Writing around Standards and Practices


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There's a lot of stuff you still can't say or do when your show isn't on pay cable. Four writers share some recent war stories.

Denis Leary, "Rescue Me"

"Janet (Andrea Roth) and Sheila (Callie Thorne) express their mutual hostility and we wanted the argument to escalate into a name-calling exchange, ending with one of them calling the other the 'C' word--a word which is, of course, verboten on network and basic cable television and used very sparingly, if at all, even on cable series. What we came up with was an angry silence during which both women exchange insults via text message. Ultimately, after several nasty words like 'bitch,' 'slut' and 'whore,' Sheila sends the 'C'word to Janet. But she misspells it. Steve Pasquale (who plays the dim
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 Sean Garrity) walks in and reads her latest message. He asks, 'What's a cunf?' By changing one letter we got the exact same effect, with a laugh."

Bill Lawrence, "Cougar Town"

"We did a Thanksgiving episode where Courteney Cox's character was trying to show her son that condoms can break. She filled up one with water while he was with his high school girlfriend and was trying to break it in front of them and she (couldn't). ABC has a longstanding policy that you can't show a condom on their network; you can mention it and you can talk about sex, but you can't show it. (Standards and Practices) helped me come up with a solution: Courteney said, after the fact, that it wasn't a condom; it was a balloon because she 'didn't have condoms lying around.' The joke still worked."

Greg Daniels, "The Office"
"Last season we argued with the censors about how much to scramble a drawing of breasts on a Post-It note visible on Michael Scott's desk. I tried to make the case that, when the drawings are super-abstract or very simple, they're still less offensive than a nude painting in the Vatican. It was funnier the less scrambled it was. In the end, we lost; the dot-nipples were almost completely blurred. In principle I'm like, 'Sure, there shouldn't be nudity on TV. I've got kids. I don't want them watching nudity.' There's a lot of caution now, because nobody wants to get fined, so sometimes you do have these little tussles."

Bob Daily, "Desperate Housewives"
"Last season we did a story about Gabrielle's (Eva Longoria Parker) young daughter flubbing a line during the school Thanksgiving pageant and, in frustration, (she) drops the F-bomb. We knew, of course, we'd never be able to show a 6-year-old saying that word on network television, but figured we'd be able to get away with a slow-motion 'Ffffuuu ...' before cutting to a reaction shot. No dice, said Standards and Practices. So we went back to the edit bay and cut it down to 'Ffff ...' Still not acceptable. 'Ff?' No. Finally we sat down at the Avid with the network and cut, frame by frame, stopping one frame shy of her mouth forming the letter F. Not quite as funny, but American sensibilities were preserved."