You’d think there aren’t many lines left for TV shows to cross, but even in 2018, some still manage to cause controversy. Just take a look at the recent furore over teen drama 13 Reasons Why, which caused a storm over its graphic depiction of topics, or The Handmaid's Tale, which caused a ruckus for all the right reasons, but still contained plenty of disturbing content to traumatise viewers.
Nevertheless, a few TV shows manage to take it to the next level and get themselves taken off the airwaves altogether. This is less common in our modern world of streaming sites, but back in the day, getting an episode banned from TV was almost like a badge of honor. Whether an episode is broadcast once and removed from syndication, or eradicated from history altogether, there’s several reasons a plotline can be banned. Sure, sometimes it’s because its tasteless or offensive, but more often than not it’s down to the standards of the time.
In 2018, we like to think we’re a little more “woke,” and millennials seem to be even more likely to than previous generations to call out questionable content on TV. This is why it’s so interesting to look back at the reasons certain episodes of otherwise agreeable shows were blocked from screens in the past. Some of the explanations seem silly in hindsight, while others still wouldn’t make it onto TV in the present day.
Here are 15 TV Scenes That Could Not Be Made Today.
16 Pokémon – Electric Soldier Porygon
At first glance, the season one Pokémon episode “Electric Soldier Porygon” seems harmless enough. While stopping by the local Pokémon Center, Ash and co. discover that the Poké Ball transmitting device has a problem, and to fix it they must go inside the machine, Tron style.
However, when it was first broadcast in Japan in 1997, the flashing lights and repetitive visual effects caused viewers to have photosensitive epileptic fits. The condition was dubbed “Pokémon Shock,” with patients complaining of blurred vision, seizures, headaches, and dizziness. A total of 685 people were taken to hospital as a result.
The episode has never broadcast again, in Japan or internationally, with the series even taking a four-month break after the disaster.
After the episode’s airing, Japanese broadcasters and medical professionals came together to come up with a series of guidelines to help animated programs avoid incidents like this in the future. This includes no flashing images that flicker faster than five frames per second (especially if the image contains red), as well as a ban on large stripes, whirls, or concentric circles.
After the incident, broadcasters in Japan also willingly added warnings ahead of their programs, recommending viewers watch cartoons in a well-lit room, as well as asking them to sit as far away from the television as reasonably possible.
15 Luck – Horse Racing
Horse-racing drama Luck only ran for one season in 2012, despite high praise from critics. The reason the show was canceled? Due to animal safety concerns.
Two horses lost their lives during filming, which is particularly disturbing since the season had only ten episodes. The American Humane Association said that during race sequences in the pilot and episode seven, the horses stumbled and fell, receiving fractures that were deemed inoperable. This was despite claims from HBO that the studio had taken safety precautions regarding the animals, such as limiting horses to three runs per day with rests in between.
Under the direction of the AHA, HBO suspended filming while the passing of a third horse was investigated, although this horse did not receive its injury racing or while on camera. On 13th March 2012, HBO canceled the show, and released a statement saying that although they “maintained the highest safety standards throughout production ... accidents unfortunately happen and it is impossible to guarantee they won’t in the future.” Production on season two had already begun when the cancellation was announced.
Director Michael Mann was not pleased with the network's decision, blaming Luck’s abrupt end on showbiz website TMZ, whom he accused of sabotaging the show by spreading lies surrounding the horses’ passing.
14 Arthur – Lance Armstrong cameos
It’s hard to imagine anybody being offended by a sweet, wholesome show like Arthur, but due to an unfortunate choice of guest star, there’s one episode that no longer airs on TV.
In the season 12 episode “Room to Ride”, Binky watches a tape of Lance Armstrong and decides to try biking. Unfortunately for him, he rides into a pothole and gets hurt. As a result, his friends Arthur, Buster, and Brain help him to start a campaign for more bike lanes in Elwood City, but have trouble finding a celebrity to endorse them. In rolls Armstrong (in rabbit form), who tells Binky that he doesn’t need a star to make his campaign a success.
This, of course, was before Armstrong was caught using illegal performance-enhancing substances and had all of his achievements stripped.
Due to the biker’s very public disgrace, the episode was pulled from rotation on PBS. However, it can still be watched on streaming sites such as Netflix, Amazon, and Hulu.
Armstrong also voiced himself in the season thirteen episode “The Great MacGrady”. This time, he pays a visit to the beloved lunch lady Mrs MacGrady after Arthur and co. send him an email, in an attempt to cheer her up during her cancer treatment. Despite the sweet subject matter, unsurprisingly this episode is banned too. Armstrong has also been removed from the celebrity guest page on the Arthur website.
