Given how wide-ranging political and personal opinions have always been (and will always be), it’s not exactly surprising that many television series over the years have had episodes pulled from the air due to controversial topics. In the last few years alone, reruns of series such as 7th Heaven and The Cosby Show have been briefly taken off air as legal cases regarding their respective stars consumed public attention. However, it’s one thing for a series to be taken out of syndication years later when a scandal surfaces; it’s another matter entirely when episodes are pulled out of rotation occasionally even before they air.
This drastic measure is often taken in response to either network executives vetoing story ideas, or complaints issued by social groups. Further, no kind of series appears to be immune from this act: in the last thirty years, it has happened to half hour sitcoms, hour long dramas, and animated series aimed at children.
While the list of episodes that have been banned for one reason or another is ever-growing, the following list of 15 TV Episodes That Never Aired Due To Controversy represent some of the most shocking of the bunch, including some ideas that make you wonder how they ever even left the drawing board.
15. Seinfeld: George starts a discussion on race
Although Seinfeld‘s status as a “show about nothing” is disputed, there’s no denying that the iconic 1989-1998 sitcom tackled almost every subject it could over the course of its nine season run. One particular issue it never addressed, however, was race. This wasn’t for lack of trying, however. According to the 2013 book Seinfeld Reference by Dennis Bjorklund, an episode was pitched in which resident slacker George Costanza attempted to start a conversation about race.
Unfortunately, his attempt at a conversation starter consisted of commenting on the fact that he had never seen a black man order a salad before. Given how racist this comment is, and given Seinfeld‘s entirely white cast, NBC rejected the episode premise entirely. Although the series would cover divisive topics in its time, such as contraception and abortion, this wasn’t a gamble the network was willing to take. Given some of the cast’s later public statements regarding race, perhaps that was for the best.
14. Sesame Street: “Snuffy’s Parents Get a Divorce”
Sesame Street has covered a lot of tough topics over the course of its nearly fifty years, including the death of beloved regular fixture Mr. Hooper in 1983 and the introduction of an HIV-positive puppet on the South African edition of the series. In 1992, the series decided to try and address the topic of divorce in a way that would be gentle enough for children to understand, particularly since divorce rates were increasing. The episode even made it all the way through the writing and production stages.
However, once the episode was shown to test group audiences of children, it became immediately apparent that children weren’t ready for this episode. The test group children were left generally distressed and confused. Many of them didn’t understand that Snuffy’s father would be part of his life after this. Some even feared that parents arguing would ensure a divorce was near. Although this 1992 episode was ultimately left unaired, a digital short explaining divorce was released twenty years later in 2012.
13. The Ren & Stimpy Show: “Man’s Best Friend”
The Ren & Stimpy Show frequently made a name for itself due to its use of cruder humor than had been found in many Nickelodeon animated series in the 1990s. A majority of the jokes contained references to bodily fluids, and Ren often launched into violent rages. However, one episode in particular was deemed too over the top with its use of violence by Nickelodeon, the 1992 episode “Man’s Best Friend.”
In this episode, Ren and Stimpy are taken into a new home by recurring character George Liquor, who proceeds to attempt to abuse both Ren and Stimpy into the shape they need to be in to be considered a champion show dog and cat. Ren, having already possessed a short temper before this, quickly reaches his breaking point and uses an oar to beat his new owner within an inch of his life. It’s safe to say that Nickelodeon didn’t find this content acceptable for the younger-skewing audience of its cartoons, and therefore, the episode was quickly banned from air.
12. Boy Meets World: Three episodes banned from Disney Channel
As part of ABC’s hallmark TGIF lineup of the 1990s, Boy Meets World essentially perfected the concept of the Very Special Episode. In its seven seasons, the series covered topics including domestic abuse, cults, and bullying. However, once the series entered into syndication on the Disney Channel, three of these episodes were banned from being included in repeats: the season five episodes “If You Can’t Be with the One You Love…” and “Prom-ises, Prom-ises,” as well as the season six episode “The Truth About Honesty.”
While it may seem weird to single out only these episodes, given how dark Boy Meets World could get when it came to Shawn Hunter’s tragic story in particular, there is a clear line of reasoning behind Disney’s decision. “Prom-ises, Prom-ises” and “The Truth About Honesty” both contain discussions of teenage premarital sex, including characters kissing in bed. Similarly, “If You Can’t Be with the One You Love…” finds Cory and Shawn experimenting with alcohol, with naturally disastrous results. As the messages of these episodes don’t exactly match Disney’s target audience, it’s no surprise that they were taken out of rotation.
