Too hot for television
A look at the moments deemed inappropriate for viewers, from ''The Richard Pryor Show'' to Bill Hicks on ''Letterman''
With cartoon kids chanting ”bitch” and cops flashing far more than their badges, it’s hard to imagine a time when censors actually worked for a living. But over the years some really cool stuff actually was deemed too dicey for TV. Here are some casualties of network conservatism.
The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour Of all the moments excised from the subversive siblings’ sketch show, Harry Belafonte’s snipped 1968 performance of ”Don’t Stop the Carnival” (in front of projected footage of that year’s Democratic National Convention riots) best reflects CBS’ attempts to keep stark reality at bay.
Burlesque is Alive and Living in Beautiful Downtown Burbank This corny 1969 tribute to old-time yuks with Carl Reiner was harmless fun. But after guest star Goldie Hawn appeared wearing a Bob Mackie gown that barely covered her bippy and proceeded to perform a striptease, NBC nixed the special completely.
Men of Crisis: The Harvey Wallinger Story Woody Allen plays one of President Nixon’s closest confidants in his hilarious 1971 faux documentary. Government-funded PBS planned to air the film, then yanked it after becoming unnerved by such scenes as Allen declaring that the President was bombing Laos because ”we were not happy with the way it was spelled.”
The Richard Pryor Show The iconoclastic comic opened his 1977 NBC sketch series by assuring viewers that he hadn’t made any concessions in bringing his show to network television. Just then the camera pulled back to reveal Pryor, who appeared to be both naked and missing his manhood. The Peacock cut the entire bit, thus adding a whole new level of irony.
Madonna’s ”Justify My Love” Video Her 1990 video shock treatment came complete with five minutes of flesh-baring S&M imagery and voyeurism, which MTV deemed unairable even by its liberal pro-T&A standards. In an odd twist, the taboo tape eventually aired on Nightline.
Bill Hicks on Late Show with David Letterman In October 1993, acidic comedian Bill Hicks visited Dave at his new CBS digs (after 11 prior NBC bookings) and brought along a Christianity-skewering monologue (”Do you think when Jesus comes back, he’s really going to want to look at a cross?”). The show’s producers decided it was too touchy even for 11:30 p.m. and replaced him with another comic.
Nothing Sacred Despite protests from irate Catholics, ABC stuck with this low-rated but critically acclaimed 1997 drama about a modern-minded pries for almost a full season. Still, the network refused to give its blessing to an episode about a gay priest with AIDS.