Scenes From Nostalgic Sitcoms That Would Be "Cancelled" Today
By Sarah Norman | September 19, 2023
Step back in time with us as we delve into the television moments from the '60s, '70s, and '80s that pushed the boundaries and left audiences both amused and shocked. These were the days when TV was breaking new ground and navigating the fine line between humor and controversy. From Lucy daring to discuss her pregnancy on screen when it was considered taboo, to an episode of Cheers causing an unexpected stir in a fight against world hunger, and even a not-so-constructive take on disabilities in an episode of the Facts of Life.
For many of us, these moments hold a special place in our hearts, as we witnessed them unfold live on television. Join us as we take a nostalgic trip down memory lane, exploring these fascinating and sometimes inappropriate moments from TV's past. So, without further ado, let's dive in and continue reading to uncover the intriguing tales behind these iconic TV moments.
In a memorable episode of Saved by the Bell, called "Jessie's Song," Jessie Spano faces problems with caffeine pill addiction due to the stress of high school geometry. One of the most unforgettable moments occurs when Zack confronts Jessie about her issue right before she is supposed to perform at the Max. This leads Jessie to sing a frantic version of the Pointer Sisters' "I'm So Excited" before breaking down in tears. It's telling that this episode is more remembered as a funny meme than as an in depth look at addiction.
In this episode of Full House, DJ decides to go on a crash diet and pushes herself too hard with exercise in the lead up to Kimmy's upcoming pool party. Stephanie notices her unhealthy behavior, and DJ asks her to keep it on the DL. However, during a family trip to the gym, DJ collapses, and her secret is revealed. While the episode attempted to address the sensitive topic of anorexia, it didn't fully explore the nuances of the issue. Instead, it resolved the problem within the episode, which undercuts the seriousness of DJ's issue.
Her Cups Runneth Over
The episode "Her Cups Runneth Over" of the show Married With Children first aired on FOX on January 8, 1989. In the episode, Al Bundy and his neighbor Steve Rhoades go to a lingerie store to find Peggy's favorite bra. The two men get up to all manner of saucy hijinks in the store, which was par for the course with the series. A woman named Terry Rakolta from Michigan saw the episode and got very upset. She started a boycott of the show by writing to companies that advertised during Married with Children and asking them to pull their advertisements.
Some companies did cut their ties to the show, and FOX asked the creators of Married... to tone down its content. Surprisingly, all the attention from the boycott actually made more people watch the show, and its ratings soared. The sponsors eventually returned, and Married with Children continued for eight more seasons, gradually returning to its original raunchy style.
The Boys in the Bar
In the Cheers episode "The Boys in the Bar," Sam openly supports his former teammate who reveals he is gay. However, Norm and the group worry that the bar might be labeled as a "gay bar." Sam faces a dilemma as he worries about balancing the needs of his regular customers with potential new gay customers. It's not even that this episode wouldn't fly today, it's just that this type of storyline feels like old hat even for the 1980s. It's a bar, who cares about sexuality?
“The Bicycle Man” Parts 1 and 2
One of the most traumatic television events of the 1980s was the Diff’rent Strokes two-parter, "Bicycle Man." In this upsetting double episode Gordon Jump plays Mr. Horton, a creepy bicycle repairman who brings Arnold and Dudley into his work shack where he bathes the children, drugs them, and shows them explicit photos. It's mind boggling that this storyline made it to air.
In a season two episode of The Facts of Life, Blair's cousin Geri, a comedian with Cerebral Palsy, pays a visit. The episode aimed to teach acceptance and understanding to viewers, but unfortunately, it portrayed Geri using stereotypes that didn't fully demonstrate her as a thoughtful person beyond her disability.
For Every Man, There's Two Women
In this season 5 episode of Too Close For Comfort, security guard Monroe is kidnapped by two women moments after he clocks out from his job. Then, and keep in mind this was produced in the 1980s and distributed onto television, Monroe is sexually assaulted by the women. The rest of the episode is spent with Monroe trying to press charges against the women while the police explain that he should probably just avoid the whole thing because of the negative attention that the trial will earn him.
