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Bad IdeasTV

A Page From TV Animation’s Past

Broadcast Notes
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Understanding the extent to which artists have lost control of the animation process in the past is vital to ensuring a robust and healthy future for the art form. With that in mind, here’s a page of Broadcast Standards notes from a 1978 episode of the Filmation series Fabulous Funnies. The notes are comical and absurd, but it’s utterly horrifying to think that any artist could endure working under such conditions. Would TV artists today be willing to put up with such maddening bull crap or is the community more enlightened?

(The names in the cc are telling: Margaret Loesch and Jean MacCurdy, who would soon thereafter gain great power as kidvid execs, and NBC up-and-comer Brandon Tartikoff.)

  • I have a lot of animosity towards Margaret Loesch, for a great many reasons (her hand in the ruining of Super Sentai into POWER RANGERS is just one of them).

    I won’t even go into the rest of the ones listed. Loesch and the rest are glorified soccer moms, who watered down kids’ TV to make it “acceptable” for lame families who can’t handle wild & untamed entertainment.

  • squirrel

    Would TV artists today be willing to put up with such maddening bull crap or is the community more enlightened?

    Guess what? It has not changed at all. I worked for studios where we had to WAIT for hours on end to review meeting to end, and THEN act on the insanely ridiculous revisions they called for. When the animation was already done. By tomorrow.

  • Oh sure, like the spear is THAT dangerous.

  • Tim

    working on shows in Australia under the ‘C’ rating you would have to do all the above fixups.

    Censorship for childrens shows is really tough. Both the studios and the broadcasters will almost always play it safe.

    So yeah those fixup notes aren’t rare. It’s just horrible to get them after they have gone right through into the edit and you have to redo a sequence.

  • Definitely relevant. This reminds me of an article by Josh Selig (Little Airplane Prods.), from almost a year ago. Which, I might add, he later followed up with an item on “Betty the Creddy Card.”

  • cm

    I’ve dealt with similar ‘notes’

  • optimist

    A couple of things: not all the BS&P guidelines were always followed. A lot of this at this time was really just the same old game of bureaucracy-someone filling a job at the network and HAVING to generate notes since, well, that was their job.
    A show could proceed as they might, ignore a lot of the “suggestions” and risk any consequences. A lot of shows did do just that with little or no repercussions.

    Also, it’s good to keep in mind that the moronic quality of some notes reflects to a large degree a network covering their ass-meaning avoiding possible lawsuits, whether because a children’s show shows “imitatable” dangers or some other fantasy element some kid or parent, somewhere, might take offense to and win a lawsuit against a big old corporation if harm of ay sort was proven. A well known version of that is why paper coffee cups have to warn buyers “Careful! Hot beverage inside!”
    As for whether “artists” would put up with this today? It seems moot now as there’s always the internet and in the years since Beavis & Butthead and South Park BS&P is virtually meaningless.

  • Mark Richardson

    NBC misspelled storyboard supervisor Bob Kline’s name, on top of everything else.

  • Ron

    Maybe I’m just lucky, but in my 20+ years in the business, I’ve seen a radical reduction in those sort of notes. Partially I think it’s the move away from Saturday morning to cable, but on my current series (cable) entire episodes go through the pipeline without a single S&P note.

    Of course, when they do have a note, the rarity encourages us to follow without grumbling. It’s a win-win.

  • Outrageously hilarious, & yet unbelievably sad too.

  • Matt Sullivan

    Because people cannot think for themselves, apparently.

  • Alberto

    Gosh, i’ve heard stories of network executives and pointless market researchers invading and censoring the work, but i’m hoping it’s still not like this!

  • OK guys, change that “Geez” back to “HOLY F*****G SH**” like we had it before.

    On the other hand it’s only four changes in a 27+ page script. Coulda been worse!

    But it reminds me of a rant on John K’s blog about a period when TV cartoons always had to show people working as a team and no one could have motivations outside of the team. No conflict allowed.

  • Kustom Kool

    All I know is certain networks frown on kids riding bikes or skateboards without helmets. Even blue anthropomorphic kids. And “Jeez” or “Geez” seems to be a epithet to this day in many quarters. I guess I’ll give them that one. I recall “Gee” being red-flagged in submission guidelines for a nominally secular organization.