11. Family Guy: “Partial Terms of Endearment”
Family Guy‘s particular brand of off-color humor is certainly not for everyone. However, in the case of one season eight episode, FOX decided that it was for the best if no one saw the way the series tried to address the topic of abortion. The episode, “Partial Terms of Endearment,” finds Peter and Lois Griffin representing opposite poles of opinion regarding abortion after tragedy leaves Lois pregnant as a surrogate mother for a couple who has unexpectedly died.
Despite the controversy surrounding the episode’s topic, series creator Seth MacFarlane maintains his stance:
It’s an issue that you read about in the papers all the time, like anything else. So that is fodder for political and social satire. There’s nothing about that issue that should be any different than doing an episode about gay marriage, or an episode about the oil spill.
To this date, the episode has never aired in the United States, but it has aired in the U.K. and may be found on DVD and through digital download options. A live table read of the episode has also been held.
10. Law and Order: Criminal Intent: “The Glory That Was…”
The Law and Order franchise is known for taking stories straight from the headlines and turning them around in rapid fashion as episodes. Yet in the case of Law and Order: Criminal Intent, providing social commentary on timely events would get one season eight episode series banned from syndication, DVD release, and all digital download options.
“The Glory That Was…” details the murder of a Belgian diplomat who served on the committee to select the city for the 2016 Summer Olympics. As it turns out, the murder was committed by a corrupt businessman who intended to secure future financial success for himself by fixing the election process in favor of Rio de Janeiro. Due to the understandably offensive anti-Brazil interpretation the episode left viewers with, the episode was scrubbed from the series. And since Rio would go on to win the candidacy in October 2009, it’s perhaps Brazil who got the last laugh here.
9. Rocko’s Modern Life: “Leap Frogs”
As we have already seen with The Ren & Stimpy Show, Nickelodeon’s animated series were perhaps more likely to become offensive than people initially realized. This holds true for Rocko’s Modern Life as well, particularly in the case of the episode “Leap Frogs.” The episode, which has a vibe distinctly reminiscent of The Graduate in some parts, finds dissatisfied married toad Bev Bighead aggressively coming onto poor young wallaby Rocko.
It’s perhaps one of the weirdest things the zany series ever attempted, which is really saying something. At one point, Bev Bighead invites Rocko over to watch a video about the mating of the cane toads, which is beyond really uncomfortable, given that Bev is a toad and all the implications suggested there. Deeming the episode too mature for young viewers, Nickelodeon quickly pulled it from the lineup.
8. Pokémon: “The Ice Cave”
Culture clashes often provide a large source of political controversies, and apparently, the same holds true for animated series. An early episode of Pokémon, “The Ice Cave,” viewers are introduced to the Pokémon Jynx, a black skinned creature with comically large pink lips. Although the episode aired in Asia, it has not been aired in any Western country due to a significant cultural reference point that presents a point of controversy: blackface.
Read More: Will Pokemon Switch Come Out In 2018?
In particular, Jynx recalled images of the main character of The Story of the Little Black Sambo, one of the earliest depictions of an African child in children’s literature with troubling illustrations of Sambo as wholly black with a gaping pink mouth. As a result of the backlash, Jynx’s design has been changed over time, so that the skin is now very clearly purple. Nevertheless, this episode remains unseen by Western audiences.
7. Postcards from Buster: “Sugartime!”
More often than not, sequels and spinoffs fail to live up to their source, and that is definitely the case for the Arthur spinoff, Postcards from Buster. While Arthur has been airing for twenty seasons on PBS, Postcards from Buster had four mostly forgettable seasons in the early 2000s that were aired sporadically, including a batch of episodes that were burned off years after the show had previously ended.
However, what Postcards is best known for is a controversial episode entitled “Sugartime!” This episode finds Buster Baxter traveling to visit a family in Vermont who specializes in making maple products. The controversy? The family had two mothers, and the episode aired in 2005. As a result of the homophobic backlash, PBS as a whole chose to leave the episode unaired nationally; however, a few local markets opted to air it as planned.
6. Freaks and Geeks: “Kim Kelly Is My Friend”
In its short but beloved one season tenure, Freaks and Geeks offered a close look at the personal struggles of teens (freaks) and tweens (geeks) from different walks of life, shedding light on how the most unlikely of friendships can be formed in high school. One episode in particular, “Kim Kelly Is My Friend,” undertook the goal of softening one of the freaks, Busy Philipps’ Kim Kelly, by revealing the chaotic life that waits for her outside of the halls of the high school where she reigns supreme.
The episode depicts viscerally explosive fights between Kim and her parents. In addition to screaming in each other’s faces, her parents aggressively grab her and her father roughly shakes the car in which Kim and her friend Lindsay are desperately trying to escape in. There is the threat of real physical harm at all times in these emotionally charged scenes. Therefore, as Philipps explains, “at the time, NBC just felt like, for a show that was geared towards teenagers and young adults, it was inappropriate.” Even though it humanized the central character so masterfully, due to the intensity of the domestic disputes, the episode was cut from the series’ original order.
