Television is a canvas for creators to explore. Many themes can be discussed, morals can be taught, and it can be beautiful all at the same time. Today, no one really has a problem with excessive violence and cursing on television. Back in the 1950s, however, things were different.
Back then, television was brand new, and it lacked color. Also, parents wanted their children to be good, or they’d get the paddle. So naturally, hardcore stuff on television was a problem. To satisfy parents’ wishes, the National Association of Broadcasters created the Seal of Good Practice in 1952. The seal showed up during a show’s closing credits and TV stations’ sign-on and sign-off sequences.
The seal symbolized the Code of Practices for Television Broadcasters, and it restricted every show on TV. It meant that you couldn’t swear, have explicit sexual tension or sexual activity, disown religion, roast the police force, or show extremely dysfunctional families. So, shows that are tame by today’s standards, like The Simpsons, would’ve been extremely controversial. This lead to many copy-and-paste sitcoms where humor was restricted to simple hijinks.
However, several shows worked around the limitations and managed to show a little dysfunction. One of these shows is The Honeymooners, and it was one of the first shows to break free of gender stereotypes. Many sitcoms back then had the father as the smart man of the house, and the wife just did housework. However, this show subverted that, having the father, Ralph, be a doofus. His wife Alice had more common sense than Ralph, showing the world that women could be as smart as men were expected to be back then. This is further illustrated by Ralph’s “promises” of “Right to the Moon!” Risque for the era.
Another show that worked within limitations was Rod Serling’s classic, The Twilight Zone. The code said that shows couldn’t be creepy just to be creepy, and this show obeyed that. That said, I’d say it was more eerie than other shows in the 1960s. The clever writing, fantastic cinematography, and on point acting definitely made this series a sensation.
The code’s restrictions had a noticeable impact on the growing medium of animation, as well. As the Seal of Good Practice wasn’t discontinued until 1983, it was also limited to simple hijinks that wouldn’t offend anyone. On top of that, television animation had extremely limited budgets, leading us to stuff like Clutch Cargo.
Arguably the top name in TV animation back then was Hanna-Barbera. They produced memorable shows such as The Flintstones, which was heavily influenced by The Honeymooners, and Scooby Doo: Where Are You? But alas, they also had limited budgets, resulting in limited animation and recycled assets. However, that didn’t stop them, as they produced many cartoons in this period. Just look at their Wikipedia list of their work and see how many of their shows from the 60’s and 70’s people actually remembered, though.
By the early 1980’s, it was about time for television to evolve. The United States Department of Justice worked with the National Association of Broadcasters to get rid of the code. In 1983, the code was officially suspended. Within the next few years, it became clear that there weren’t as many restrictions. Sitcoms like All in the Family and Seinfeld had more risqué humor and character depth, and more extreme stuff was allowed to be shown. Animation began to incorporate more action in shows like Transformers and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, and the medium became extremely profitable. This new interest in the medium contributed to the rise of Nickelodeon and Cartoon Network. Television was changing rapidly, and it was for the better.
With all of that said, however, the Code of Practices for Television Broadcasters is still an interesting aspect of early television. It’s cool reading up on how things were different in the past, and comparing it to today. So, I encourage you to do the same.
Thanks for reading!