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The Museum of Television & Radio Presents Antagonism Over the Airwaves: A Look at Controversy on Television and Radio

Friday, January 24, 2003

New York and Los Angeles—The Museum of Television & Radio will present the screening series Antagonism Over the Airwaves: A Look at Controversy on Television and Radio in both New York and Los Angeles from February 21 to May 18, 2003. Antagonism Over the Airwaves incorporates both radio and television elements, many rare or unaired, examining how these two media have reflected America's changing culture and evolving attitudes and values, sparking controversy along the way.  Throughout their history, television and radio have pushed the boundaries of taste, explored the limits of political criticism, and examined such complex social issues as abortion and gay rights. In this series, which is divided into six topics—censorship, ethics, violence, politics, race, and social issues—historic and contemporary instances of censorship and contentious programs are seen. Each part raises important points about the roles, both positive and negative, that television and radio have played in reflecting, mediating, and changing American culture, thought, and sensibility. 

In New York the series screens Tuesdays to Sundays at 3:00 p.m., and Thursdays and Fridays at 6:00 p.m., and in Los Angeles Wednesdays to Sundays at 3:00 p.m., and Thursdays at 6:00 p.m.  In conjunction with the series, the seminar Satire or Sacrilege?  Social and Political Commentary on Television will be held at the New York Museum on February 25.   

The packages are as follows: 

February 21 to March 6

From Jack Paar's use of the term "water closet" and the notorious battles between CBS and the Smothers Brothers to the FCC's case against comedian George Carlin (FCC v. Pacifica Foundation) that led to a determination on free expression over public airwaves, objections to material on television and radio have come from many sources: the networks, their affiliates, program sponsors, the government, and the American public. This screening package presents well-known instances of censorship on television and radio, exploring how standards for judging decency have changed over the years. (95 minutes—This screening contains adult language and content. Viewer discretion is advised.

-The Tonight Show—Jack Paar's joke about a water closet is censored; the next night he walked off the set in protest. (1960, 5 minutes)

-The Steve Allen Show—Lenny Bruce says a four-letter word. (1964, unaired; 5 minutes)

-The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour—David Steinberg's Jonah sermon is censored. (1969, unaired; 4 minutes)

-On Location: George Carlin Again!—Carlin's "Seven Words You Can Never Say on Television" routine is used by the Federal Communication Commission (FCC) to define the nature of indecency. (1978; 8 minutes)

-The Chase and Sanborn Hour—Mae West is banned from radio for twelve years as a result of this skit. (1937; 9 minutes)

-The Ed Sullivan Show—Elvis is seen only from the waist up singing "Too Much." (1957; 4 minutes)

-The Ed Sullivan Show—Sullivan asks the Rolling Stones to change song lyrics he finds offensive. (1967; 3 minutes)

-ABC News NightlineNightline screens Madonna's music video "Justify My Love," deemed too racy by MTV. (1990; 5 minutes)

-The Mike Wallace Interview—Rod Serling comments on the censorship of Judgment at Nuremberg. (1959; 1 minute)

-Playhouse 90: Judgment at Nuremberg—A gas company sponsor demands the words "gas chambers" be deleted from this Holocaust-related play. (1959; 3 minutes)

-Nothing Sacred: "HIV Priest"—ABC refuses to air this episode about a Catholic priest with AIDS. (1993, unaired; 44 minutes)  

March 7 to 20

Since 1938, when The Mercury Theatre on the Air presented Orson Welles's The War of the Worlds and listeners panicked thinking an actual Martian invasion was occurring, the radio and television industry, the government, and the public have been concerned about ethical issues related to the power of radio and television programming. The National Association of Broadcasters, an industry organization for both radio and television, drafted a code of ethics as early as 1922, which cited a concern about "overcommercialization" and "fraudulent, deceptive, or obscene" material. The industry's subsequent codes, as well as standards set by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), have guided practices since. This screening will explore instances that raised ethical questions, including the debate about journalistic tactics on 60 Minutes and the breach of trust on the quiz show Twenty One, where the outcome of the contest was fixed in order to gain better ratings. (75 minutes) 

-Studio One: The Night America Trembled—Edward R. Murrow describes the tenor of the times when The War of the Worlds was broadcast on the radio. (1957; 4 minutes)

-The Mercury Theatre on the Air: The War of the Worlds—Orson Welles's radio drama causes a nationwide panic. (1938; 5 minutes)

-Choosing Suicide—Critics called this disturbing documentary about "rational suicide" one-sided. (1980; 2 minutes)

-Looking at 60 Minutes: "This Year at Murrieta"-60 Minutes examines the ethical implications of ambush journalism. (1981; 9 minutes)

-The American Experience: The Quiz Show Scandal—This documentary explores, among others, the scandal surrounding the quiz show Twenty One. (1992; 24 minutes)

