It may sound like a sensationalized sweeps special, but "TV's Most Censored Moments" is quite the opposite -- a smart and significant history lesson packed with great television and bad judgment calls. Airing on Trio, show is a comprehensive, clip-heavy docu boasting impressive coverage of disputed material.
It may sound like a sensationalized sweeps special, but “TV’s Most Censored Moments” is quite the opposite — a smart and significant history lesson packed with great television and bad judgment calls. Airing on Trio, Barry Diller’s arts network available only to satellite and digital cable subscribers, show is a comprehensive, clip-heavy docu boasting impressive coverage of disputed material — from Playhouse 90’s “Judgement at Nuremberg” gas chamber references to “Maude’s” abortion to “60 Minutes’ ” dance with Big Tobacco. Two-hour project has corralled industry giants who sound off on our fascination over the years with suppression and control, and, in the process, has one-upped basic cabler Bravo as the channel of choice among the Park Avenue demo.
Narrated by Kirsten Johnson, “Censored” spotlights the evolution of corporate-led expurgation and public force. And it hits at the right time: For every step taken forward in a quest to become honest and true, foundation-shaking series like “The Shield” must endure advertiser defection. Nobody would argue TV hasn’t relaxed, but there will always be anxious execs who are just too afraid to put certain words and certain content on display.
Charting a decade-by-decade account of American programming and how it has been affected — some may say advanced — by corporate-culture paranoia, “Censored” breaks down into sections featuring language, politics, sex, violence and race. Not focusing too much on a particular era or a specific web, show makes it quite clear, in interview after interview, that the business is still running scared — though with less speed — from lobbyists and angry sponsors; envelope-pushers die on the vine all the time due to nervous Nellies in the various Standards & Practices divisions.
“Censored’s” value comes from its depth. Everybody knows about the Eye web freaking out over “I Love Lucy’s” pregnant episode and ABC’s troubles with Dennis Franz’s backside on “NYPD Blue.” But writer-director David Story mines forgotten gold as well: David Steinberg’s Jews-and-Christians sermons on “The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour”; a banned Vietnam sketch from Lily Tomlin; “St. Elsewhere” delivering the small screen’s first use of the word “testicle”; “MASH” causing a stir after claiming someone was a virgin; and Lenny Bruce’s “shit” bit on “The Steve Allen Show.” And Jack Paar’s speech as he walked off “The Tonight Show” because he couldn’t talk about toilets is a real gem.
Titans like Dick Wolf, Larry Gelbart and George Schlatter are mixed with younger faces including “The Simpsons’ ” Mike Scully and “Dawson’s Creek’s” Kevin Williamson. One major point: Different generations complain about different things, even though principles are much looser today.
If anything, it’s surprising to see so few actors represented, but to its credit, a primary idea of the docu — that restraint in the long run probably stunts success — is more credible coming from behind-the-scenes players, considering they’re the ones who have to go to bat for their product.
Some are worth the fight — Robert Altman’s “Bus Stop” seg starring Fabian as a killer influenced people quite heavily when it came to portraying sociopaths — and some are not — Linda Blair’s turn as a gang-raped reform-school girl in 1974’s “Born Innocent.”
Only misstep is “Censored’s” resistance to getting both sides of the battle. Free speech means a lot only if there’s someone there to debate it, and that disparate voice isn’t around here; while Janeane Garofalo goes off on the obsession with mediocrity, her words are muted a bit by the lack of anyone else sticking up for these decisions.
Slickly packaged, “Censored” gets great mileage out of the classic scenes it chooses, from one of Edward R. Murrow’s discourses about the dangers of Joseph McCarthy to a Robert Smigel General Electric-bashing cartoon that got pulled from reruns of “Saturday Night Live.”
As an ironic and almost unbelievable sidenote, Trio is having quite a time trying to use its Uncensored Month logo: Michelangelo’s David with a pair of underpants around his ankles. Viacom Outdoor already has placed a black bar across his genitals on the Times Square billboard.
TV’s Most…Censored Moments