Network Censorship and Creativity (1972)

Norman Lear on Business, Politics and Culture

Speech Excerpts, 1972 – 2011

Network Censorship and Creativity (1972)

As a writer, and producer of All in the Family, I seem to be enjoying a rather singular experience insofar as network censorship is concerned.  While I confer many times a week with the Program Practices Department of CBS, I am happy to report that we are not censored on All in the Family.  I feel completely free to delve into any subject matter, no matter how sensitive, bound only by the limits of my own taste and discretion.  This is not to say that Program Practices does not make suggestions, many of which I am happy to accept, but they are offered as suggestions only.

I am aware from reading the statements prepared by my fellow writers for this committee that my own remarks regarding network censorship seem soft-pedaled.  There are several reasons for this.  First, I don’t own a network, so if Mr. Robert D. Wood [then President of CBS] had not backed me at the last possible minute, All in the Family would never have seen the light of day.  And secondly, but more importantly, I think I understand what accounts for the provincial, narrow, often out-of-date, attitudes of the executives who fill out the various posts in the Departments of Program Practices at the three networks.

Somewhere, some time ago, someone coined the fiction that the mentality of the American motion picture patron averages between twelve and thirteen years of age.  And in the think tanks of American business, not just in the mass media area, but in all American business, this fiction has been accepted as truth and this “truth” has been extended to the American public as a whole.

Another myth is: “The average man doesn’t want to come home from a hard day’s work and be faced with problems on television.  He wants escapism, entertainment, fluff.”  All in the Family has tackled many everyday problems and the average American, returned from his hard day’s work, has not only accepted it but made it the most popular show on TV.

We lose perspective if we fail to see the situation in network Program Practices as only one part of the fabric of the think-tank philosophy, which also dictates what Americans will wear and drive and listen to, etc. etc.  American think-tank leadership is out of touch with the American people.  My personal feeling is that this is also true in government, in business and commerce, as well as in the mass media.  Although the purpose of this hearing is to inquire into censorship in the television area only, I would feel remiss not to mention this connection…..

It is time, I feel, to take a new direction in television.  There is nothing to lose and everything to gain.  The American public is the final arbiter anyway, and it tells us very quickly what it likes and does not like.  What it will be allowed to see, however, is another matter, and there the writer deserves the right to express life as he sees it.

From Statement to the Senate Subcommittee on Constitutional Rights.
February 8, 1972