Posted by: distributorcap | February 19, 2009

60’s Thursday – Bleep You!

Broadcast television stations operate under the authority of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC). Since over-the-air television signals are treated as “public property,” they require a federal license to be utilized. The FCC, established by Franklin Roosevelt, is the governmental bureaucracy charged with granting broadcast licenses to a specific frequency.

In return, broadcasters had an obligation to serve the interest of the community. This obligation requires the licensee to ‘ascertain the needs of the community’ and then provide program service to foster public understanding of those issues. The FCC also had the right to restrict content — better known as censoring.

Durring the 1960’s there were some very notable cases of censorship on television. We will start with the most famous one from the 50’s

1952: Lucy is Enciente
Lucille Ball’s pregnancy is written into the show for an entire season of I Love Lucy. The actual word “pregnant” is not allowed on air. Instead, the show uses phrases, such as “with child,” “having a baby,” and “expecting.”

1959: Advertisers Rewrite History
On the dramatic anthology series Playhouse 90, the episode “Judgment at Nuremberg” (which was a play about the Nazi trials after World War II) that aired on April 16, 1959 had all references to gas chambers eliminated from its script. This is done at the request of the show’s sponsor, the American Gas Association.

1960: Bathroom Humor
Host Jack Paar walked off The Tonight Show on February 10, 1960 – right in the middle of taping an episode because censors banned a joke that used the term “water closet.” The NBC censors cut a joke out of the script that used the phrase “water closet” without even telling Paar. He would not return for a month.

1961: Yo Vinny
The police drama The Untouchables aired on ABC from 1959-63. The names of the criminals were almost always Italian during its early episodes. The Italian American League to Combat Defamation complained to the program’s producers and urged them to stop. In 1961, union leader Tony Anastasia picketed outside the ABC headquarters in New York and told the show’s sponsor Liggett & Myers (a cigarette company) that his longshoremen would delay the transportation of their products if the show did not change its portrayal of Italians. Soon after, Liggett & Myers dropped their sponsorship of the program. Later the executives at ABC changed the names of the criminal characters of the program to reflect more variety in ethnic persuasions.

1963: Tangled up in Blues
CBS would not allow singer Bob Dylan to sing “John Birch Society Talking Blues” on the Ed Sullivan Show in 1963. Dylan refused to appear on the show.

1964: The Bird
On the October 18, 1964 comedian Jackie Mason was finishing comedy routine on The Ed Sullivan Show. He noticed some off-stage finger gestures from Sullivan that indicated his time was ending. Sullivan was cuing Mason that CBS was about the cut away to a speech by President Johnson. According to Mason, he jokingly commented on the signals by saying “and here’s a finger for you, and one for you.” Sullivan thought that the joke was actually a case of Jackie Mason giving him the “finger” on-the-air. An outraged Sullivan barred Jackie Mason from any further appearances on his program. With all his clout, Sullivan practically ruined Mason’s career. He retaliated with a libel suit in the New York Supreme Court and won. But the damage was done – Mason was forced to work in Catskill mountain resorts and other second-hand entertainment establishment.

1961, 1964, 1969: Doubling Up
Many people think Carol and Mike Brady are the first married couple to share a bed on television in 1969. They aren’t — Herman and Lily Munster were not relegated to separate beds in an episode of The Munsters that aired on November 26, 1964. On Bewitched, Samantha and Darrin Stephens were cozying up together in Westport, Conn on an October 22, 1964 episode. Wilma and Fred Flintstone share a bed during most of their run in prime time from 1961-66. But the first program to show a couple sharing a bed was the Dumont network’s Mary Kay and Johnny on November 18, 1947

1967: Puff Away
In 1967, the (now-defunct) Fairness Doctrine required all TV stations broadcast 1 anti-smoking public service announcement (PSA) for every 3 cigarette ads that aired. Two years later in 1969, Congress proposed a complete ban on all cigarette advertising on TV and radio. The tobacco companies (like Phillip Morris) were initially against it. They quickly adapted by spending that saved money on advertising in other media. In return, the anti-smoking advertisement requirement was dropped. President Nixon signed the law in 1970. The ad ban took effect on January 2, 1971, in order to give the cigarette companies one final chance to advertise during the New Year’s Day bowl games on TV.

Cold Cream that got Hot
The Noxema Girl – In the 1960’s, Swedish-born model, Gunilla Knutson starred in a series of shaving cream commercial for Noxema. The ad’s suggestive catchphrase was “Take it off, take it all off. Senator John Pastore of Rhode Island (who was chairman of the Senate Subcommittee on Communications) urged the TVs Code Review to prevent such “egregious sex” from airing on television.

1964: Navel Wars
Mary Ann from Gilligan’s Island, Jeannie from I Dream of Jeannie, and Gidget from Gidget are all barred from baring their navels. Actress Mariette Hartley receives the no navel order in a 1966 episode of Star Trek.

