CNN's History of the Sitcom plumbs the depths of toilet depiction on TV
Forget toilet humor — sitcoms couldn't even show toilets back in the day.
"In I Love Lucy, the Ricardos don't have a toilet," explains The Partridge Family star Danny Bonaduce in an exclusive clip from CNN's new original series History of the Sitcom. "Twin beds and no toilet."
The first two episodes of the eight-part docuseries, premiering back-to-back Sunday, July 11, explore the evolution of American families in sitcoms, along with the sexual revolution and integration of LGBTQ+ storylines into television. The series features more than 180 interviews with sitcom legends like Tina Fey, Norman Lear, Lisa Kudrow, and Dick Van Dyke, who break down how their shows helped generations of Americans navigate an ever-shifting cultural landscape — including bathroom censorship.
Leave It to Beaver stars Tony Dow and Jerry Mathers recall that the censors "were so sensitive," they rejected a storyline about hiding a small alligator in a toilet tank.
"The censors said, 'No, you're not allowed to show a bathroom on TV,'" Mathers says.
After lots of back-and-forth, the powers that be agreed to reshoot and show the toilet — but only a small part of the tank.
"How can a toilet tank be controversial?" says Dow in the clip.
Similarly, on The Brady Bunch, star Christopher Knight was told the show "couldn't have a toilet because a child shouldn't see one."
"That one still I don't understand," Knight says.
As sitcoms and TV in general began to push more boundaries, the depiction of restrooms changed too. On All in the Family, "you heard a toilet flush. And we sleep in the same beds," star Sally Struthers says, feigning a dramatic gasp.
"That didn't happen before. We got real," she adds.
South Park took it to another level when they showed a piece of poo as a Christmas character. Other shows after it, like Girls and Bob's Burgers, stepped so far into the bathroom that some thought the trend had flushed back around. Says The Brady Bunch's Eve Plumb, "We don't need to see them going to the toilet anymore."
History of the Sitcom premieres Sunday at 9 p.m. and 10 p.m. ET/PT on CNN.
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