If you don't know Too Close For Comfort, this wasn't a hard hitting series. It was a sitcom that followed a work-at-home cartoonist and his two daughters who share a townhouse together. Law & Order: SVU it is not.
Code Of Honor
In this episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation's first season, the Enterprise visits Ligon II to negotiate for a vaccine they need on another planet. However, the seemingly friendly Ligonians trick the crew and kidnap Lt. Tasha Yar. The crew must use their intelligence to outsmart the Ligonians and rescue Yar. The Ligonians' portrayal as feudal African tribes has been criticized as potentially racist. Due to these concerns and negative feedback, it's one of the most frequently skipped episodes in the history of TNG.
The Charming Stranger
There's nothing all that controversial about the Three's Company episode "The Charming Stranger," but 17 years after it aired an eagle eyed viewer caught a rerun on Nick at Nite and paused the show at the "perfect" moment and saw a part of Jack Tripper's scrotum hanging out of his shorts. This caused quite the stir among fans of the show, and Nickelodeon subsequently edited the episode for future airings. John Ritter, who played Tripper, responded:
I've requested that [Nickelodeon] air both versions, edited and unedited, because sometimes you feel like a nut, and sometimes you don't.
In this episode from Mr. Belvedere's second season, when one of Wesley's friends, Ina Fried, is found to have AIDS, he is pulled out of school because many other parents are unsure and afraid. This makes Wesley fearful of catching the disease, so he avoids Ina and stops being friends with her. It's commendable that sitcoms tried to address the AIDS epidemic of that time, but this specific episode definitely didn't handle the subject matter with the correct sensitivity.
Edith’s 50th Birthday Parts 1 & 2
All in the Family was known for pushing boundaries, but this eighth season double header was truly inappropriate for television viewers. The episodes follow Edith, who allows a man into her home under the auspices that he's a police officer. It's only too late that she realizes that he's a serial rapist who brutally assaults her. While this is all happening, Edith's family is completely unaware of what happened in the Bunkers' living room. They are getting ready to throw a surprise party next door at Gloria's home to celebrate Edith. After the assault, the scenes show Edith trying to cope with the aftermath, and her family is there to support and comfort her while also trying to find the person responsible for the attack.
Death in a Funny Position
In the season premiere of the comedy series Benson, the main characters and their friends are on a cruise ship where a dangerous murderer is secretly on board. As the vacationers are being stabbed to death, humorous chaos ensues. It's quite unusual for a comedy show from the 1980s to embrace such a crazy and intense plot with a serial killer, but it seems like the show's creators were aiming for attention and high ratings with this gripping and bizarre premise.
Castles In Space
In this episode of Lost In Space, Major West, Judy, Will, Dr. Smith, and the Robot go on a mission to install a radar station. During their mission, they discover an alien princess frozen in a block of ice. Dr. Smith accidentally melts the ice, freeing the alien. Soon after, a silver-skinned bounty hunter named Chavo arrives and takes Will hostage with the help of fake soldiers. Chavo demands that Major West hand over the alien princess, or he will harm Will. To save her, Major West challenges Chavo to a duel.
The episode "Castles in Space" faced controversy when a major L.A. TV station decided to permanently ban it due to protests from the Hispanic community. They objected to the depiction of Chavo, a character portrayed as a Spanish bandit, which they felt reinforced negative stereotypes.
Fear Strikes Back
In this particular episode of the family sitcom The Facts of Life, Natalie is attacked while returning home from a Halloween costume party, where she was dressed as Charlie Chaplin. The traumatic experience leaves her with agoraphobia, a fear of going outside. This episode is considered a "very special episode" due to its serious and sensitive subject matter. However, some may wonder if such a heavy topic was appropriate for television.
In the season four finale of Mr. Belvedere, during summer vacation, Heather is taking summer classes, Kevin is working extra hours, and Wesley is attending a day camp. At the camp, Wesley becomes a victim of inappropriate touching by one of the counselors. This leaves Wesley feeling scared and guilty, and the counselor tells him to keep it a "secret." Wesley is unsure about what to do and is struggling with whether he should keep the incident hidden as the counselor suggests. The episode ends with a public service announcement that features the actors breaking character to discuss the events of the episode.
