The Associates: "The Censors"

In the 1979 to 1980 TV season, Taxi executive producers James L. Brooks, Stan Daniels, and Ed Weinberger launched a new lawyer-themed comedy on ABC, The Associates. One of the 10 episodes aired before the show was canceled was “The Censors,” a rather bold half-hour that tried to show how a skit can be destroyed when a few creative decisions are overruled in the name of propriety.

A copy of a nice, clean videotape of this episode was uploaded to Vimeo this week, and Ken Levine, a writer/director/producer whose credits include Frasier, Cheers, and M*A*S*H pointed to it from his blog, …by Ken Levine. In it, a junior associate (Martin Short) travels from New York to Hollywood to mediate a dispute between a showrunner (Stuart Margolin) and a network censor (Lee Wallace) over the content of a mildly raunchy sitcom segment. The show touches on subjects relevant to late-1970s TV including nudity, racism, gay stereotypes, depictions of adultery, and suggestive physical comedy. John Ritter guest-stars.

The program is very much of its time — it aired before home video and cable television made raunchy content ubiquitously available in the living room — but it’s a great time capsule and a showcase for out-of-the-box inside-baseball screenwriting (by Weinberger and Daniels). Does it still have relevance today? It’s worth a look when you have 23 minutes free.