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Top 10 Surprising Things that Used to Be Banned from TV

Written by Daphne MacDonald Television has come a long way since the early days of wholesome nuclear family viewing. Welcome to, and today we’re counting down our picks for the Top 10 Surprising Things That Used to Be Banned From TV. For this list, we’re focusing on topics that were not allowed to air on American broadcast television at some point in TV history.

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Television has come a long way since the early days of wholesome nuclear family viewing. Welcome to, and today we’re counting down our picks for the Top 10 Surprising Things That Used to Be Banned From TV.

For this list, we’re focusing on topics that were not allowed to air on American broadcast television at some point in TV history.

#10: Political Satire

Imagine a life without satire on television? In 1963, American folk rocker, Bob Dylan, was scheduled to perform on “The Ed Sullivan Show.” During the dress rehearsal, Dylan sang “Talkin’ John Birch Paranoid Blues.” This satirical song delves into the paranoia of a fictional conservative John Birch Society member who feared communists were everywhere. Upon hearing the song, a CBS executive from the Standards and Practices department said Dylan had to change the controversial lyrics or perform a different song. But instead of giving into the network’s censorship, Dylan refused and walked out.

#9: Cartoon Nudity

Even cartoons were told to cover up. In 1942, a canary that would later become Tweety Bird appeared in “A Tale of Two Kitties.” In this cartoon, the bird was fleshy pink-colored and featherless, which happened to ruffle a few feathers amongst the looming censorship office of the time. The Hays Office—responsible for the Motion Picture Censorship Code of 1930—felt that the bird was too nude for comfort. So when Friz Freleng took the character over from animator Bob Clampett, he started drawing it with yellow feathers to cover up the bird’s nudity. The same Hays Office was responsible for censoring cartoon sensuality. Thanks to these guys, Betty Boop’s clothing and behavior went from sexy to boring in the 1930s.

#8: Homosexuality

According to American TV, gay people didn’t exist until the ‘70s. The first gay character to appear on an American sitcom was in a 1971 episode of “All in the Family.” Steve, a friend of the Bunker family, defies Archie’s stereotypes of gay men. Although Archie’s bigoted remarks stung, the show pushed the boundaries of wholesome family-friendly television, opening the doors for more controversial topics. The following year, ABC’s “The Corner Bar” debuted with Vincent Schiavelli playing Peter Panama, the first central gay character in a recurring role on television. However, the show’s stereotypes and homophobic jokes caused an outcry from gay rights groups. To avoid further controversy, the show got rid of the character.

#7: Drug References

Peace, love, and sticking it to the man were widespread sentiments of the 60s. Among the rebellious 60s rockers were The Doors, who performed on “The Ed Sullivan Show” in 1967. Similar to Bob Dylan’s experience, a CBS producer asked the band to change some lyrics in their song, “Light My Fire,” following their dress rehearsal. The request was specifically for the words, “Girl, we couldn’t get much higher,” since it could be interpreted as meaning getting high from marijuana or other illicit drugs. The band reportedly agreed to the censorship request with no actual intention of changing the lyrics. After their performance with the original lyrics intact, The Doors were banned from “The Ed Sullivan Show” forever.

#6: Sexual Allusion

Elvis was popular among the ladies for a reason. This King of Rock knew how to get the crowd going with his hip-thrusting dance moves. But his suggestive moves proved to be too much for CBS following Elvis’ 1956 appearances on “The Ed Sullivan Show.” So for some of the segments, only the top half of Elvis was shown, which left out his gyrating, sexually suggestive hip movements. In another attempt to censor allusions to sexual behavior on the show, CBS asked The Rolling Stones to change their lyrics in “Let’s Spend the Night Together.” Instead, the band had to sing the nicer lyrics, “Let’s spend some time together.”

#5: Female Belly Buttons

Aside from collecting lint, this body part has a history of making TV executives blush. In 1951, the Code of Practices for Television Broadcasters came into effect, prohibiting females from exposing their navels on American television. Female leads in several shows were affected by this censorship, starting with Dawn Wells and Tina Louise in “Gilligan’s Island.” Barbara Eden was allowed to show off part of her midriff in “I Dream of Jeannie,” but her belly button still had to be covered by a high waistband. And in a 1969 episode of “Star Trek: The Original Series,” Mariette Hartley’s navel had to be covered even though she was scantily clad in an animal-skin dress.

#4: Underwear Models

There was a time when mannequins did all the dirty work. Prior to the 80s, American networks banned commercials from showing models in underwear. Instead, underwear was displayed on mannequins, in packaging, held up, or spread out. A live underwear model was deemed too risqué and indecent for families to watch on TV. But that all changed in 1987 when NBC aired the first bra commercial with a real live woman modeling the bra instead of a strange, lifeless mannequin. This Playtex commercial paved the way for more live models in underwear commercials, whether we really want to see them or not.

#3: Shared Beds

Back in the day, sex was a taboo subject, even for married people. According to TV networks in the 60s, shows could not allow married couples to share a bed since, you know, it would mean they probably had sex. So when “The Dick Van Dyke Show” spanned into the Petries’ bedroom, viewers saw separate twin beds, and thus, they were protected from any indecency. Perhaps the producers should have given the Petries a bunk bed instead. This would help to save space on set, and to affirm that the married couple remained chaste.

#2: Pregnancy

Expecting, with child, having a baby: in the 1950s, TV shows could use a multitude of synonyms for the word “pregnant,” except for the word itself. CBS deemed the word too vulgar since it implies that a couple had sex. In the episode of “I Love Lucy,” titled “Lucy is Enceinte,” Lucy finds out that she’s pregnant and has to tell her husband. The entire episode, including the title, avoids the use of the word “pregnant,” using synonyms such as “with child” and the French word “enceinte” instead. And like other TV couples of this time, Lucy and her husband, Ricky, slept in separate twin beds to avoid any allusion to a sexual relationship.

#1: Toilets

Potty humor is relatively new. There was a time when toilets, and often whole bathrooms, were banned from TV since they implied bodily functions. “Leave it to Beaver”’s 1957 pilot episode was pulled from airing in its original form because it had a bathroom scene. So a compromise was made wherein only the toilet tank could be shown. Meanwhile, “All in the Family” was the first show to have the sound of a toilet flushing. But it wasn’t until the 80s that toilets and references to using the bathroom appeared on TV. Take for instance, the “Married… with Children” episode that shows a toilet in the Bundy’s living room as Al builds his own bathroom in the garage. The episode is appropriately titled, “A Dump of My Own.”

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