Have you ever looked back on a TV show and wondered how on earth anybody thought it was a good idea to put that on the air? A bad storyline is one thing, but shocking dialogue and awful stereotypes are something completely different.
While what we watch is usually reflective of the time we live in, some former programming can be so offensive by today’s standards that witnessing it through enlightened eyes can be appalling. A sense of humor and some cultural perspective is important, but there is a clear line between right and wrong – and some shows managed to get it oh so wrong.
From the early days of television until now, art has imitated life. As we evolve as a society, it’s important to take stock of where we’ve been to figure out how far we’ve come.
Even though these shows might have been acceptable at one time (some were even questionable from the beginning), if any of these concepts were to be pitched today, they would be shot down faster than you can say the words South Park.
Taking a look back at these will shock you.
Here are 17 Most Offensive Shows That Would Never Be Allowed On TV Today.
17. All in the Family
Just paying attention to the words of the theme song “Those were the Days” should have given any viewer an idea of what this show was about. Archie Bunker was a man who was afraid of change, and in those days, that meant coming to terms with issues like racism, misogyny, sexism, homophobia and assault.
You had Archie and Edith, who came from a generation of Baby Boomers, paired with daughter Gloria and her husband Michael, who were coming out of the counterculture from the ‘60s. The two couples were often on opposite sides of what they believed was right and wrong.
Archie Bunker was a true antihero.
16. Summer Heights High
Chris Lilley brought this Australian mockumentary-style series to HBO in 2007. Like Tracey Ullman and a few others before him, Lilley’s ability to play multiple characters made Summer Heights High fun to watch.
However, if you were paying attention to what you were laughing at, you’d know it definitely wasn’t politically correct. In only one season, the show managed to insult an array of people. Jokes about bullying, mental disabilities, homosexuality, racism, and abuse made a lot of viewers upset.
A few of those line-crossing moments had to do with a joke about abuse and a character mistreating someone with Down syndrome. After an episode aired that appeared to be lampooning someone who had died from an overdose at a music festival the show never recovered.
15. 2 Broke Girls
While 2 Broke Girls found a wildly successful home on CBS for six whole seasons, it’s likely that had the series been pitched today, it would never have gotten the greenlight. The show’s creators, Michael Patrick King and Whitney Cummings, are well-known for being controversial comedy makers, but this sitcom had audiences calling in their complaints on many occasions.
2 Broke Girls unapologetically handled steamy talk in ways that made plenty of parents and non-parents alike uncomfortable; especially since the show once held an earlier time slot. But, the most offensive part of the show was its blatant racism. Han Lee (the girls’ Asian-American boss played by Matthew Moy) often found himself on the wrong end of the joke.
14. Married with Children
Married with Children, a FOX sitcom that ran from ’87-’97, was the next generation’s version of All in the Family. Al Bundy’s character depicted the working-class man as crude, rude, and completely sexist. Peggy was lazy, teenage daughter Kelly was promiscuous, and a young Bud was portrayed as deservedly unpopular with the ladies. Even neighbor Marcy and both of her husbands played into the insults.
The characters were all offensive stereotypes and the plotlines were usually humiliating. No topics were off-limits.
Some viewers were so upset, it led to a boycott.
That directly drew attention to the show, which ended up giving it a huge boost in ratings. Ironically, the show itself broke down stereotypes about what family TV should be, and although cutting-edge at the time, the sheer vulgarity of it would have made it unsuitable to air today.
Thinking of a TV show in the early ‘90s called Babes might have you envisioning a pack of Kelly Bundys, but that is not at all what the creators of this sitcom had in mind. No, Babes was about three overweight sisters.
According to IMDB, “The series follows babes a trio of plump siblings who had other things on their mind besides their weight: like work, relationships, popularity, and starting a family…”
Somehow executives thought that fat-shaming equals high ratings.
