Things That Scared Television Executives, From Warren Littlefield’s ‘Top of the Rock’

I’ve been reading former NBC programming chief Warren Littlefield’s Top of the Rock, which is an extremely entertaining oral history of the creation of Must See TV, from Cheers to Will & Grace. There’s a lot to digest in it, from Noah Wyle’s first threesome to the question of why the networks don’t really launch shows in the summer any more. But I have to admit, I’m finding it most amusing as a chronicle of things that television network executives and standards and practices divisions are afraid of. Here’s the complete list:

1. Anyone Who Might Possibly Get Angry About Something: “NBC’s head of programming at the time was a man named Paul Klein. He had a background in audience research and had come up with the strategy of LOP, which stood for Least Objectionable Programming (I’m not kidding).”

2. The Lord’s Name taken in vain, storylines about clergy sexual abuse (the negotiations leading up to Seinfeld): “Based on the day-to-day negotiating that we were required to do with broadcast standards— you can’t use the Lord’s name in vain, you can’t say ‘penis,’ priests don’t do that to kids on our network, et cetera.”

3. Married couples having sex on kitchen tables (Mad About You): “Paul and Jamie had sex on the kitchen table or something. You don’t do that at 8:00.”

4. Maxi Pads (Friends): “Don objected to a Maxi Pad joke. Ross couldn’t throw out his ex-wife’s Maxi Pads. He was using them as arch supports. Okay, Don was uncomfortable with Maxi Pads.”

5. Penises (Friends): “The rules kept changing. For the first three years we could say ‘penis.’ Then we couldn’t say ‘penis.’ Then we could say “penis” again.”

6. Contraception (Friends): “They’re masturbating on Seinfeld, and we can’t show a condom wrapper.”

7. Medical terminology (ER): “Don Ohlmeyer had strenuous objections to the style and content of the show. He thought there was too much blood and far too much technical dialogue.”

Bonus Thing Television Critics Association Press Tour Participants Were Apparently Afraid Of: the female orgasm. “I got a question about the appropriateness of the opening scene of Sisters, where they sit in a steam bath and discuss orgasms. ‘Warren, is this acceptable for network television?’ I thought about that for a second and said, ‘Corporately, we believe in orgasms.'”