There's no denying it, television holds a mirror up to society. While there's plenty to learn from an era's most prominently featured shows, one can gleam just as much by examining the subjects that absolutely weren't allowed on television back in the day. Fifty years ago, tons of innocent things were banned on TV, and many of the most taboo topics seem quaint by today's standards.
While banned TV episodes are still pretty commonplace, people used to be much bigger killjoys, so all manner of things - from controversial kids books to new-age toy trends - got the public riled up. In the television world, body parts, biological functions, and colorful language made a lot of folks uncomfortable, leading to heavy censorship. However, social norms change over time, and things that once seemed horribly explicit now are accepted as a part of everyday life.
Fifty years from now, will we look back on 2019's TV standards as archaic and shockingly naïve? Based on how strinct TV censorship was in the mid-20th century, the answer is: probably.
A Visibly Pregnant Woman
For a long time, creators couldn't show pregnancy on TV. A 1940s sitcom called Mary Kay and Johnny broke the mold when Mary Kay's real-life pregnancy was written into the series.
For the longest time, TV shows refused to admit their characters performed that most basic of all bodily functions. In 1957, Leave It To Beaver was the first TV series to show a toilet - but only the tank (that's where Wally hides his pet alligator). Originally, the plan was to show the full john, but CBS executives were so offended, the episode's air date was pushed back until the tank compromise could be reached.
A Couple Sharing A Bed
Even hinting at sex was a no-go. It was 1947's Mary Kay and Johnny who pioneered the path for a married couple to share a bed on-screen. While the love birds' apartment did contain a bedroom, a bathroom was never shown, as presumably that crossed the line.
The Word "Pregnant"
Saying the word "pregnant" aloud was once forbidden on television. Even when Lucy Ricardo (Lucille Ball) was pregnant, no one on I Love Lucy could actually say the word "pregnant" on air.
Anti-miscegenation laws were on the books in some states until well into the 1960s, so interracial kisses on TV were unheard of. The first couple to break from the norm was Captain Kirk (William Shatner) and Lieutenant Uhura (Nichelle Nichols) on Star Trek in 1968.
Women's Belly Buttons
Because it hinted at the human body, TV networks didn't show women's navels for some time. This was especially challenging for Barbara Eden on I Dream of Jeannie in the 1960s.
Suggestive dancing? Nope. In 1956, Elvis Presley appeared on The Ed Sullivan Show and was filmed from the waist up because his hip movements were too provocative.
Nude Cartoon Characters
If people on TV couldn't expose their bodies, then apparently animated characters couldn't either. Take Tweety Bird. He was originally pink but was changed to yellow because censors thought the pink made him look nude.
The Brutality Of History
The horrors of the past have long been the stuff of made-for-TV programming. But in some instances, even "based on a true story" features soft-pedaled the realities of history, like Judgment at Nuremberg, a 1959 TV-movie about post-WWII trials in Germany that omitted gas chambers.
Ms. Boop was a major pain in the tuchus for TV network censors. After starring on the big screen, she transitioned to television in the 1950s, and her trademark sensuality and coquettishness had to be toned down considerably.
People Wearing Bras Or Briefs
Because the mere suggestion of sexuality and the naked body was outlawed, even underwear commercials couldn't show people wearing underwear. In 1987, the first lady in a bra aired on a Playtex Cross Your Heart ad.
In the 1960s, even vague references to politics were excluded from mainstream TV shows. Bob Dylan once infamously refused to appear on Ed Sullivan when the network asked him to edit his political song parody.
For years, showing excessive cleavage or any other "discreet" body parts was banned on TV. The first documented breast on TV was an accidental slip that occurred in 1950, when one of presenter Faye Emerson's boobs popped out.
Recreational substance use and references to it remain rare even in 2019. In the '60s, Jim Morrison was asked to change some of his lyrics before appearing on TV. He agreed - then sang the original lyrics anyway.
Gay People Kissing
In 2000, Dawson's Creek showed Jack and Ethan sharing a "passionate" kiss. Before that, there had been jokey TV kisses between characters of the same sex, but nothing with genuine emotion.