  • charles

    In my years of production, these notes are nothing new. And the sad point is, as they are the client and as long as they pay the bills you do what they say.

  • I’ve seen notes like this in person. I’m afraid this isn’t just a thing of the past.

  • Pez

    The problem is that we artists are viewed as the problem.

  • Donald Benson

    I remember how Speed Racer and other early imports would try to water down violence purely through dubbing. I don’t know if they were responding to memos or just anticipating the American market.

    Tanks, fighter planes and cars would be identified as “remote control robot vehicles” or some such, so blowing them up (or opening the hatch and firing a handgun at where the operators would be sitting) was OK. Sometimes they’d go as far as identifying henchmen as robots.

    A thug fired several shots into an old scientist and smirked “Those sleeping drug darts will hold him.”

    In the scene after a Hindenburg-scale disaster they’d squeeze in a line like “Luckily nobody was hurt.”

    My favorite was on Kimba: A vigilante witch doctor was shot and looking pretty bad. In what looked like a dying-words scene, we instead heard Kimba’s human buddy telling the witch doctor he’d be all right, but he’d have to go to jail. Then, under an upbeat narration, the episode closed on a shot of Kimba and friends around what was obviously a grave mound with the witch doctor’s mask on it.

  • christian

    I’m a Director in tv animation and have to deal with this kind of notes from producers every day. If that’s all the notes they had in 1978, they had it easy.

  • I had a note one time which read ‘we feel that swinging the axe to chop down the tree seems dangerous… can we use a hammer?’

    Why the f*ck are these people in cartoons if they hate them so much?

  • Grayson

    So we find out that the notes Filmation got are as pathetic as its animation(which could likely be the worst ever done, even in TV.) How do shows like South Park and Family Guy get away with making abominable jokes while us poor cartoonists who want to make product get struck by the producers?

  • Brian O.

    Neutered cartoons like this contributed to a generation of kids who today can’t change a tire or replace a shower head.

  • Four notes on a 30 page script? Big deal.

    If you plan on making money by marketing to infants and toddlers, you should be particularly cautious about what you make.

    “Optimist’s” above statement is entirely accurate. Producers will often ignore the S&P notes, which of course makes them liable to any lawsuit. By pointing out things for which parents could sue, the lawyers are protecting the artists against possible legal trouble.

    And you think this is bad, we once got 4 single spaced pages of notes (from a well known executive) for a 6:00 film.

  • It’s unfortunate that nobody can give the executives notes on their notes.

    “Note 1: Suggestion infers a level of gutlessness that is best reserved for paranoid shut-ins and timid great-grandmothers. Implying that somebody falling over as the result of tied-together shoelaces somehow represents the apex of “dangerous” has clearly never watched a kid on a skateboard. Please revise note to something less gutless or outright disregard.”

  • I’m not sure sure what surprises me more: that you could still sell the Katzenjammer Kids to a network in 1978, or that someone even dared to try to produce them in that atmosphere.

  • Giovanni Jones

    Two points:
    1. It is like that today and you hopefully choose the right times to courteously contest a comment. (Sometimes it’s all one can do just to refrain from displaying a Tex Avery character-type reaction.)

    2. This is one of the reasons (others include budget and time restraints) that I tend to be forgiving of many TV cartoons, especially the HB and Filmation series of the 70s, since there was so much chipping away at them. They simply can’t be held to the same standards as any theatrical animation or independent films.

    Thanks for sharing. There’s an odd comfort in knowing you are not alone.

  • Mitch Kennedy

    These aren’t at all any different than revision notes from today. In fact, I’ve seen far more ridiculous ones.

  • Dave K

    These kind of notes still go on to some extent, but they’ve definitely loosened a bit. (Mid-nineties were still pretty bad, but by the end of the decade they mellowed.) It depends on the target audience. Preschool is going to get a LOT of notes (they have an additional consultant giving notes besides the normal bs&p person), but a show targeting 8-11 yr olds is going to have some leeway. Depends on the studio too.

