When Fox launched in the 1980s, it promised a network with a little more grime. While network shows historically stayed pretty tame, even with the addition of sex and violence, they did so in a way that was quite family-friendly in comparison to today.
One of the first TV shows to change this, however, was Married with Children. A far cry from contemporaries like Full House, Married with Children featured a crass, dysfunctional family. On one occasion, however, that family was too crass and dysfunctional for Fox.
‘Married With Children’ covered light family issues
Throwing back to shows from earlier decades like All in the Family, Married with Children wasn’t necessarily a show about a family that the viewers were supposed to like. In the 1980s, sitcoms began to moralize with a series of ‘very special’ episodes that often struggled to combine comedy with serious issues plaguing society at the time.
Married with Children was not that show, however. While the sitcom occasionally showed comedic portrayals of serious issues, the show’s central thesis surrounded a family who was always fighting, bickering, and doing the wrong thing.
Mom and dad Peg and Al Bundy were both in love with each other and repulsed at the same time. They spoke openly about sex, threatened people violently, and provided a getaway to the classic mom and dad.
Like The Simpsons, however, people were not ready for the Fox brand of comedy. When Married with Children proved that audiences were prepared for a different type of comedy, not everyone was on board.
The 1980s were the top of moral panic when it came to popular culture as a whole. Not since the 1950s were people as adamantly opposed to the things they saw on television.
The controversy may have backfired on these dissenters, however, as the show only got more popular. In the case of one episode, however, the outrage worked.
The Rakolta boycott
When a mother named Terry Rakolta sat down and watched the show with her children in the late 1980s, she could not believe what she saw. Despite its 8:30 air-time, Married with Children featured enough crass language and sexual innuendo to push even the late-night viewer over the edge.
She started a vocal revolution and staged a boycott that eventually picked up steam. In a 1989 New York Times article about Rakolta, she spoke about why it bothered her so much. Rakolta, whose husband owns a construction company, said she had never taken up a social or political cause and had limited her affiliations to country clubs and the boards of several Detroit cultural institutions.
”I care that there are advertisers out there paying the freight for this,” she said. ”They’re taking my dollars and putting them into soft-core pornography.”
The movement may have backfired, however, as the show became more popular than ever. However, the moral outrage cost the show one episode, and that episode took 13 years to finally reach the air.
What was the banned episode about?
One 1989 episode did end getting the ax. In “I’ll See You in Court,” Al and Peg go to a low-budget hotel room for a romantic getaway. After putting in an adult video that featured their friends, Marcy and Steve, they learned that the hotel had been filming couples against their will for years. The episode culminated with the couple having intercourse in a courtroom.
The lewd descriptions of pornography caused Fox to pull the controversial episode amid the potential boycott. However, 13 years after it was banned, the episode was included in a season three DVD set.
Even then, most lewd comments were edited out of the episode. The episode would likely get away with what it did today, but at the time, network television was viewed as family entertainment.
Over 30 years after its premiere, however, the show still resonates with fans across the world and helped pave the way for a different, more adult type of sitcom.