13 Twilight Zone – The Encounter
The Twilight Zone is known for its macabre twists and poignant morals. One thing it isn’t known for is racism. Still, the controversial season five episode “The Encounter” drew ire from Japanese-American and Asian-American rights groups for just that reason.
Airing in 1964, the episode centered around a World War II veteran (played by Neville Brand), who gets mystically locked in his attic with a young Japanese-American gardener (played by a baby-faced George Takei).
After the episode aired on CBS, the channel was barraged with complaints from viewers for its use of racial slurs and stereotypes.
However, some have debated that the episode was trying to highlight those issues rather than exasperate racial tensions between the two cultures. On the other hand, the episode also played up to the myth that Japanese-Americans helped to execute the attack on Pearl Harbour, which has been proven false and is undoubtedly offensive and still damaging today.
After all the drama surrounding “The Encounter,” the episode never aired on TV again. Until 2016, that is, when the episode was shown as part of Syfy’s New Year’s Eve marathon of the classic show. If you’re curious, you can also watch it on various streaming sites.
12 Family Guy – Partial Terms of Endearment
Let’s be honest, it’s more unusual to find episodes of Family Guy that haven’t offended somebody. Still, the season 8 finale “Partial Terms of Endearment” is unique in that it was actually banned from TV.
In the episode, an old college friend of Lois’s asks if she will be a surrogate mother for her and her husband. Lois agrees, only for the couple to die in a car crash while she is pregnant. Lois and Peter then have to decide whether to terminate, or to continue with the pregnancy and give the baby up for adoption. In the end they opt for the former.
Although an unusual topic for a comedy show, the episode was well received by critics, but that still didn’t prevent it from being aired during Family Guy’s usual run. Even Adult Swim, known for its controversial subject matter, wouldn’t take it. However, fans did get to watch the episode once it was released on DVD.
It is unlikely that the episode would air today, either. Terminating pregnancy has always been a sensitive subject, but the ongoing debate over women's rights these days has only made the matter more contentious. In 2018, an episode exploring the issue from a comedic angle (particularly Family Guy’s brand of humor), probably wouldn’t go down well by either side of the argument.
11 Hawaii Five-O – Bored, She Hung Herself
This incredibly rare season two episode of Hawaii Five-O only aired once in January 1970 and is dubbed “The Lost Episode”. In “Bored, She Hung Herself,” the show’s writers explored self asphyxiation, and the plot centres around a beautiful young socialite who is believed to have accidentally hung herself while trying out a new-fangled yoga technique.
According to the late Rose Freeman, who was married to the show’s creator Leonard Freeman, after the episode was broadcast, a person watching at home decided to try the technique for themselves. Like in the show, it went horribly wrong, and the viewer also perished of asphyxiation. The parents of the girl sued CBS, and a result, the episode was never shown again on the network.
Even after the original Hawaii Five-O was released on DVD, the episode was missing.
A disclaimer stated: “The second season episode "Bored She Hung Herself" aired only once and is not included in this set.”
Although, if you’re willing to scour the internet, you’re bound to find a copy somewhere. Copyright on the episode was renewed by CBS in 1997, and digital versions are supposedly in the hands of private collectors, sourced from a low-quality 16mm print.
At the time of the episode’s broadcast, Hawaii Five-O was at its peak, meaning millions watched the "Bored, She Hung Herself" during its one and only airing.
10 Tiny Toon Adventures - Elephant Issues
And the award for most twisted episode of a children’s show goes to... Tiny Toon Adventures! For its season two episode “Elephant Issues”.
In "Elephant Issues", which originally aired in the early '90s, the characters of Hamton, Plucky and Buster find an unopened bottle and proceed to get inebriatde (seriously, the three of them off one beer). They then decide to steal a police car, and end up driving off a cliff while trying to escape from the cops. After crash-landing into a cemetery, the souls of the three deceased teenagers are shown floating up to heaven - all in a cartoon for children.
While audiences were still recovering from the shock, in the last moment of the episode of the boys come out and explain that they’re actually fine, they just wanted to show the dangers of drinking and driving. Unsurprisingly, this episode didn’t go down well, receiving an overwhelmingly negative reaction from viewers, or at least, their parents.
What were they expecting? Tiny Toon Adventures was supposed to be cheerful, Saturday morning TV. After its first and only airing, “Elephant Issues” was banned from repeat viewings on Fox. Although, Canadians don’t seem to mind it, as it still runs in syndication over there.
9 Beavis and Butt-head - Comedy Club Arson
In the season three episode “Comedians”, Beavis and Butt-head try to make it as “stand-up chameleons” after watching a TV show about a rich stand-up star's playboy lifestyle. However, their performance at local comedy club The Laff Hole doesn’t go to plan, and they end up accidentally burning the place down.
