The process behind cutting offensive TV episodes, explained

By Olivia Montes

Lifestyle Editor

    With the police-related attack of Jacob Blake, as well as the deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and countless others, in mind, as well as an entire demographic of Black Americans stating “enough is enough”, audiences are now demanding the same from the shows they watch. 

Since July, viewers have demanded popular streaming services to remove content featuring unwarranted and offensive use of blackface, brownface, and similar depictions from appearing or re-appearing within their respective productions. 

With popular series including “30 Rock”, “Community”, “The Office”, and “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia” having either removed problematic scenes or entire episodes featuring this or similar content from viewership, audiences can no longer continue watching—and re-watching—damaging and harmful portrayals of underrepresented individuals and groups

    “[The Black Lives Matter] protests have inspired a series of long-overdue conversations about the role of racism in a number of other institutions, includingthe media, Confederate monuments, and the television industry—the last of which has largely responded by removing many TV episodes featuring blackface from streaming platforms,” Slate’s Matthew Dessem said in June 2020. 

    However, while these and similar attempts have been made to correct these missteps, those cut episodes and scenes are still available to stream or view on a handful of different platforms, thus sending a mixed message to audiences.

    “As viewers are more aggressively interrogating issues of race and representation and holding people in the industry accountable for bad behavior, vast streaming archives have made thousands of episodes from throughout TV history — offensive and otherwise — accessible with just a few clicks,” The New York Times’ Sean Malin said.

    While those involved with these portrayals have publicly apologized for the use of these harmful practices, and made the effort to correct their mistakes with the removal from their respective series, they are unknowingly continuing to contribute to the problem. 

By choosing to completely eradicate outdated depictions of often-marginalized individuals, they are also reinforcing ideas of projecting the same cycle of the same stories from channel to channel and service to service. 

“[But] the approach networks are taking in some cases—removing these episodes from distribution entirely—has as much to do with whitewashing the histories of these artists and networks as it does confronting or dismantling white supremacy,” Dessem said. 

    While removing what is considered offensive from resurfacing for future viewings has been encouraged by audiences, it also comes with a price in mind—particularly in terms of both finance and reputation towards those sponsoring, or ultimately deleting, marginalizing episodes and scenes from resurfacing to discredit their lack of diversity or inclusion within their line of content.

“While [this practice] was welcomed by some, others who take a more absolutist view of censorship are of the opinion that pulling such works of cinema and TV does more for…streaming services than it does to actually help form constructive debates about popular media,” Brad Nash of GQ said in June 2020. 

“In predigital days, taking an episode out of circulation meant cutting it from the syndicated rerun schedule and, behind the scenes, removing the physical tape masters and ‘servicing files’ from their designated inventories and labeling them ‘out of service,” Malin said. “Nowadays…an episode — or potentially an entire series — can be ordered down, fully removed from streaming and access-restricted in less than 24 hours.” 

    With this re-evaluation now being brought into the mainstream, television series, both past and current, still have steps that need to be taken to ensure audiences that concerns towards offensive characters, portrayals, and plot points of underrepresented individuals are not only recognized,but kept in mind throughout the process of bringing the script to the small screen.

Featured Photo caption: With popular streaming services now removing offensive episodes and scenes from view, audiences are now re-evaluating mainstream television and the comedy that goes with it. Photo by rawpixel.

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