Wednesday, 8 November 2017

TV Taboos

Bob and Ray once made a joke about how the Chesterfield cigarette jingle was sweeping America, but there was one place you would never hear it—on the Lucky Strike Hit Parade.

It seems somewhat ridiculous that the word “camel” could never be uttered on a radio show sponsored by Lucky Strike. The same with the word “lucky” on a series bankrolled by Kools. But such was the attitude of sponsors, which filtered (pun not intended) down to ad agencies, thence to the networks and, finally, to producers.

All of them were very skittish about content of advertising, and that carried over into the network television era. Here’s an interesting unbylined story from Variety of October 26, 1960, a time of quiz show scandals and concern over the dumbing-down of television (for kids and adults). Even squeaky-clean Ozzie and Harriet were forced to deal with a soft drink in only the approved manner. A side note is that General Mills was the sponsor of The Bullwinkle Show and made some somewhat ridiculous demands on the content of some of the cartoons. You’ll note the reference to not offending Canadians. Bullwinkle producers went ahead and made a very funny series about a really square and not-too-bright Mountie. No one in Canada, as best as I’m aware, was offended. But everything offends somebody.
Madison Ave’s Program Taboos
The clearest picture yet of Madison Ave.'s tv programming taboos, which range from an age limit for Coke drinkers to mention "competative" horses in an oater series, has been filed with FCC examiners during the Coast phase of their video probe.
Screen Gems programming veepee William Dozier, admitting under cross examination that sponsors (via their ad agencies) have ultimate say-so on "taste and policy," turned over four samples of written directives on program content from sponsors.
Represented in the sampling are food, cigaret, soft drink and drug sponsors.
There's a lengthy 22-point edict on "Television Program Policies" from General Mills, calling for "bulk American middle-class morals" in "our dramas," and a five-point list of "do's and dont's" from Miles Labs, prohibiting bellyaches among the animated Flintstone clan.
In between, McCann-Erickson declares for Liggett & Myers, "There is no possible way to provide an absolute list of 'do's and dont's.' " Please use your best judgment, bearing the following in mind: Liggett & Myers has bought the program to sell Chesterfields."
L&M's stated "do's and dont's," however, call for the following: "No portrayal of pipe or cigar smoking or chewing. Avoid shots of messy ashtrays crammed with cigaret butts. Use Kingsize Chesterfields only. Take cellophane off pack.
". . . While we do not want to create an impression of one continual, smoke-filled room, from time to time in the shows we feel 'natural' smoking action is a requisite by the cast. It should never be forced.
". . . There are many incidental ways the show can help. For instance, background shot of cigaret machine in restaurant, train or bus station—a poster or display piece in drug store—the end of a carton sticking out of a shopping bag.
L&M on Kid Smokes
"Smoking Age. This is a problem of 'looks' rather than actual age. Obviously, a 12-year-old should not be shown smoking. College age men and women can be pictured smoking without any fear of criticism . . . We don't want public criticism in encouraging the too young or 'too young looking' to smoke. On the other hand, the high school and college market is extremely important to Liggett & Myers as future longtime customers."
General Mills (Dancer-Fitzgerald, Sample) also has product protection and/or promotion as a prime objective, but the company's 22 policy points lay down restrictions that prohibit virtually everything but sheer heroism and abstract villainy. Statement warms with a criptic point on morals: "In general, the moral code of the characters in our dramas will be more or less synonymous with the moral code of the bulk of the American middle-class, as it is commonly understood . . ."
And on to types and organizations: "Ministers, priests and similar representatives of positive social forces shall not be cast as villains or represented as committing a crime, or be placed in any unsympathetic or antisocial role. If it is necessary in the development of conflict for a character to attack some basic conception of the American way of life, e. g., freedom of speech, freedom of worship, etc., answer must be completely and convincingly made some place in the same broadcast.
"There will be no material that may give offense either directly or by inference, to any organized minority group, lodge, or other organizations, institutions, residents of any state or section of the country, or a commercial organization of any sort. This will be taken to include political organizations; fraternal organizations; college and school groups; labor groups; industrial, business and professional organizations; religious orders; civic clubs; memorial and patriotic societies; philanthropic and reform societies (Anti-Tobacco League, for example); athletic organizations; women's groups, etc., which are in good standing.
Controversy: "There will be no material for or against sharply drawn national or regional controversial issues. There will be nothing slurring any given type of occupation. There will be no ridicule of manners or fashions that may be peculiarly sectional.
The North & The South
"We will treat mention of the Civil War carefully, mindful of the sensitiveness of the south on this subject."
"No written material may be used that might give offense to our Canadian neighbors or any uniquely national reason, e.g. facetious reference to British Royalty . . ."
To General Mills, it's the best of all possible worlds: "Where it seems fitting, the characters should reflect recognition and acceptance of the world situation in their thoughts and actions, although in dealing with war, our writers should minimize the 'horror' aspects . . . Men in uniform shall not be cast as heavy villains or portrayed as engaging in any criminal activity.
And: "There will be no material on any of our programs which could in any way further the concept of business as cold, ruthless and lacking all sentiment or spiritual motivation."
Re the product: "Special attention shall be given to any mention, however innocuous, of the baking business . . . Food subjects commercially treated can not be presented with program content that is unappetizing or tends to effect nausea upon the listener or viewer. If there is any question whatever about such material, it should be deleted."
As a final touch: ". . . References to other cowboy stars, such as Gene Autry, Hopalong Cassidy et al, should not be used in General Mills programs . . . Reference should not be made to other 'competitive' horses such as 'Trigger'; 'Silver,' et al."
Miles Labs, via Ted Bates agency, sets relatively simple taboos on the ABC-TV cartoon Flintstones —at least in the written statement. List of "do's and dont's" includes: "There should be no reference to headache, upset stomach, or the taking of remedies to relieve same. There should be no statement or situation in conflict with One-a-Day Brand Multiple Vitamins. There should be no taking of bromides or sedatives for which Nervine might be used. . . . There should be no representation of doctors, dentists, druggists (or drug remedies) in a derogatory manner, or in situations embarrassing to them as a group."
Helpful Hints for the Nelsons
For Coca-Cola, McCann-Erickson lays down "a few 'helpful hints' for the 'Adventures of the Nelson Family:' " ". . . One does not serve 'Cokes' or 'Coca-Cola.' One serves 'bottles of Coke.' One asks an assembled company, 'Will you (or you all) have a Coke?' or " . . . a bottle of Coca-Cola?" You may find it helpful-to think of Coke as the fluid, liquid product of the Coca-Cola Co. You would not say to a group, 'Let's have some waters.' You would offer them drinks or bottles of water."
It might be wise, says the memo, "to mention a few other things in connection with the appearance of Coca-Cola in television shows: "Children under 13 years of age should not be shown with Coca-Cola. When pouring Coca-Cola into glass, both bottle and glass should be tilted rim-to-rim, as in pouring beer. Ice should always be in the glass . . . It is preferable to see the entire logotype on the bottle (of Coke); if this is not possible, it is preferred that the first part (Coca) rather than the last part only (Cola) be seen . . . It is preferrable to stage the situation so that it appears that half-consumed bottles or glasses are not 'left behind' or allowed to sit for any length of time . . ."
From a source other than the FCC probe, comes this directive from Mars candy for "Circus Boy," who may be off tv due to a low calorie rather than rating count:
"Mars is very sensitive to the use of ice cream, soft drinks, cookies, competitive candy or any other item that might be considered competitive to candy in the actual film. For example, in Buffalo Bill Junior, they seriously objected to Judge Wiley telling Calamity Jane to take a dollar and purchase all the ice cream or cookies that she wanted. Mars would prefer not to see Mickey Braddock, for example, eating ice cream or drinking soft drinks, and the like. (Of course, they would prefer having him eating Mars candy bars!) So what Mars considers competitive really covers a whole variety of sweet goods and many products which would not ordinarily be as directly competitive as the average individual might think."
This self-regulation could be a little silly, but it was nothing compared to what happened when special interest groups put on more and more pressure as television became more and more of a money machine, especially when it came to cartoons and other children’s programming. We’ll look at that in a post this weekend.


