For the past 76 years, TV viewers have watched the lives of various characters from the comfort of our homes. We followed their stories from week to week; sometimes we laughed with them, sometimes we worried about them. For the shows that stuck around, the main thing was that we could, in some way, relate to them.
The world has changed a lot in recent years. Many of the things that were just fine back in 1941 when TV shows got their start would cause uproars today, and many of the things that we do today would be a scandal in 1941.
When we look at how the world has changed, one aspect is what kinds of characters we see on TV now. We can look back at the classic TV characters of the past and know that if they appeared on a show today, Twitter would just about explode with angry tweets and calls for cancellations.
Which characters would cause such commotion? Well, here are 15 Controversial Characters Who Would Never Be Allowed On TV Today.
15. Archie Bunker (All in the Family)
Created by TV icon Norman Lear, Archie Bunker – the main character of All in the Family – was designed to be despised by the audience. Lear’s intent was to shine a light on the bigotry that was so rampant in the country at the time (and sadly, is still all too evident today), and to do that he chose to focus his show on a middle-class New York family.
For Lear, Archie was a parody of right-wing bigotry – he has his creation spout foul things about any race that wasn’t white as well as misquoting the Bible and mispronouncing simple words to show off the idiocy of Archie. What happened instead was that audiences found the character endearing and felt he echoed their own opinions.
14. Al Bundy (Married… with Children)
When Married… with Children first began to air on Fox in 1986, it was almost instantly a hotbed for controversy. Both liberals and conservatives had issues with the characters, most notably Al Bundy.
Bundy was a shoe salesman who today would almost certainly be a Men’s Rights Activist releasing poorly framed videos on YouTube about his personal group, No Ma’am (National Organization of Men Against Amazonian Masterhood). While the character and series did stir up a fair amount of debate when it aired, most people saw the show for what it was – like All in the Family some 20 years earlier, Married… with Children was not trying to make Al look heroic.
Still, with the way the series constantly used women as little more than props in short skirts and crop tops, as well as the off-color jokes (usually at the expense of people who were overweight or women who weren’t attractive), there’s no way a network would go near it today.
13. Klinger (M*A*S*H)
When M*A*S*H was turned into a TV series, the show took the setting of the Korean War that was established in the movie and used it to comment on the then-current Vietnam War without being so obvious about it that people would get upset. It worked; the show ran for eleven years.
One character created for the series, Sergeant Maxwell Q. Klinger, was a fan favorite. Klinger had no interest in being in a war, and he was doing everything he could to get sent home early, including cross-dressing. Klinger’s thought was that if he could prove to the army that he was crazy, they would discharge him, and his best way for people to think he was crazy was to dress like a woman.
12. Bo and Luke Duke (Dukes of Hazzard)
There are few TV shows that have had the cultural impact of The Dukes of Hazzard. While the show may be about cousins Bo and Luke Duke, what people really remember are two things – the General Lee and Daisy Duke.
Daisy Duke’s style was so iconic that her name is still connected to super short shorts, and the General Lee is one of the most recognizable cars in the world. These days, there no way Bo and Luke would be able to drive around in their orange 1969 Dodge Charger.
Along with the controversy, the name of their car would cause today the giant Confederate flag painted on the roof would not go over well today. Even the 2005 movie made mention of this, with the Duke boys feeling a lot of angry stares as they drove through Atlanta.
11. It’s Pat! (Saturday Night Live)
Created by Julia Sweeney on Saturday Night Live, the character of Pat, an androgynous person whose gender everyone is trying to figure out, was such a hit with viewers that the one joke skit was turned into a movie.
Sweeney came up with the character when she was trying to do an imitation of a co-worker back when she was an accountant. Her co-workers thought it was funny, but that she wasn’t convincing as a man. Sweeney decided to take the imitation and add in the question of the character’s gender as part of the gag.
10. Lisa (Weird Science)
Based on the hit John Hughes movie, the Weird Science TV series followed the same basic plot – high school pals Wyatt and Gary use a computer to create a beautiful woman named Lisa. Lisa has magic powers and can pretty much make anything that Gary and Wyatt want happen. Episodes generally had the two boys wanting something, Lisa creating it, and then everything going horribly wrong with plenty of hijinks to make the audience laugh.
The series ran for five seasons on the USA network, becoming one of the first successful cable shows that wasn’t on HBO. It also turned star Vanessa Angel into a late ’90s sex symbol. Today’s audiences may not be as open to the idea of a show where two teen boys create a woman and keep her as their magic slave.
9. Norm (Cheers)
Cheers is one of the most iconic TV shows to have ever existed. The series followed the day to day lives of a group of guys who all but lived in a Boston bar. The characters were all losers, from a washed-up pitcher looking to regain some of his fame to a mail carrier who lived with his mom, viewers loved them all because they were relatable in so many ways.
Arguably the most loved character was Norm Peterson. In a show with a theme song that exclaimed “you wanna go where everybody knows your name” Norm was the proof of that – in just about every episode when Peterson walks into Cheers, everyone at the bar calls his name.
8. Overly Confident Gay Man (In Living Color)
When Keenen Ivory Wayans created In Living Color, the sketch series was praised for its diverse cast. Wayans had built a show filled with people of color, giving them a chance to show off their own skills, while Saturday Night Live was filled with young white guys making jokes for young white guys.
Though In Living Color was a boom to many careers, there is no doubt that Jim Carrey is the biggest name to come out of the show, but one of his best-remembered characters wouldn’t be so well received today.