“The Hitchhikers” Parts 1 and 2
Diff’rent Strokes really got wild in its latter days. In this two-parter Arnold and Kimberly are hitchhiking and find themselves picked up by a straight up serial killer. After Arnold escapes he runs to the authorities who manage to catch up with Kimberly before she's done in by this sadistic killer. It is absolutely wild that this was a plotline on a major television series, but hey it was a different era.
In this season two episode of Webster, George and Katherine plan to rent a new home, which is a supposedly haunted Victorian house with hidden walls and mysterious openings in unexpected places. However, they become curious about the owners' reluctance to let anyone enter their runaway daughter's room. The special Halloween episode portrays the family dealing with stereotypes about voodoo and witchcraft which may have been funny at the time, but the episode presents cultural practices in a way that could be seen as insensitive and offensive by today's standards.
Why Did the Fireman…
In this season 5 episode of Laverne & Shirley, Laverne starts dating a fireman and things are leading straight to the altar. Just as the fireman (played by Ted Danson) is planning to propose, he tragically dies while on duty. Despite being a goofy comedy, the episode focuses on Laverne's emotional journey as she copes with her boyfriend's sudden and untimely death. The viewers are left to sit with Laverne's inner turmoil and denial in the face of this loss.
In this episode from Star Trek: The Next Generation's first season, the Enterprise goes to a planet called Angel One, where women are in charge, to look for survivors from a disabled Federation freighter that crashed seven years ago due to an asteroid collision. Unfortunately, the episode is criticized for promoting misogyny or at the very least having a little fun with a world where men are diminutive to women. Modern viewers aren't super keen on the episode, but it could just be that it's not one of the best from a beloved series.
...And Justice For Jack
One of the reasons why Three's Company is hard to watch today is because of Season 5, Episode 2, titled "...And Justice For Jack." In this episode, Jack gets a job as a line cook at a diner, but the woman who hired him continuously harasses and makes him uncomfortable while he's working. When he talks to her about it, she fires him. Jack decides to take his former boss to court with Janet's support, but the judge dismisses the case after wrongly labeling him as a womanizer. Furley, their landlord, tries to defend Jack by saying that he's a closeted homosexual, but Jack stops him and drops the case. This episode highlights the show's outdated and problematic humor, including jokes about heterosexual behavior and homophobic slurs from Furley.
Sorry Wrong Meeting
In this episode of The Jeffersons, which is from season 7, George attends a meeting, thinking it's about dealing with crime in the building. However, he discovers that it's actually an attempt to recruit members for the Ku Klux Klan. It's safe to say that this episode wouldn't make it past the idea stage today.
I Dream of Jeannie was a very popular TV show in the 1960s. It was about an astronaut named Tony who finds a genie named Jeannie on a deserted island. The show mainly focused on their relationship. However, the show's ratings started to go down after a particular episode where Tony and Jeannie get married. Some people thought the episode was controversial, but it was not inappropriate. Actress Barbara Eden, who played Jeannie, said it hurt the show's credibility. The creator of the show, Sidney Sheldon, also felt that it left the show without a clear direction, which eventually led to its cancellation.
In this distressing episode of Punky Brewster, there's a dangerous serial killer on the loose in Chicago who has already killed seven people. Punky and the other girls she lives with are aware of the scary situation, and Punky is particularly worried about Henry, who is like a father figure to her. Her concern intensifies when another victim is claimed. While Henry tries to stay calm, Punky starts showing signs of anxiety, like drawing disturbing pictures in art class and trying to prevent Henry from working at the studio at night. Henry comforts Punky, telling her that it's normal to be afraid, but she shouldn't let fear control her life. He also reassures her that he won't let anything happen to him.
The story is on point with the serial killer fear of the Reagan era, but looking back it's surreal that this was a storyline on television.
"In Concert" is a unique and frankly strange episode of the TV show WKRP in Cincinnati. It was the 19th episode of the second season and was praised for its ambitious concept. The episode revolves around a tragic event that took place in Cincinnati before The Who's performance on December 3, 1979, at Riverfront Coliseum. The incident involved people being crushed at the gates, resulting in deaths and injuries. The episode sheds light on this real-life tragedy and its impact on the community, airing eleven weeks after the actual event occurred. While the episode was made in good faith, it wasn't the place of a sitcom to try and convince the United States to enact bylaws banning festival seating.