Initially, the show earned its share of criticism, and then tried to turn the tables, taking a more positive look at weight issues. It was canceled after one season. From jokes about helium dresses to being woken up by the sound of potato chips, this show was all-around in bad taste.
12. Just the Ten of Us
Some people might remember Just the Ten of Us as a cool spin-off from the ‘80s sitcom Growing Pains. But, if you assumed the show was about a large Catholic family of ten – Coach Lubbock, his wife, and their eight children (six of whom were girls, four of which were teenagers) — you might be shocked to find out what you were actually watching.
Those days, “must-see” TV consisted of a bunch of teenage girls getting paid to dance for men at a pizza place. One episode even had a patron dying during one of their solos. The teenager blames herself and becomes guilt-ridden after learning that this man (whom she never knew) left her all of his possessions. After some confusion about the direction she’s headed, she eventually comes to the conclusion that her purpose in life is “to please men.” Lesson learned?
11. The Secret Diary of Desmond Pfeiffer
Before this sitcom even made it on television, it was considered to be controversial and had groups like the NAACP up in arms. Of course, that didn’t stop UPN from airing four episodes of The Secret Diary of Desmond Pfeiffer.
In 1998, we met the titular Desmond Pfeiffer, played by Chi McBride. Pfeiffer was an English nobleman before he was abducted and transported to the US on a slave ship. Pfeiffer ends up at The White House during the Civil War, as Abraham Lincoln’s driver.
Just when you thought it wasn’t possible, things get even more offensive when we discover the punchline is really about how McBride’s character was surprisingly more intelligent than the all-white household he was a part of. Needless to say, the lighthearted approach on a topic like slavery did not go over well with audiences.
10. Bosom Buddies
When you think of Tom Hanks, imagining him in women’s clothing is probably not the first thing that comes to mind. However, if not for the role he took starring alongside Peter Scolari in the early ‘80s sitcom Bosom Buddies, the lovable Mr. Hanks might not have catapulted to superstardom when and how he did.
Before Tom Hanks was Tom Hanks, he and his friend were “Bosom Buddies.”
Get the joke? It has these two dressed in drag in order to live in an all-female building just so they can afford rent. Between this and Dustin Hoffman in Tootsie, for some reason it seemed like if you wanted to talk about gender inequality in the ‘80s, you’d have to do it as a man – dressed as a woman.
9. Three’s Company
Three’s Company is one of the most beloved sitcoms of our time. It spawned several spin-offs and made John Ritter a comedic superstar. While the ‘70s were certainly a time of change and accepting new views on life, fighting through conservative values was a common theme on television, no matter the genre.
When Jack, Janet, and Chrissy (the first evolution of roommates) decided to move in together, in order to get past the unconventional idea of a man living with a woman he wasn’t married to, they threw out the unconventional idea that a man could live with a woman he wasn’t married to, as long as he was gay – that way there would be no “hanky panky.”
8. Dukes of Hazzard
As it turns out, these good ol’ boys, while they might not have meant any harm, appear to have had some racist tendencies. If the giant Confederate flag on top of their bright orange ‘69 Dodge Charger named General Lee didn’t give it away, you might want to brush up on your Civil War history.
From 1979-1985, the fast drivin’ Duke boys of Hazzard County tore up the roads and made Southern life look cool. Maybe people thought if the South were to rise again, it would look somewhat like this. While the lack of diversity on the show wasn’t a direct implication, the idea of a Klan meeting happening somewhere in that town wasn’t too far-fetched.
7. I Love Lucy
Who didn’t love Lucy and Ricky Ricardo? The Cuban immigrant and his red-haired wife were one of America’s favorite couples.
Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz not only pushed the limits of comedy but broke down barriers of what you could see on TV. In the ‘50s, I Love Lucy tested censorship in areas that showed how Ricky and Lucy slept and even the words used to describe Lucy’s pregnancy (which could not be said on-air).
While cutting-edge at the time, the racial stereotypes, sexism and chauvinism that was normalized then would never fly today.