7. Sergeant Schultz (Hogan’s Heroes)
World War II, which saw millions of innocent Jewish people murdered in concentration camps, ended on September 2, 1945. Twenty years later, on September 17, 1965, Hogan’s Heroes premiered on CBS.
The show, about a group of US soldiers being held in a POW camp during WWII, was a sitcom. The idea of that alone – making a sitcom about such a brutal war while people who lived through it were still very much alive – is pretty shocking, but one of the characters is even more shocking by today’s standards.
Sergeant Schultz was a Nazi who worked at the POW camp. The character, played by John Banner (an Austrian-born Jewish man who moved to the US when Hitler annexed Austria) wasn’t played serious. He wasn’t a danger to the heroes of the series. No, he was a joke. In fact, he was a lovable character.
6. Dan Fielding (Night Court)
While the show has faded away over the years, Night Court was one of the biggest sitcoms on TV in the 1980s, right up until it was canceled without getting a finale.
The show, about a judge, two lawyers, and a few other wacky characters who worked nights in a New York courthouse, was edgy for its time – the show reveled in the seediness of Manhattan, and viewers loved it.
One character people really liked was the narcissistic and sex-addicted prosecutor Dan Fielding. Dan, played by John Larroquette, was ostensibly the bad guy on the show. He would prosecute the prostitutes one moment, then request their services the next. He wasn’t very nice to his fellow night court co-workers either, often making fun of their looks or sexually harassing them.
5. Howling Mad Murdock (A-Team)
The A-Team was one of the biggest shows of the 1980s. The series followed four men – all wanted for a crime they didn’t commit – as they traveled around the continental United States helping people deal with problems that could only be fixed by blowing up stuff and fighting guys in denim and flannel.
One of the members of the A-Team was Captain H. M. “Howling Mad” Murdock. As a helicopter pilot in Vietnam, Murdock was declared insane (today it would be from PTSD but in the ’80s that idea didn’t exist) and spends much of his time in an asylum. The rest of the A-Team breaks Murdock out when they have a job to do, but otherwise, they’re happy to leave him in the home.
4. Ricky Ricardo (I Love Lucy)
When I Love Lucy first aired, the show was very progressive for its time. Sure, Lucy and Ricky slept in separate beds, but the idea of a mixed-race marriage being on the biggest show on TV in the early 1950s seems almost impossible to believe when you consider just how much of America was against mixed race marriages at the time.
That didn’t stop the character of Ricky Ricardo from being, by today’s standards, very stereotypical. Ricky, a Cuban came to America in search of a singing career, was played by Desi Arnaz, a Cuban who came to America looking for a singing career. In the show, much of the comedy came from Ricky’s reactions to his wife’s antics. He would scream at her in Spanish and sometimes mix up his English.
While much of this was based on the real-life marriage of Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz, today audiences would find Ricky Ricardo to be a little too stereotypical.
3. Amos ‘n’ Andy (The Amos ‘n’ Andy Show)
Amos ‘n’ Andy started off as a radio show on WMAQ in Chicago. The show, which focused on two African American men who lived in Harlem, was a big hit, leading it to become the first syndicated program in radio. The show was such a hit that Hollywood came calling, and soon enough Amos ‘n’ Andy started appearing in their own movies.
For many people, the movies were the first time they saw Amos and Andy, and they quickly learned that the two black men on the radio were actually two white men – Charles Correll and Freeman Gosden. For the movies, Correll and Gosden performed in blackface.
By the time Amos ‘n’ Andy came to TV in 1951, the idea of two white guys performing in blackface wasn’t going to go over well, so the parts were recast. Still, the basic concept of the show – two easily fooled men speaking in a minstrel show cadence – stayed the same. The “humor” of the show was just plain racism.
2. Ralph Kramden (The Honeymooners)
While it lasted just 37 episodes, The Honeymooners is one of the best-remembered TV shows in history. The lives of Ralph Kramden, his wife Alice, and their best friends the Nortons set up pretty much every sitcom trope that still exists today.
Overall, the show could still work today – a poor husband and wife try to make ends meet while the husband keeps coming up with get rich quick schemes or falls into other sorts of trouble. The Simpsons has been using this format for nearly 30 years now.
Where the trouble comes in with today’s audiences is Ralph’s temper. Part of the comedy of The Honeymooners is Ralph’s constant boiling rage and how quick he is to scream and yell. Sure, by the end of each episode Ralph has apologized for his behavior, but would today’s audiences be okay Ralph’s constant threats of violence against his wife?
1. Joe Jitsu (The Dick Tracy Show)
In 1960, famed newspaper comic strip detective Dick Tracy was given his very own cartoon. Along with the crime-stopper in the yellow trench coat were some newly created sidekicks for the kids to laugh along with.
One of these new characters was Joe Jitsu, an Asian crime fighter who would have his own five-minute adventure every episode. Joe Jitsu was an instant hit with the kids because in the early ’60s, kids loved racist caricatures and boy howdy, was Joe Jitsu one racist caricature.
Along with his look, which is enough to make us shudder, Joe Jitsu had a number of catchphrases which made fun of the most basic of Asian stereotypes. He would say things like “So solly!” and “Excuse, prease!” while beating up criminals.
Today, a character like this would never make it onto a show, animated or otherwise. Thank goodness for that.
Which other characters would never make it on TV today? Let us know in the comments!
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