Taboos in Television

Norman Lear

in Television Policy

Published by Edinburgh University Press

Published in print May 2005 | ISBN: 9780748617173
Published online September 2012 | e-ISBN: 9780748671113 | DOI:
Taboos in Television

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In this lecture, the author, formerly a highly successful pioneer producer of situation comedies broadcast on American television during the 1970s, recalls the progress of television programmes, especially situation comedies, in addressing previously taboo subjects such as homosexuality, abortions and black family life. These taboos were overturned following confrontations between writers and producers such as the author and the Program Practices Department — which ‘is the euphemism for censor’: cuts in portrayals of sex and violence were typically the focus of their concerns. The author always responded by saying that if the edit was made ‘they could not expect to find us at work the next morning’. He suggests this stance was not heroic since he knew the ‘network would eventually buckle’, but reminds that the power of the three networks over creative workers' products is considerable. The most significant trigger of taboos is television ratings and the ‘fierceness of competition to be number one’: this also explains the absence of ballet, art and drama in prime time.

Keywords: taboos; television programmes; situation comedies; homosexuality; abortions; black family life; censor; Program Practices Department; television ratings; competition

Chapter.  3522 words. 

Subjects: Television

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