While TV shows seemingly get away with a lot of sexual double entendres, that wasn’t the case early on for M*A*S*H. The hit CBS TV show started on the network back in 1972, when censors were really cracking the book on language and innuendoes.
But the show did have some lines make it past the wily censors. A couple of examples pop up in Tuttle from Season 1 and The Trial of Henry Blake in Season 2. When asked about the moments getting past censors, series creator Larry Gelbart had an interesting answer. “I don’t know why they allowed that,” he said. “I guess they were too busy looking for ‘Hells’ and ‘Damns.’”
‘M*A*S*H’ Second Season Episode Provides Example
So, what happened in The Trial of Henry Blake? It was written by McLean Stevenson, who played Colonel Henry Blake. Hawkeye Pierce, played by Alan Alda, happens to see Margaret Houlihan, played by Loretta Swit, using a neck massager on Frank Burns, played by Larry Linville. Of course, this was the time in the series run when Margaret and Frank were an item.
Upon seeing the two of them together, Hawkeye says, “Behind every great man, there is a woman with a vibrator.” While it seems pretty obvious that this should have been caught by sensors, it was not. Why not? Let’s go back to Gelbart. “Probably the poor schmuck who was the censor didn’t know what people did with a vibrator,” he said in a 2004 interview, according to Do You Remember. “He may have thought we were talking about a foot vibrator.”
Well, after Hawkeye blurts the line, he does a perfunctory salute along with Trapper John, played by Wayne Rogers. “Hot Lips” also salutes, but she’s holding the device right up to her head.
Let’s turn our attention now to Tuttle. In this episode, Frank offers Margaret a compliment. He calls her his “snug harbor” and mentions “sailing into” her. While this is definitely censor-worthy, it managed to make it past them and into the show. There are other examples from the show’s vast history.
A Show’s Ratings Can Quiet Censors Yapping
Yet do you know what can silence the censors constantly yapping at your feet? They call that ratings. When a show has ratings the size of M*A*S*H during its run, they can get a show out the door. Sure, network people will send notes about different aspects of an episode.
Still, the noise can be avoided if that show is a monster.
“Certainly, after the first year, after the show took off because they put it in a place where it would attract ratings, they didn’t say a whole lot about the show, in general,” Gelbart said. “They had censorship comments on every script, but they pretty much let us alone because they didn’t know what we were doing — and whatever we were doing, it was getting them ratings.”
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