1967: A Doober
In September 1967 Ed Sullivan requested that Jim Morrison of the Doors change the lyrics to Light My Fire. He wanted the line “Girl, we couldn’t get much higher,” to be changed to “Girl, we couldn’t get much better.” Morrison sang the original line on live television with no delay. A furious Sullivan refused to shake the band members’ hands, and they were never invited back to the show. The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour had a recurring skit about Goldie, a housewife with her own talk show called “Share a Little Tea with Goldie.” The skit constantly played on the tea/marijuana connection, which goes straight over the censors’ heads.

The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour – Tom & Dick Smothers co-hosted a controversial variety program from 1967 to 1969. They often ribbed Middle America, the military, the police, The Silent Majority, and government (regular Pat Paulsen’s would recite wacked-out jibes and editorials aimed at President Johnson). Network censors went crazy cutting what they considered unacceptable skits from the program. Segments that were axed included a 1968 Mother’s Day message which ended with the words “Please talk peace” (referring to the Vietnam War), Harry Belafonte singing in front of images from the violence laced 1968 Democratic Party convention, an interview with Dr. Benjamin Spock (who at the time was an advocate for draft evaders), and the cancellation of folk singer Pete Seeger in 1967 (who had been blacklisted from TV for some 20 years) who was scheduled to play the song “Waist Deep in the Big Muddy” about a WWII officer killed because of a his own foolishness.

Afraid to the politicians (and its affiliates afraid of license challenges), CBS refused to allow the song. The country was “deep” in the Vietnam War. ((he did, however, perform the song on a later episode). In October 1968 CBS executives began to prescreen all of the Smothers Brothers programs. The show was finally canceled in June 1969 (the Smothers Brothers called it being “Fired”) and left the air in June of 1969. CBS justified the cancellation by stating that “Network policy prohibits appeals for active support of any cause.” That of course did not stop CBS from taking political advertisements.



  1. Nice job. How odd it was to have the Smother Brothers and TV radicals! But the show was like way fun. Nothing today at all like it. Too bad.

  2. And now we have shows like “I Love Money” on VH1… (sigh)What would it take now, other than getting naked or dropping the f-bomb to get censored?

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  4. Hi Cap;This blew me away. I was familiar with the fact that censorship was prevalent, but not to this extent.It illustrates the fact we are not sane 🙂

  5. TV still bleeps the word “fuck” on cable.I’ve been watching Logo’s ‘Drag Race’ about a drag queen competition hosted by RuPaul. It’s on channel 448 and they bleep the word “fuck.”Now, on BBC America, the British version of Ramsey’s Kitchen Nightmares, Gordon Ramsey says “shit” a lot and it isn’t bleeped.I think the FCC needs to stay out of my TV viewing in the higher tier channels. I’m not 8 years old and I pay $108 a month for premium cable. I can determine what I want to hear without a big nanny government getting involved.

  6. Nods in agreement with Christopher. We Americans are far too prudish here when it comes to both language and nudity on tv. Have they never been to europe? They just do not get that hung up on that crap.

  7. Ed Sullivan was such a prude..and so authoritarian.. I remember that well. How he wouldn’t show Elvis except from the waist up, would only allow certain acts on and they could only sing certain songs, The shows with couples sleeping in twin beds, LOL, that was always so funny…My parents slept in the same bed, why couldn’t they sleep that way on teevee…lol I always wondered that…lol So many things, Thanks for this DCap.. this is great bringing back so many memories.

  8. Gene Roddenberry made a TV movie in 1973 called “Genesis II”, which looked like a pilot for a show that never took off. Mariette Hartley played a mutant, and the only outward sign was that she had two belly buttons!Take that, censors!

  9. Great job D-Cap, I love these trips down memory lane! I remember watching the Smothers Brothers and being amazed at how political they were!

  10. Great stuff. Once the powers figured that there’s money to be made in all things naughty and evil, well, there ya go.

  11. Ahh, I remember most all of these incidents. It is amusing to see how stulifying we were, and I suspect continue to be. There has always been censorship. Some would do more no doubt. Buggers to them all.

  12. I find the arbitrariness of censorship infuriating, but fascinating, especially in the various ways local stations handle movie censorship. One of the best examples is “Off Limits” a 1988 action adventure film with a Vietnam war setting. which starred Willem Dafoe and Gregory Hines. In the course of the story the two main characters drop the M-F bomb so often it almost seems like a speech impediment.One weekend, by accident I suppose, two stations wound up running that same film, just a half-hour out of sync. Flipping between one station and the other, I could not help noting that the one station had blooped out the M-part, while the other station had blooped out the F-part. I was never able to understand what that said about either station’s concept of community standards.

  13. That’s easy it’s the seven dirty words you can’t say on TV. Thank you George Carlin.I recall the Smothers Brothers doing a bit called A Doily for your Mind about the censorship they were going through. It was right after that that the show was pulled.