  1. Ah, okay. There's an I LOVE LUCY episode titled "Bonus Bucks." I've read that the script was originally titled "Lucky Bucks" until Philip Morris Cigarettes, sponsor of LUCY, made them change it. I always wondered why, and this explains it. The Philip Morris people were apparently afraid that "Lucky Bucks" would make people think of Lucky Strike Cigarettes.

  2. Did Miles Labs ever actually watch episodes of "The Flintstones"? Almost every medical professional is portrayed as an annoying, incompetent quack.

  3. Re: "The Bullwinkle Show"
    We will treat mention of the Civil War carefully, mindful of the sensitiveness of the south on this subject.

    "That's 'The War Between the States'!"

  4. Good point at the top, Yowp, of real camels not being mentioned on Lucky Strike sponsored shows (lest they bring in an advertising "Camel") or Kools, with Lucky Strikes, and any combination of that or the other...I've always thought Ovaltine-sonsored Little Orphan Annie could not hang out in Switzerland with a Swiss Miss (a competiting hot chocolate brand) that Daddy Warbucks knew, and W.C.Fields, sponsored by CAMELS--ahem---had a son named CHESTER (holy moleyu-W.C. having CHILDREN)-as he said "CHESTER FIelds" LOL!SC

  5. This type of sponsor control would continue well into the 1960s, where Hanna-Barbera had to animate a special ending for episode of 'Bewitched' where Quaker Oats lead product was Aunt Jemimah Pancake Mix -- the normal smoke from the frying pay spreading out to display Agnes Moorehead's name had to be changed to a smoke from a tea kettle, because Quaker didn't want viewers to associate frying pan smoke with their pancake mix.

    1. Hell, even as late as the 1990s BRITNEY SPEARS-a modern day star born after the 1970s-while "shillin' for Pepsi" starting "coking around with Coca Cola"-and Pepsi dropped Britney. My friends and I have a running gag at work where some love Pepsi and we prefer Coke. And you won't find,say, Disneyland selling both-they ONLY HAVE COKE (a popular meme of the last few years pulled at April Fool's day joke, on April Fool's that Disney was switching from Coke to Pepsi).. so product association still holds, just not the often silly extent described above in the golden age..:)(MODIFIED to mention "PEPSI dropped.." instead of just "..dropped Britney")SC

  6. And thanks for returning the "hover wisecrackin' caption at the top" (like that first one, "The Chesterfield King, voiced by Daws Butler. Don't Smoke Kiddies"! :)