The episode draws to a close with the pair standing outside the club watching it burn, ruminating on how hip and funny they are.
Although many people wouldn’t class Beavis and Butt-Head as fine family programming, a five-year-old called Austin Messner watched the episode at his home in Moraine, Ohio. On 6th October 1993, he was caught playing with matches by his mother, and later snuck out of bed to try and copy the scene where Beavis attempts to juggle lit newspapers. He unfortunately burned the down the family’s trailer, killing his two-year-old sister in the process. As a result, the episode was never aired on MTV again. MTV also decided to move Beavis and Butt-Head’s time slot from 7:00pm to 10:30pm, as well as deleting any fire references from episodes.
A few months prior, Beavis and Butt-Head was also blamed by an Ohio police officer for a fire three girls started. They had recently watched the episode where the duo set each other’s hair on fire with lighters and aerosol.
7 Seinfeld – Kramer stomps the Puerto Rican flag
With over 38 million viewers, “The Puerto Rican Day” was Seinfeld's second highest-rated episode ever, only beaten by the series’ finale two episodes later. This is despite the fact it was pulled for being offensive when it originally aired in 1998.
After leaving a Mets game early, the gang end up stuck in traffic due to the Puerto Rican Day parade. While trying to get home, Kramer accidentally sets fire to a Puerto Rican flag with a sparkler and is promptly beaten by an angry mob, who also throw Jerry’s car down a stairwell.
Unsurprisingly, the National Puerto Rican coalition didn’t find this funny. Bronx Borough President Fernando Ferrer, who is Puerto Rican, strongly disliked the vandalism scene. He also took offence to Kramer’s comment that it “happens every day in Puerto Rico,” which essentially promotes negative stereotypes of the country.
NBC released an apology for the episode, saying: “We do not feel that the show lends itself to damaging ethnic stereotypes, because the audience for Seinfeld knows the humor is derived from watching the core group of characters get themselves into difficult situations.”
Still, it wasn’t aired in syndication until 2002, after Sony Pictures Television (which controls the series’ distribution) felt enough time had lapsed to make it acceptable.
6 Jackass – The Goldfish
No one really likes goldfish. They’re slimy, slow, and don’t do all that much. Still, watching Jackass star Steve-O swallow a live one and bring it back up again was on nobody’s TV wish list.
In a season one episode of the popular MTV show, Steve-O attempts to swallow a fish and bring it back up without ending it in the process.
The goldfish was owned by a guy called Sleepy, who didn’t seem too troubled by the fact his fishy friend was about to be devoured. In the scene, the unfortunate fish is placed in a bottle of water, which Steve-O promptly downs before attempting to throw the fish up. His initial efforts to regurgitate the fish fail, and he ends up drinking more water and sticking his fingers down his throat before expelling the animal into a glass bowl.
It takes 11 tries, and after achieving victory (if you can call it that) Steve-O jumps around excitedly and shows off the freed goldfish, which is surprisingly still alive and now swimming around in a bowl of puke.
It’s hard to believe this scene was ever made to begin with. Animal rights organanizations were not happy and Steve-O has since expressed regret and become an animal rights activist.
5 Dudley Do-Right – Stokey the Bear
In what sounds like a rather dark episode of the 1960s cartoon, the evil Snidley Whiplash hypnotises “Stokey the Bear,” a Mountie hat-adorned fellow who bears a striking resemblance to Smokey the Bear, the mascot for the National Association of State Foresters.
Unlike his friendly counterpart, who is strictly anti-fire, under Snidley’s influence Stokey starts trying to burn things down, including the city of Chicago. Shockingly, the US Forest Service was not impressed with what they consider to be the show’s illegal use of Smokey’s image, accusing animators of copyright infringement and threatening jail time. By today’s standards, this obvious parody seems tame, but at the time the government was not as used to being satirized in such a way.
Things escalated further when the series’ Minneapolis sponsor insisted that prints of the episode be destroyed, but fortunately for fans “Stokey the Bear” survived. Although, it was never broadcast on TV again. However, you can supposedly see clips of it in the opening montage of the syndicated version of the show.
Nowadays, all is fine between Dudley and the Forest Service. At one point, Bullwinkle even did a PSA for the actual Smokey the Bear. Maybe it was their way of saying sorry for all the trouble they caused?
4 Mister Roger’s Neighborhood - Conflict
What do you think of when you picture Mister Roger’s Neighborhood? Brockett’s Bakery? Negri’s Music Shop? Whatever it is you remember from this sweet slice of childhood, we very much doubt it involves nuclear weapons.