  14. Many heartfelt thanks for the run up on the Smothers Brothers…. their creativity was unparalled at that time! They were the only show I would watch on any regular basis….. Tea With Goldie broke me up. The also had a team of writers that included at different times, Mason Williams, Rob Reiner, Steve Martin, Bob Einstein, Albert Brooks…. gees…. the show is worth a whole write by itself! Thanks!

  15. Interesting stuff. I gather from this and other posts you are in the media for a livlihood, right? Your archive here makes for a good book. What was it they censored on the Mickey Mouse Show concerning a rather mature Annette Funicello?

  16. Love this because I was such a t.v. viewer growing up. Now the number of choices make it hard for me to settle down and watch anything.

  17. Bill – even tho I was a kid, I loved the smothers brothers – I used to beg my mother to let me stay up. tv in the 60s was so much betterBubs – I know, all crap on tv – big timeIch – this was only the tip of the iceberg and only the famous cases – and I stopped in 1969 – there were other ones in the 70s and all the way up to janet Jackson. I HATE censorship – you don’t like the show, turn the channelChristopher – some cable lets curses go through. Cable is not subject to FCC decency rules. Traveling – prudish- not this society – you are so right – we are the worst – it is ok to watch the incredible amount of violence in movies and tv – but janet jackson’s tit for 1/20 of a second is outrageous – asshole religious leadersAnnette – Sullivan was an ass – but he knew talent – glad I could make you smile – that is what 60s Thursday is all aboutMatty – I remember that now – mariette – 2 belly buttons and james garner – not badSkyler – the smothers brothers were way ahead of their time – their testing the waters allowed for All In The Family to air in 1971Randal – the powers know there is money to be made in porn – that is why they are all closet casesSherry – amazing that water closet was a problem – or take it off. Amazing what idiots we have setting rulesWee – welcome! I loathe all forms of censorship – turn the channel, take the stuff from your kids – there is NO standards – only what some old men and creepy old women want the standards to be.Demeur – carlin’s case was in the 70s – and it was landmark, all the way to the supreme court – carlin was a true genius and a brave man – look at what happened to Lenny BruceOkjimm – the smothers brothers, being the pioneers – got the bum’s rap – they were brilliant and they did have an incredible staff – I wish they would put it on cable – but I guess who ever owns it (obviously not the smothers brothers) – doesn’t want itZoey – yep I am work in the media – too much in the media – I often thought about combining all this stuff into a book. Really – and I think it had something to do with Annette Funicello’s tits finally showing or something like thatLisa – there are too many choices and they all suck now. LOL

  18. i knew about the ban of a man and woman not being allowed to be in the same bed, but i could swear there was a very early episode of i love lucy where ricky and lucy either had one bed or their beds were pushed up against each other. there was also an episode where fred and ethel shared a bed. yes, there were pillows between them, because they were in a really old bed with a veritable trench in the middle of it. it seems that we have not matured at all in this country. the most shocking case of recent attempted censorship, imho, was when senator coburn, the asshole from oklahoma objected to schindler’s list being shown on tv, because there was nudity when people were marched off to the gas chambers and profanity. the fucking moron wanted to clean up the holocaust!there’s nothing wrong with the catskills!! i was raised there! 🙂 i met jackie mason here in floriduhhh one evening in a bar. i was shitfaced and kept telling poor jackie that he was almost as funny as me. he was either very shy and quiet, or he was afraid of me!

  19. This was a great summary of all these censorship cases. It’s amazing what they considered censor-worthy back then. The Smothers Brothers were great, I always loved them.I think the reason Comedy Central bleeps “f*ck” (LOL, I’m censoring myself!) is that some of these shows (like the Daily Show and Colbert) air again the next evening quite early, at 8 p.m. here, and I think they may have a rule (perhaps self-imposed) that if it’s airing before a certain time they will bleep. Otherwise perhaps they wouldn’t be able to rebroadcast them the next evening if they didn’t. Just a thought? Anyone know for sure?

  20. this is wonderful…how you dig up this much needed history I will never know…if I ever play trivial pursuit I want you to be my partner….the smothers brothers are amazing….I wish I could rewatch all the episodes…I actually remember the Tea Lady on the show…and there was a skit about something to do with a “roach”, and I remember I kept asking WHAT was the bug they were talking about and being shushed by my grandmother….( years later I finally GOT IT….oye)….it’s funny, but really only somethings have changed without cable- alot more comedy would be even more censored…

  21. The Smothers Brothers show was one of my weekly rituals as a teen.We’d roll up a fatty and smoke it before each show, then howl at the veiled pot references.For an act that started out so tame, the Smothers Brothers really turned network TV on its ear.

  22. The Smothers Brothers show was one of my weekly rituals as a teen.We’d roll up a fatty and smoke it before each show, then howl at the veiled pot references.For an act that started out so tame, the Smothers Brothers really turned network TV on its ear.

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