How Sponsors Caused Censorship on Television in 1959

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As creator of The Twilight Zone, Rod Sterling is a man who lived the television business in the mid-to-late 1900's. His classic show ran from 1959 until 1964, and re-runs of the series sprinkled contemporary television for years after that.

It stands to reason, then, that he understands a thing or two about the way censorship affected television in those days.

In this video, you can listen to Sterling talk about the ways that censorship tended to emasculate some of the content in his writing. 

He cites one particular example as a show he helped to write which talked about racial issues in the southern USA, which was twisted until it just told a story about an out-of-place foreigner in New England. When a giant national brand like Coca-Cola was being marketed on the set of the show, they couldn't very well offend their southern viewers, could they?

He explained how things like that happened so often that, in many cases, writers would just stop addressing certain topics because they knew they would cause trouble on an agency or sponsorial level.

But that doesn't mean that the sponsors are the only ones to blame.

"It's a combination of culprits in this case. It's partly network, it's principally agency and sponsor, in many ways I think it's the audience themselves."

The agencies and sponsors are typically the ones who make that final decision to censor content, but their reasons don't come out of thin air. After all, why would an agency or sponsor mind a piece of content if the audience to whom they were marketing didn't punish them for showing that content?

Listen to Sterling's whole interview on the subject below:

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