I began writing situation comedies in 1966. Television was still in what most people perceived as the Eisenhower Era: Victorian, but with crew cuts. In real life, even in El Paso, Texas, where I came from, married people didn't sleep in twin beds and courtship consisted of more than a chaste goodnight kiss on the cheek at the door. We were surrounded by miles of empty desert, and all that was required to move a courtship forward was a back seat and a good sense of direction, in more ways than one.
We played "Sexy Ways" and "Work With Me, Annie" and "I Got a Woman" on the jukebox, which were filled with euphemisms, and we used euphemisms as well, like "doing it," "second base," "third base" and "going all the way." We girls blushed when we couldn't find the words to inquire just what happened on what base. Guys cussed and used crude words for body parts that we learned from our brothers (some of them were in Spanish), but the most girls said was "Oh, sugar!"
When it came to euphemisms, '60s TV was worse than a bunch of El Paso teenage girls. It wasn't just the "F" word or any variation of the "D" word -- it was words not even I ever dreamed could possibly be offensive. Of course, I quickly got past my "Oh, sugar" days working in an all-male universe, but that was just in place of coming up with ideas. In scripts, sex was automatically off-limits, as it still mostly was in the movies, except for the ones condemned by The Legion of Decency. I didn't consider myself a prude by any means, but I was a little nervous defying the Legion by going to see The French Line. When I didn't emerge from the theater turned into a raging nymphomaniac, I adjusted my reality.
That Girl, my first series, didn't have any censorship problems, with its chaste, almost platonic boy-girl relationship, but "Hey, Landlord," also in the 1966 season, was about a pair of male roommates fresh out of college. Euphemisms could only go so far in describing what was on their minds. It was up to the Creator/Producers Garry Marshall and Jerry Belson, to run interference with the censors. They always threw in several decoy words to get away with the one that they felt was necessary, and it seemed to work.
My partner, Ed Scharlach, and I didn't have to fight these battles as a freelance team, but when we left the shelter of our two "home" shows, and gained more stature in our profession, we ran into our first roadblock. We had gained the attention of Buck Henry, who had created Get Smart and That Was the Week That Was, and was currently writing two movies at the same time: The Graduate and Catch 22. We arrived eager-beaver early for our first meeting with Buck. He had not yet arrived. In those days, there was no gauntlet of secretaries; we just walked in the door and sat down to wait for him. A typewriter with a half-written page was on Buck's desk. We couldn't resist: it was the script of The Graduate. We wondered where the other typewriter was with Catch 22.
Buck was developing a new series called Captain Nice, with William Daniels, about a mild-mannered scientist who created an elixir that gave him super-strength. We were hired to write the "back-up pilot," a real honor. Our plot involved a beaker of the elixir that a cleaning woman knocked over, drenching a cockroach crawling across the lab floor. Captain Nice would have to fight a cockroach with super powers!
The censors were not amused. The show was going to be televised during the dinner hour -- watching TV during dinner was a new thing; no TiVo then -- and the viewers might become nauseated by a cockroach. In addition, they pointed out, "some of our viewers may have cockroaches." Not even Buck could get around it, and we couldn't think of another insect that would strike fear with super-powers, so the idea died. As I recall, I said: "What do they want us to use, a f***king ladybug?" (I am not too sure what you can say on The Huffington Post.)
Our next run-in was on The Ghost and Mrs. Muir, starring Hope Lange and Edward Mulhare. Mulhare was the ghost of a 19th century sea captain, who haunted the cottage rented by Mrs. Muir. One episode we wrote involved a local hero in whose honor the town planned to erect a statue. The ghost insisted the man was a fraud and a coward, but Mrs. Muir thought he was just jealous of his more successful contemporary. A crew went to the cemetery to clear the vines off the hero's tombstone before the ceremony. All that could be seen before the cleaning was "When duty called, he did not hesitate..." When the vines are cleared, the rest of the epitaph can be read: "He ran like hell."
Ed and I, along with Lew Gallo and Gene Reynolds, who ran the show, thought it was hilarious. But in 1968, the word "hell" could not even be read on television, much less heard. We fought the battle, but it was fruitless. It went on the air: "When duty called, he did not hesitate. He ran away."
And we ran away as well.