The enforcing authority for American television content is the Federal Communications Commission, and shows and networks are required to run scripts and episodes through the official censors, who can quickly axe something deliberately crude, suggestive or subversive, everything from a Looney Tunes cartoon of Tweety without feathers in the 1950s to Barbara Eden’s bare navel on “I Dream of Jeannie.”
The censors do watch out for unacceptable levels of violence as well, but it’s cracking down on steamier stuff that really attracts our attention. Some don’t mind the occasional naughty bits, but others can get heartily offended by seeing more bare flesh than usual.
Here are our favorite risqué TV moments that either happened unexpectedly or when the censors may have been asleep at the switch.
12) The toilet, All in the Family
The 1970s-era show featuring a tell-it-like-is angry guy named Archie Bunker pushed a lot of boundaries, and Archie’s and Edith’s famous recliners are even on display at the Smithsonian as important cultural symbols. The show tackled the tough issues of the day – patriotism, racism, homosexuality, politics, and early attempts at political correctness. But what it also brought to American living rooms was the first sound of a toilet on prime-time TV.
For decades, any talk about the commode was nearly always forbidden, and even some of Johnny Carson’s guests who discussed using one weren’t invited back for a long time. Shows that needed to show the bathroom for plot reasons were only allowed to show the lid, not the bowl, and a big unanswered question about “The Brady Bunch” was how could nine people live in that house but and now have one WC.
In 1971, “All in the Family” didn’t want to go crazy and actually show a toilet, but were able to slip an off-screen toilet flush noise into an episode. Those were the days, indeed!