When Sons of Anarchy debuted in 2008, it was notably one of the most violent and racy series on TV. With a rating of MA, it pushed just about every limit there was on cable television, and that seemed to make fans happy—which was proven with five Primetime Emmy Awards. But behind the scenes, trouble was brewing between major players who disagreed on how far was too far when it came to shock value.
When creator Kurt Sutter brought the series to FX, he wanted to make the story as realistic as possible. And that meant it needed to be violent. But the network’s CEO John Landgraf saw things differently. And because of that, he and Sutter were constantly at each other’s throats.
“I still get lots of Standards & Practices notes about violence and nudity and language,” Sutter told Entertainment Weekly in 2014. “And it’s arbitrary in that it changes every year.”
Over the six years that the series aired, what was and wasn’t ok to show on TV changed, and Sutter had to fight hard to keep his vision strong. But he knew that meant choosing his battles wisely.
For example, dropping the F-bomb was of the things that Landgraf wouldn’t budge on. So Sutter had to find a new way to have his characters express their constant dismay. He did that by replacing it with another phrase that, to some, was just as offensive.
“’Jesus Christ” is basically my f—, because I can’t say f—,” he admitted. “And there was one season where they were, like, counting my ‘Jesus Christs’ because somebody on the Fox food chain thought it was so blasphemous. It’s the kind of thing where I’ll find some kind of compromise where I’ll fight for a couple and pull one out.”
John Landgraf Shares His Side of the Racy ‘Sons of Anarchy’ Story
John Landgraf spoke on the matter with Entertainment Weekly, too. And as he told it, he really just wanted to leave some things up to “the imagination.”
The CEOs used the season 1 episode that highlighted a predatory clown as an example.
“The carnival came to town, and there was a clown who was a pedophile,” he recalled. “[SAMCRO] managed to rescue this girl…and then they castrated the clown with a knife.”
Landgraf and Sutter apparently had a “huge knockout, drag down fight” about how to depict that scene. Sutter wanted to actually show it happening while Landgraf thought some sound effects would suffice.
“I totally acknowledge the need for violence,” Landgraf added. “It’s a violent world and a violent show. [Sutter’s] portraying really tragic, dark consequences of violence. Kurt wants to show it in very graphic detail. and I want to leave more to the imagination.”