America's First Network TV Censor
The Work of NBC's Stockton Helffrich
Publication Year: 2010
Published by: Southern Illinois University Press
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I am deeply grateful to my many mentors on this book project. Without their guidance and support, it would have been impossible to complete. My thanks to Kristine Priddy, Kathy Kageff, and Karl Kageff at Southern Illinois University Press and the several thoughtful readers who looked over earlier drafts of this book. Many thanks also to my sharp-eyed copy editor, Mary Lou Kowaleski; her thoughtful ...
Introduction: Context and Beginnings of TV Censorship
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The 1950s were an anxious time for American television. While the fifties were undoubtedly an era of inventiveness and imagination, early television was also beset by, among other things, technical limitations, advertiser pressure, audience complaints, special-interest-group carping, government scrutiny, and a large dose of self-imposed censorship. Every nascent network—ABC, CBS, DuMont, and NBC—had ...
1. Stockton Who?
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The period known as “the fifties” (roughly 1947 to about the assassination of John F. Kennedy in 1963) was an anxious time in America. It was a time of promise and peril as the Cold War raged, and nuclear annihilation was a distinct possibility—indeed, Newsweek reported, “By 1952, 1953, or 1954, the Kremlin may be ready for a major war.”1 There were whispers of clandestine Soviet-directed fifth columns—the enemy ...
2. The Early Years
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Stockton Heffrich began his professional career at NBC six months after earning his baccalaureate degree in English from Penn State University; he was twenty-two years old.1 Heffrich would remain at the network for twenty-seven years working as: a script reader, script division, 1934–35; assistant manager and then manager, script division, literary-rights division, 1935–42; manager, radio/television Continuity ...
3. The NBC-TV Program Policies Manual
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NBC began its radio broadcasting service in 1926, and by 1934, a codified set of programming polices were in place but never officially made public. Trade magazine Sponsor notes, “NBC made such a secret . . . of its Continuity Acceptance [CA] Division that when CBS published its own program standards in 1935 its executives got the credit for being such advanced thinkers.” Notions of what constituted “ac- ...
4. Sin, Sex, and TV Censorship
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Television’s arrival was part of a mutable cultural landscape after World War II, and many of the nation’s anxieties about sex and deviance—especially what was considered “sexually normal”—were played out on the home screen. Many older Americans living in smaller cities and towns, as well as conservative rural Protestants and urban Catholics, hearkened to past notions of gender, class, and religion to ...
5. Gagging the Gags
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In the 1950s, television was one of America’s favorite objects of ridicule. An orthodontist in California claimed television was the source of crooked teeth in youngsters, caused by hand cradling the jaw while watching—he called it “Television Malocclusion.”1 The American Osteopathic Association cautioned, “TV can make children more susceptible to diseases . . . [and contribute to] ‘bad body mechanics.’”2 ...
6. TV Violence
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On the heels of World War II, a national survey asked, “Do you know what television is?” and “Have you ever seen a television set in operation?” Some respondents claimed to have had “heard talk” of television, but in 1945, most Americans had never seen a TV picture.1 Four years later, about 2 percent, or approximately twelve million, American homes had television sets. By 1954, this number increased ...
7. Postwar Racial Discourse
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At the dawn of the U.S. civil-rights era, black stereotypes—the shiftless coon, termagant Mammy, servile Uncle Tom—remained the order of the day in popular American mass entertainment. These stereotypes were toned down considerably after the Second World War, but, with the exception of a few celebrated black entertainers and sports figures, such was still the case on radio and in motion ,,,
8. Of Truth and Toilet Paper
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From its postwar beginnings, major ad agencies and national sponsors were cautiously interested in television’s commercial potential. Most saw immediate and striking results when they “test purchased” ad time in the local New York, Chicago, and Los Angles markets. But since there were few TV broadcast outlets at the time, sponsors of the era budgeted most of their ad dollars for other media. ...
Conclusion: A Prescient Vision
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It is undeniable that from about the time he began work at NBC in 1933 and throughout the Great Depression, Helffrich grew into an unapologetic progressive activist. But Helffrich’s politics at that time were more Grapes of Wrath than Communist Manifesto, more “Steinbeckian than Marxian,” more fellow traveler than hard-liner. Although a bona-fide ...
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Page Count: 288
Publication Year: 2010