Ricky Ricardo wasn’t considered an antihero, he was a hero.
His views on a woman’s place in the world were commonly shared and respected. It may have been groundbreaking in the realm of depicting bi-cultural or bi-racial relationships, but for women, it proved we still had a long way to go.
6. I Dream of Jeannie
You may have thought you were watching a fantasy about a genie who falls in love with a mortal and, in her attempt to adapt, gets caught up in a bunch of comedic situations. What you were really witnessing was an abusive relationship and a case of Stockholm syndrome.
I Dream of Jeannie was about a man who keeps a beautiful woman confined to a bottle, only allows her minimal time in public around people, and she must refer to him as “Master.” Not to mention multiple scenarios have her being trapped somewhere and unable to use her powers.
5. Amos ‘n Andy
Beginning as a radio show created by two white actors in the ‘20s, Amos ‘n Andy depicted black culture in Harlem at a time when there was no representation of African-Americans on the airwaves. The only thing is, the way it was illustrated was so incredibly racist, outrage poured in from communities across the country.
The TV show ran from 1951-1953 and centered on Amos, who was hard-working and naïve, while Andy was portrayed as a gullible dreamer who was easy to dupe. The character of Kingfish would oftentimes try to lure the two into get rich quick schemes and land them in some sort of trouble.
4. The Honeymooners
“One of these days Alice—pow! Straight to the Moon!” was a popular catchphrase in the ‘50s. Although it was said on The Honeymooners under the guise of affection, that statement was not about how much a husband loved his wife – it was a verbal threat that the next time she acted up, he was going to hit her so hard she’d go flying.
To think that domestic abuse was at one time considered to be the American standard of funny is disturbing to say the least. Bearing the brunt of his insults, Alice would usually respond with a “Shaddupp” and the two would eventually make up.
3. Tom and Jerry
On the surface, Tom and Jerry might seem like an innocent kids’ cartoon. But if you take a look back at its original run starting in the ‘40s, along with the outdated sexist attitudes, the racial stereotypes are glaringly obvious and remarkably offensive.
The show now comes with a warning for parents before they blindly sit their children down in front of the TV.
Some episodes that had previously been censored on broadcast television were even cut from certain collections. Characters like Mammy Two Shoes and episodes that include minstrel dances and “blackface” might be reflective of our history, but creating an animated slapstick comedy like that designed for children in today’s world? William Hanna and Joseph Barbera would have been laughed out of the room.
2. The Lone Ranger
The Lone Ranger is one of the few shows that helped shape the landscape of early television. Airing during most of the 1950s, the American western drama series had a clever premise that followed a lone ranger (hence the title) and his Native American friend, Tonto, as they helped those the law couldn’t.
While the “Cowboy and Indian” storyline was supposed to be about building a friendship and overcoming differences, in retrospect, it probably would have played better if the meaning of Tonto’s name did not directly translate to the word: fool.
While Disney and the extremely white Johnny Depp made a pathetic attempt to be culturally sensitive for the 2013 remake, it still does not take away from the offensive stereotypes the show originated with. “Kemosabe” may mean “good friend” but it’s possible in this context you may need to add a question mark at the end.
1. Heil Honey I’m Home
Heil Honey I’m Home was a British sitcom’s warped attempt to take look at the brighter side of Adolf Hitler and his fair lady, who, of course, lived next door to a Jewish couple, appropriately named Arny and Rosa Goldenstein.
While the show was made to be a spoof of a 1950s-style comedy, it was actually made in 1990.
It only lasted one episode and then was swiftly pulled off the air as most thought it was done in poor taste and trivialized Nazism. When you have a show that revolves around Hitler walking into his apartment, raising his right arm, and reciting, “Heil, honey, I’m home!” it had better be a documentary, not a comedy.
What offensive shows can you think of that would never be allowed on TV today? Let us know in the comments!
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