5. Cow and Chicken: “Buffalo Gals”
The title of perhaps the most offensive animated example on this list goes to the quirky ’90s Cartoon Network series Cow and Chicken. One of the series’ season two episode segments, “Buffalo Gals,” focuses on a female gang of exceptionally butch bikers who party while wearing fake buffalo heads. As part of their big routine, the gals break into people’s homes and chow down on their carpet, just like a buffalo would with grass, for no apparent reason other than it’s what they do.
As this was clearly a particularly obvious and crass attempt at stereotyping lesbians, it’s no surprise that Cartoon Network found themselves confronted with multiple complaints about the episode. It was soon removed from the series and replaced with another segment in all airings and digital media.
4. Married…with Children: “I’ll See You In Court”
Emblematic of blue collar Middle American families, Married…with Children chronicled the lives of the rowdy Bundy family, as well as their conflicts with their economically superior neighbors, the Rhoades. The series tackled hot button issues in its eleven seasons, including homosexuality, teen promiscuity, and gender equality. Yet in the case of season three episode “I’ll See You in Court,” the topic addressed was deemed one hot button too far.
In this episode, both the Bundys and the Rhoades learn that they have been involuntarily filmed having sex by the Hop On Inn. As a result of the plot, multiple scenes of suggested intercourse take place, along with the repeated viewing of the sex tapes. Due to the high volume of sexual content, FOX objected to airing it. Further, even after it was pulled from the schedule, the episode was banned from airing for over a decade.
3. Friends: Chandler goes to a male strip club because he likes the food
It’s not exactly news that Friends‘ Chandler Bing is a frequently homophobic character. Chandler struggles the entire series with the fact that his father is transgender, and as a result of this discomfort, he constantly fears being mistaken for being gay. As this was a consistent plot focus for his character, it makes sense for the writers to put him in situations that find him confronted with the truth about his sexuality. However, when one plot was suggested, Matthew Perry simply had to intervene on Chandler’s behalf.
In a 2017 appearance on Watch What Happens Live with Andy Cohen, Perry revealed that “There was a storyline on Friends where Chandler went to a male strip joint because he really liked the sandwiches. And I called up and I said, ‘Let’s not do this one.'” While it’s one thing for Chandler to feel uncomfortable with questions regarding his sexuality, it’s another for him to do something that flies straight in the face of what he logically knows to be his area of discomfort.
Besides, if anything, that sounds like a Joey move.
2. Cheers: Sam Malone is diagnosed with AIDS
Over the course of eleven seasons on Cheers, Ted Danson’s Sam Malone is an all but incurable ladies’ man. As roguish as he is charming, Sam also takes part in one of television’s first iconic “will they, won’t they” couples, along with Shelley Long’s Diane Chambers. Yet since he is such a legendary womanizer, tension ensues between them and precludes any real long term involvement.
However, at one point, the minds behind Cheers considered a far more dramatic consequence of his womanizing ways. In 1988, in the midst of the AIDS epidemic, the idea of having Sam diagnosed with AIDS was seriously considered. The script was written and the episode had begun rehearsals for production, but, according to co-creator Les Charles, “the specter of AIDS was taking all the humor out of it.” Given the wry bar humor so distinctive of the series, it suffices to say that burdening its beloved male lead with this tragic diagnosis would have caused the series to suffer far greater controversies and struggles — even if it was an issue worth talking about.
1. The Angry Beavers: “Bye Bye Beavers”
After producing four increasingly zany seasons of The Angry Beavers, co-creator Keith Kaczorek admits that they “were significantly over budget, behind schedule, and had generally worn out [their] welcome.” The series, which revolved around the antics of anthropomorphic beaver brothers Norbert and Daggett, never really had a particular long-lasting narrative thread it followed. Therefore, when it seemed likely that the show was about to end, the team behind the series took giant risk after giant risk and produced the unforgettable (yet unaired) episode “Bye Bye Beavers.”
In this unproduced series finale, Norb and Dag learn that they are cartoon characters whose series is about to be cancelled. According to one of the series’ writers, Michael Wright, they “got approval to do the episode, and every step of the way, [Nickelodeon] approved moving to the next stage. Then they saw it all put together and said, ‘Wait, this makes us look bad,’ so they killed it.” As a consequence of this decision, the episode, which would have served as the unconventional series’ series finale, was never aired, and the Beavers‘ story remained unfinished. However, the audio track recorded for the episode can heard in its entirety here.
What other stories of episodes plagued by controversies have we missed out on here? Let us know in the comments!
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