Sunday, July 13, 2014

Cowardice, Network Television and the Affair of the Three Missing Words

Those of you youngsters who are reading this may never have heard of network television, so I will endeavor to explain it to you. Once upon a time, the new technology of broadcast television was invented, so the government decided to award a franchise to their friends so they could make a lot of money. Three different networks were created, the red network, the blue network and the eye network (NBC, ABC and CBS respectively). Ok, this is not exactly what happened, but it is close enough for our discussion.

The first thing that would happen if you became a television executive, apparently, is that, symbolically at least, your backbone was removed. Network executives became known the world over for lacking a spine, in other words, they regressed to invertebrates. Hundreds and then thousands of cowardly decisions were made to keep television lily-white and inoffensive.

But there was one moment that symbolized for me the lack of backbone, one decision that was so cowardly that it seemed to encapsulate all the other cowardly moments and coalesce them into one brilliant and insane cowardly moment.

Once upon a time, when movies were first shown on broadcast television, this was considered to be an Event. But since just anyone could switch on the TV and watch, the networks felt that they had to protect the morality of Americans, that this was their responsibility. And so, the infamous warning “edited for television” came into existence, announcing to the world that the creative work about to be shown had been castrated for your safety. Artistic Integrity is not a term much used by television executives.

In the premiere that was the penultimate nadir of integrity that I refer to, in editing for television all that changed was to remove three words out of a full-length movie. Three little words, how bad could that be? I mean what could you lose with three words, for goodness sake?!

Well, in this case, it changed the meaning of the film, and its impact, significantly. The movie was Cabaret (1972) and the scene was as follows:

And the three words that were removed? It was Brian saying “So do I” ... in other words, confessing to a homosexual relationship with Lothar. This was considered so shocking that it was removed. But removing it changes everything.

I have a copy of this film online but I am brilliantly unable to find this scene no matter how I look. Of course, one way to look, to start at the beginning and go to the end, would not be possible.

I am still looking for the date of this Event and the network.  The Internet is great for research up to a point but at the end of the day it is not a reference library, exactly, but something more amorphous.  And so finding this information will take a little digging.   

Cabaret (1972) on IMDB

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