“M*A*S*H” was one of TV’s top-rated shows back when it first aired. But the TV show still faced an uphill battle at the network behind the scenes. The creators often rallied against network executives that tried to censor and regulate the show and its content.
It was almost a weekly battle. The network wanted the show to be more like its standard sitcom brethren. They didn’t realize the opportunity the show had to show both comedy but also the darkness of war. Additionally, the creators of “M*A*S*H” also fought increasingly contradictory censorship.
For instance, during one episode, censors wouldn’t allow them to show a jockstrap. But in previous episodes, they included women’s panties.
“I wrote an episode where Margaret sees a jockstrap on the table and starts going nuts. ‘How dare you parade that thing before me?’ Standards and practices said we couldn’t show a jockstrap,” star Alan Alda told the Hollywood Reporter. “I got really angry because we’d had countless episodes where we showed brassieres and women’s panties. Hawkeye had walked through a clothesline and had them slapping him in the face. Is there something holy about the male genitalia? They never gave a reason why. They just stuck to it.”
‘M*A*S*H’ Fought Censorship
Another area that never made sense to the creators was the censorship regarding language. Writers for “M*A*S*H” often included more profanity because they knew some would be cut. They resorted to sneaky tactics.
“Every week we got the same note, ‘Cut the casual profanity in half,'” writer Ken Levine said. “If we wanted eight hells and d–ns we’d put 16 into the script. We tried to slip one by when we had Radar say to a visiting general, ‘Your tent is ready your VIP-ness.’ We got caught.”
But sometimes, the censors couldn’t make up their minds about what was and was not consider profane.
“We did an episode in which Hawkeye yells, ‘You b—–d!’ at a South Korean officer who is taking a North Korean female guerrilla away for questioning and probable torture,” writer Dan Wilcox recalled. “The censor said we couldn’t say ‘b—–d,’ but we could say ‘son of a b—h.’ We weren’t thrilled. But it was still strong language. The next year, we had a similar moment and the same thing happens. In the final season, we went directly to ‘son of a b—h’ and the censor comes back and says, “That’s strong language, would you mind if you say ‘b—–d’?”
But despite the weekly battles, the show still ended up a beloved classic and highly rated sitcom.