Standards and Practices

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This is Rob Long with Martini Shot on KCRW.

I have a friend, actually, I do, this part is true, who currently has a show on the air, and in a recent episode, they had a joke that was a bit too risqué, a bit too explicit for network television. Now what happens in this case is, usually, the joke appears in the table draft, which the actors read at the table reading, which is attended by about sixty thousand people from the network and the studio, all of whom gather in little clumps afterwards to think things over and decide exactly which parts of the script were the funniest, freshest, and most lively, and then ask for these specific parts to be removed. So the joke gets pegged early by someone from the network – the Standards department – the censor, really, but they get all up in it if you call them that – and here's what they do. As they leave the reading, they sort of point to that joke in the script and chuckle sadly, like, "I don't know... I don't know... we're going to have to talk about this... " And so the joke stays in for the rewrite, and maybe the next rewrite, but at some point, before the episode is shot, there's a fax. And the fax says something like, "please delete all references to the consistency of the peanut butter" or "please delete character's response to the question "are those pants?" or whatever it was that flipped the switch for the censor. Excuse me: for the representative of network standards, like, networks have standards, but, moving on...

...So the writers have a choice: they can fight, they can scream, they can call and complain to the network executive assigned to their show, or right up to the network president. And they may, possibly, win. But they can also shrug and come up with another joke. Usually, somewhere else in the script, there's another joke that really is over the line, but that somehow got overlooked by the network censor, or, probably, he just didn't understand the reference, and so, what's the big deal, don't make waves, just cut the joke about the peanut butter and the pants and the cantaloupe, or whatever.

So my friend and his fellow writers on the show do just that. They cut the joke. And then, a couple of weeks later, they're watching another show, on the that same network, the show that airs before theirs, and they hear a joke much, much more…explicit…than the one they were forced to cut. So, livid, they call up the standards guy. What's this all about? They demand. Why does that show get to do a joke about that, and we have to cut the joke about the grapes and the cashews? Or whatever. And the answer is simple: the writer on the other show is…mean. He's rude and impossible and screams at the standards guy and refuses to change anything. So no one ever wants to call him, or send him faxes, or interact with him at all. As a result, everything stays in.

So years ago, we had a joke in our show that referenced in a humorous fashion a certain figure from the past who suffered a great deal and who is a symbol to many people – to most people, as the network standards guy put it – of courage and dignity and you know, good stuff. It was a joke that, while funny, while very funny, could easily have gone unwritten. We left it in for two rewrites, then got the fax, and took it out. Because we're nice guys, like my friends on the show with the joke about the pillowcase and the cheesecake, or whatever. Nice guys take the joke out. Not so nice guys leave the joke in. In other words, nice guys are in development. Not so nice guys are in syndication.

That's all for this week. Next week, we'll hand out bonuses. For KCRW, this is Rob Long with Martini Shot.



Rob Long