However, one week-long story arc in 1983 – specifically season 14 episodes one to five – explored just that.
In this controversial plotline, King Friday begins to stockpile nuclear weapons, supposedly in preparation for a war in the Neighborhood of Make Believe.
Like the show’s other, less contentious storylines, the episodes - known as "Conflict" - were intended to help childhood understand difficult issues. After all, the episode aired towards the end of the Cold War, and shortly after the release of The Day After, a TV movie that portrayed the devastating aftermath of a nuclear bombing.
Still, one might ask why pre-schoolers need to concern themselves with nuclear weapons, and it turns out neither they nor their parents were ready for King Friday’s take on nuclear war. However, the episodes weren’t removed from syndication until 1996, 13 years after they initially aired on PBS. Nevertheless, we imagine “Conflict” would receive a similar reception today, thanks to the ongoing spat between Kim Jong Un and Donald Trump regarding comparable issues with nuclear weapons.
3 Buffy the Vampire Slayer – School attack
Content-wise, this season three episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer isn’t particularly shocking – the show did far more out-there storylines during its seven-season run. However, it was a victim of poor timing.
In the episode “Earshot”, Buffy gets demon blood on her during a fight with a mouthless creature, which is absorbed through her skin. She is then infected with the “aspect of the demon,” and develops telekinetic powers.
With her new ability to hear the thoughts of everyone around her, Buffy overhears that someone is planning to attack all of the students at Sunnydale High.
She and the Scooby gang then attempt to find out who the potential criminal is. Eventually, while tracking down another suspect they discover a letter from Johnathon in the school paper, apologizing for his future actions. Buffy then finds a distraught Johnathon in Sunnydale High’s clocktower, assembling a rifle.
This episode is light on violence and nobody actually loses their life (unless you count the demon), so why was “Earshot” stopped from airing during the season’s original run? Unfortunately, the episode was scheduled to broadcast only a few months after the Columbine High School Massacre in April 1999, which ended 12 students, one teacher, and injured a further 21 people. However, the episode did eventually run five months later.
Given the frequency of such events in 2018, a genre teen series would nevere tackle such an issue.
2 Star Trek: The Next Generation – Unified Ireland
In 1990, both British and Irish broadcasters took offence to a season three episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation, preventing it from airing in its entirety in the UK and Ireland. In “The High Ground”, Dr. Crusher is taken hostage by a terrorist organization who want the Federation to help them with their cause. During a study of terrorism, Data reveals that Ireland was unified in 2024, thanks to a successful crusade by a terrorist organization. As a result, it was not broadcast in the Republic of Ireland, and all UK airings were censored.
The furore was caused by the episode’s relation to the ongoing “Troubles” in Northern Ireland (also known as the Northern Ireland Conflict), which had been raging on for 30 years at that point. The cause of civil war was the debate over whether or not Northern Ireland should reunite with the Republic of Ireland, or if the country should remain a part of the UK. This included bombings by paramilitary movement the IRA, as well as riots and the passing of three young Irish men, shot by the British army in Derry.
Basically, it’s a touchy subject, and it didn’t go down well across the pond. However, the episode was eventually broadcast during Star Trek: TNG re-runs in 2006, eight years after the Good Friday Agreement put an end to the conflict.
1 Mutant X - Mutants
Everyone and their grandma knows that comic book king Stan Lee created X-Men for Marvel Comics back in 1963. When the first X-Men movie was released in 2000, launching the film and TV branch of the franchise, it was a huge hit for 20th century Fox, which point owns the live-action rights.
However, that same year, Tribune Entertainment and Marvel teamed up to create a new TV show called Mutant X (originally titled Genome X). Production on the show began shortly after the cancellation of Rick Mackie’s comic book saga of the same name, and Mutant X’s producer Rick Ungar stated that any similarities between the mutant-focused franchises were a coincidence.
However, Fox wasn’t impressed by the parallels between the two, particularly the idea that Marvel and Tribune might profit from the show’s likeness to X-Men. So, Fox requested an injunction to prevent Mutant X from being made, but it took Marvel less than 15 minutes to counter-sue, arguing that the new show’s characters were entirely separate from those in X-Men.
The comparison to X-Men meant that Marvel had to make concessions - this included any use of “X,” as well changes to the show’s logo and the character’s code names.
Despite the lawsuit, Mutant X ran for three seasons until it was canceled in 2004, leaving the show on a cliff hanger. However, X-Men is still going strong, so it’s hard to imagine all the effort on Marvel’s part to get Mutant X off the ground was really worth it.
What other TV scenes could never be made today? Let us know in the comments!