-Twenty One—Charles Van Doren defeats Herbert Stempel in the quiz show that was later revealed to be fixed. (1956; 30 minutes) 

March 21 to April 3

The debate about the effects of television violence on the viewing public, and particularly the country's youth, began in 1954 when a Senate subcommittee investigated juvenile delinquency and included television violence in the scope of its inquiry. Although contemporary viewers accustomed to such programs as NYPD Blue and The Sopranos may find an earlier show like The Untouchables tame, it was scrutinized in Congress for its violent imagery. Despite years of studying whether television violence poses a danger to society, no definitive conclusion has been reached. This screening presents both historic and contemporary examples of what was and is considered to be excessive violence and explains the controversy that surrounded each. (85 minutes)

-The Untouchables: "The Snowball"—Guest star Robert Redford callously kills an associate in order to get ahead; violence in this series was examined in Congressional inquiries. (1963; 5 minutes)

-The Simpsons: "Itchy and Scratchy and Marge"—This episode spoofed efforts to boycott immoral television programming, with Marge protesting the unnecessary violence of Bart and Lisa's favorite cartoon. (1990; 20 minutes)

-"Black or White"—This music video by Michael Jackson irritated many viewers, who were disturbed by Jackson's sexual display and unprovoked vandalism of property in this otherwise uncontroversial video about racial harmony. (1991; 5 minutes)

-Bus Stop: "A Lion Walks Among Us"—This episode, which aired commercial-free after advertisers pulled out because popular, clean-cut Fabian played a remorseless killer, prompts a Congressional inquiry into violence on television. (1961; 52 minutes) 

April 4 to 17 

Unstable times present a challenge to the television industry with regard to representing all points of view. What viewers see—or do not see—can influence what they understand and believe about wars, demonstrations, movements, and their government. For example, television's powerful images of civil disobedience played an important role in mobilizing national support for the civil rights movement. On the other hand, having been forced to cover the Gulf War through military-approved reporter pools, television was criticized for failing to provide a balanced and complete account of the war. This screening highlights instances where television has challenged the status quo (such as Edward R. Murrow's criticism of Senator McCarthy's communist witch-hunt) and when it has not been permitted to air dissenting views (such as a censored segment from The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour, criticizing events at the 1968 Democratic Convention). (55 minutes)

-Who? What? When? Where? Why?: Report from Vietnam—Walter Cronkite calls the war in Vietnam an apparent stalemate. (1968; 5 minutes)

-The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour—Pete Seeger's antiwar song "Waist Deep in the Big Muddy," criticizing America's Vietnam policy, is excised by CBS, but eventually aired later in the season. (1968; 3 minutes)

-The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour—Harry Belafonte's song "Don't Stop the Carnival," sung over images of demonstrations at the 1968 Democratic Convention, is censored. (1968, unaired; 7 minutes)

-Inside Iraq—This disturbing coverage of the Gulf War never aired on commercial television, for which it was filmed. (1992, unaired; 3 minutes)

-NBC News: America Strikes Back—The government asks that an Osama bin Laden videotape not run in its entirety, and news stations complied. (2001; 2 minutes)

-TV Nation—Michael Moore's report on the Savings and Loan scandal never aired. (1995, unaired; 6 minutes)

-See It Now—Edward R. Murrow challenges Senator Joseph McCarthy, through his "own words and pictures," in this report. (1954; 30 minutes)


April 18 to May 1 

Since the 1939 broadcast of Marian Anderson singing on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial after the Daughters of the American Revolution barred the famed black singer from their concert hall, acts of subtle, and not-so-subtle, racism—as well as defiance against it—have played out on television and radio. This screening presents examples of racially biased programming such as Amos 'n' Andy, which was criticized by the NAACP as propagating stereotypical notions about blacks; instances of defiance against racism, including Harry Belafonte and Petula Clark's refusal to retape, at a sponsor's insistence, a performance that included an interracial touch; and the tendency of the media to shy away from racial controversy, demonstrated through the altered script of Rod Serling's play about the real-life lynching of a black boy. (95 minutes)

-Marian Anderson: Lincoln Memorial Broadcast—The Daughters of the American Revolution refuse to let the famed African-American contralto perform at Constitution Hall; an outraged Eleanor Roosevelt secures a new venue. (1939; 4 minutes)

-Amos 'n' Andy: "Kingfish Gets Drafted"—This extremely popular program was lambasted by the NAACP for portraying African-Americans in an stereotypical manner. (1951; 3 minutes)

-Petula—Singers Petula Clark and Harry Belafonte's "controversial" touch sparked debate when the sponsor wanted the pair to retape the segment; the performers and producers refused. (1968; 3 minutes)

-ABC News Nightline—Al Campanis, a former teammate of Jackie Robinson, comments to a shocked Ted Koppel that blacks do not have the talent to become sports managers; as a result of this program he lost his job as general manager of the Dodgers (1987; 7 minutes)