Sisters At Heart
"Sisters at Heart" is an episode from the TV show Bewitched's seventh season. The story follows Lisa Wilson, an African-American girl, who visits her friend Tabitha Stephens, a white girl. Tabitha's father, Darrin Stephens, works at an advertising agency and tries to get a million-dollar account from Mr. Brockway, the owner of a toy company. However, Mr. Brockway is racist and mistakenly thinks that Darrin is married to Lisa's mother Dorothy. The episode's story was written by 26 African-American students from a tenth-grade English class at Jefferson High School, after they were invited to the Bewitched set. Many of these students struggled with reading and writing, but the experience motivated them and brought them joy. Sadly, the episode also includes multiple white actors in blackface, which undermines its positive intentions.
In a 1957 episode of Leave it to Beaver, there was a scene that showed part of a toilet, which was quite rare for TV at that time. In those days, many normal aspects of daily life, like bathrooms, pregnant women, married couples sharing a bed, and even ladies' navels, were not shown on prime-time television.
The original debut episode of Leave It to Beaver, titled "Captain Jack," had to be delayed for a week because of issues with the network's Standards and Practices group. The problem was that the episode featured the boys, Wally and Beaver, hiding a baby alligator in their bathroom. The network was hesitant to show a bathroom, especially a toilet, on TV, so they reached a compromise where they only showed the top part of the toilet tank in a quick scene. The rest of the toilet was not visible. This was a big deal at the time, but it may not seem controversial to us now in the modern era.
Lucy is Enceinte
In the episode "Lucy is Enceinte," from I Love Lucy Lucille Ball's character, Lucy, confides in her friend Ethel about some health issues she's been facing, like weight gain and low energy. Ethel suspects that Lucy might be pregnant and takes her to the doctor, who confirms it. Lucy plans to tell her husband, Ricky, about the pregnancy in a special way but faces constant interruptions. Eventually, she secretly requests that Ricky perform a song called "We're Having A Baby" at the club. Ricky is shocked when he discovers who made the request. This episode aired in 1952 when talking about pregnancy on TV was considered very controversial, and while it may not seem like a big deal today it was mindblowing by the standards of the 1950s.
On Thanksgiving Day in 1986, the popular TV show Cheers aired an episode called "Thanksgiving Orphans." The show had already won many Emmy Awards and had a huge audience, making it one of the most beloved sitcoms ever. In the episode, the characters in the bar shared their Thanksgiving plans, revealing that some of them would be spending the holiday alone.
However, as the episode progressed, they all ended up together and formed their own makeshift family. They had a funny and chaotic Thanksgiving dinner, which included a food fight. While audiences enjoyed the episode, some people complained because it didn't align with a stop world hunger campaign. Nevertheless, "Thanksgiving Orphans" remains a memorable and cherished part of Cheers' history. Ken Levine, a former consultant on the sitcom explained:
At the time, Cheers got a lot of flack for that episode because there was a big ‘stop world hunger’ campaign and the show was criticized for wasting food.
Isn't It Romantic?
In this season two episode of Golden Girls, Dorothy's friend Jean, who is a lesbian, visits after her partner's passing. Rose and Jean quickly become close friends due to their shared interests. However, Jean begins to develop romantic feelings for Rose, who is unaware of Jean's sexuality. The crush is played for laughs, which shows that in the 1980s the writers behind this beloved series still couldn't wrap their heads around the fact that homosexuality is a thing.
The Paradise Syndrome
"The Paradise Syndrome" is the third episode of the third season of the original series of Star Trek. In this episode, a device from an alien civilization on a primitive planet erases Captain Kirk's memory, leading him to start a new life with the indigenous people of the planet, who are portrayed as being modeled after Native Americans. While the episode might not have intended to be offensive, it has drawn criticism for using white actors in brown face, which is now seen as culturally insensitive and makes it difficult to watch from a modern perspective.