was still forbidden. You couldn’t even refer to it in French. In 1960, the censors cut a Tonight Show joke in which host Jack Paar said: “W.C.” (“water closet,” which was the official name of the toilet when it debuted in the late 19th century). Paar quit the show in response. So we owe the treasure of Johnny Carson to the “thou shalt not say water closet on TV,” commandment.

The Word “Pregnant” was Forbidden

The I Love Lucy 1952 episode “Lucy Is Enceinte” featured something quite unique.

Lucille Ball was actually real-life pregnant. However, the show was not permitted to use the word “pregnant.” Enceinte is French for “pregnant.” Speaking French helps you get a lot past the swords of the censors.

While pregnant Lucy carried on for the whole season, no one could use that word even once. The audience was informed with benign phrases, including “expecting,” “with child,” and “having a baby.” Considering how completely un-human and asexual the sensors believed the viewers wanted TV characters to be, you would almost expect they simply pretended Lucy just over-ate for a year.

You Could Show Breasts, but Not Mention Them

In case you were not aware, breasts first appeared on TV in 1973. Things changed when PBS, of all people, broadcast a TV rendition of Steambath, a play in which the afterlife is depicted as a steam bath (shocking, right?).

Yes, this is the same network that nixed a Sesame Street episode featuring Katy Perry because it was too push-the-envelope-ey. But Steambath in 1973 was just fine for PBS. Why was that? Mainly because no one ever said anything about it. Such filthy talk was forbidden. It remained forbidden another 17 years. Finally, in 1990, The Trials Of Rosie O’Neill debuted with the main character thinking out loud, “I’m thinking about maybe having my breasts done.” Predictably, people were shocked.

No Gay Kissing Scenes

The first gay kiss on TV came on an episode of Dawson’s Creek in 2000. Jack was in a tough internal struggle with who he was before finally coming out to his friend Tobey, after which they engage in a kiss. Gay rights activists were thrilled. 

But gay men had been allowed to be in the same bed for some time. They were only required to pretend they were not intimate. In 1989, two gay men woke up together in Season 3 of Thirtysomething. They didn’t actually kiss, so censors were cool, even though conservatives were highly upset.

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