-Playhouse 90: "A Town Has Turned to Dust"—Rod Serling's script about the lynching of African-American teenager Emmett Till is changed to obscure the details of the case. (1958; 77 minutes) 

May 2 to 18

Television has presented sexual matters and represented alternative lifestyles throughout its history, but not without meeting with criticism from the public, sponsors, and various interest groups on both ends of the political spectrum. This screening contains clips from the early days of television, when Lucille Ball was not permitted to use the word "pregnant" on I Love Lucy, through today, when revealing sex scenes are standard on such network shows as NYPD Blue. The screening also depicts an emerging openness about same-sex relationships, including clips from thirtysomething and Roseanne, and the ongoing debate about the morality of abortion, as seen in an episode of Cagney & Lacey. (70 minutes—This screening contains nudity and adult content. Viewer discretion is advised.) 

-I Love Lucy: "Lucy Is Enceinte"—Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz discover you can't say "pregnant" on the air. (1952; 4 minutes)

-Hollywood Television Theatre: Steambath—This off-Broadway play adapted for PBS contains nudity and "unsuitable" language and is rejected by most affiliates. (1973; 3 minutes)

-thirtysomething: "Strangers"—This episode, which shows a conversation between two men in bed, prompts sponsors to withdraw over a million dollars worth of advertising. (1989; 2 minutes)

-NYPD Blue (Pilot)—Detective Kelly (David Caruso) and Officer Licalsi (Amy Brenneman) are shown making love in a revealing scene that prompts a boycott by the American Family Association. (1993; 3 minutes)

-Roseanne: "Don't Ask, Don't Tell"—This episode, in which Sharon (Mariel Hemingway) kisses Roseanne at a lesbian bar, provokes little protest from the viewing public. (1994; 2 minutes)

-Ellen: "The Puppy"—Ellen comes out of the closet to a record number of viewers. (1997; 2 minutes)

-Cagney & Lacey: "The Clinic"—The National Right to Life Committee threatens a boycott of CBS because of this episode, during which Cagney and Lacey debate the morality of abortion. (1985; 50 minutes)  

Satire or Sacrilege? Social and Political Commentary on Television
Tuesday, February 25, 2003 from 7:00 to 8:30 p.m. ET

Panelists, including Floyd Abrams (Visiting Professor of First Amendment Law, Columbia Graduate School of Journalism), Mike Dann (Senior Vice President for Programs, CBS, 1966-70), John Podhoretz (Op-Ed Columnist, New York Post), and The Smothers Brothers, will examine comedy programs that have included satirical political and social commentary and faced problems of censorship. The discussion will include the legendary battles between The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour and CBS over such topics as Vietnam, race, and religion, as well as address political satire in today's world. This seminar will be available to colleges around the country via satellite.

Screenings are included with the price of general admission: Members free; $10.00 for adults; $8.00 for senior citizens and students; and $5.00 for children under fourteen. Admission is free in Los Angeles. Tickets for the February 25 seminar Satire or Sacrilege? Social and Political Commentary on Television are $15 ($12 for individual Museum Members), and may be purchased in the Museum lobby during regular Museum hours (Tuesdays through Sundays, 12:00 to 6:00 p.m., and until 8:00 p.m. on Thursdays), or by calling the Museum at (212) 621-6600, from 12:00 to 5:00 p.m. Mondays to Fridays.

The Museum of Television & Radio, with locations in New York and Los Angeles, is a nonprofit organization founded by William S. Paley to collect and preserve television and radio programs and advertisements, and to make them available to the public. From its inception in 1975, the Museum has organized exhibitions, screening and listening series, seminars, and education classes to showcase its collection of over 120,000 television and radio programs and advertisements, covering more than eighty years of history. Programs in the Museum's permanent collection are selected for their artistic, cultural, and historic significance. The Museum has initiated a process to acquire Internet programming for the collection.

The Museum of Television & Radio in New York, located at 25 West 52 Street in Manhattan, is open Tuesdays through Sundays from noon to 6:00 p.m., until 8:00 p.m. on Thursdays, and Friday evenings until 9:00 p.m. (theaters only). The Museum of Television & Radio in California, located at 465 North Beverly Drive in Beverly Hills, is open Wednesdays through Sundays from noon to 5:00 p.m. and until 9:00 p.m. on Thursdays. Both Museums are closed on New Year's Day, Independence Day, Thanksgiving, and Christmas. Suggested contribution: Members free; $10.00 for adults; $8.00 for senior citizens and students; and $5.00 for children under fourteen. Admission is free in Los Angeles. The public areas in both Museums are accessible to wheelchairs, and assisted listening devices are available. Programs are subject to change. You may call the Museum in New York at (212) 621-6800, or in Los Angeles at (310) 786-1000. Visit the Museum's website at