  • some guy

    MY guess is that it depends on the network and nature of the show. Of course family guy and south park are gonna get away with murder because they generate a ridiculous amount of money for networks. but neither show started out with a licence to kill. Family guy was canceled at one point. They also aren’t in considered to be products that are included in the wasteland of “childrens” cartoons.

    there are still notes like this floating around today; even worse so. I can actually see the logic behind these notes even if they are party-spoilers. But compared to some notes I’ve seen personally these are easy. Try having to deal with execs making “Creative” decisions that have nothing to do with whether they’re appropriate or not for kids… they just “don’t like the way something looks” or would prefer that they change the color of an object. Or hey, let’s change this last half of the cartoon to fit in with my lame gag that had nothing to do with what the cartoon was originally about…. then give 10 more notes AFTER the change complaining about how the cartoon doesn’t make sense anymore.

    try 2 pages of notes on an 11 minute cartoon basically asking to re board 80% of the episode because the exec couldn’t understand the concept of time travel.

    but that was a particularly bad moment, it’s not like that everywhere. It really depends on who you get stuck with in charge.

  • “As discussed, Slobbo’s fall should be accidental, not the result of blows from Gorka.”


  • Chris Sobieniak

    I think Donald Benson might also be thinking of the one late 70’s anime classic “Battle of the Planets” (or what was left of it). It’s sad what they had to do to get Gatchaman on American Television at all in those days. While I was fine what their editing of the military casualties and other public atrocities committed by an alien force, I thought editing out the fights between the team and the enemy using their ninja skills outta been left in rather than finding a way for them to escape the scene or explaining what they did in another.

  • I’m waiting for that network executive guy to come in and defend “his people”.

    “We’re the ones giving you work! Youhave nothing to say about our demands! BLAH BLAH BLAH!”

  • I can beat those! On Alvin & the Chipmunks, NBC told us that the Chips had to wear seatbelts whenever they rode in a motorized vehicle. They made us put seat belts on them on motorcycles once!

    On Spumco’s Ranger Smith special, we were informed that it was the policy of Standards and Practices to have a ratio of not less than 30% jockey shorts to 70% boxers. We were doing a gag with Yogi and Boo Boo’s boxers and underpants (respectively). John K ended up adding two more pairs of y fronts and six more boxers to the scene in order to remain within guidelines.

  • These notes are amazingly ridiculous, although I don’t know if things have changed that much regarding standards & practices. I haven’t worked in TV on a regular basis but know that “Geez” for instance, has been cut from shows before because it’s too close to “Jesus” according to S&P. Perhaps the only way to avoid these small and large limitations is to produce your own show independently?

  • The irony is that Loesch and MacCurdy were later responsible for Bruce Timm’s Batman: The Animated Series, which was rather groundbreaking for a saturday morning superhero cartoon.

  • Kevin Martinez

    CB linked to a Mark Evanier essay many moons about BS&P Part of the problem was that producers would capitulate to every censor note without even trying to defend against the more arcane and ridiculous mandates.

    I’d imagine many producers nowadays are more willing/able to defend their shows against arbitrary/whimsical censor demands (i.e. Trey Parker and Matt Stone in their own twisted way actually reasoned with CC in order to make “It Hits the Fan”. I imagine Seth MacFarlane and the various Simpsons people do similar stuff on a regular basis).

  • Several commenters above mentioned this was to avoid lawsuits.

    Can anyone cite actual lawsuits above the frivolous level stemming from cartoon content on a network?

  • Mighty Mouse cocaine snorting. Not a lawsuit, per se -but exactly the type of action these are meant to avoid.

    Recently, “Jackass” had several lawsuits thrown against it.

    Most of these case don’t become public (unless its a kid dressing like Superman and jumping off the garage). The networks settle them quickly and quietly.

  • Then you have the “Beavis and Butt-head” and the FIRE incident.

  • David Burroughs

    Margaret Loesch is as responsible for BTAS as Samuel Briskin was for the art direction of “Bambi”…

  • Wet Slappy

    These notes look like they’re fresh off the presses. Could have been handed these yesterday. These kids today are knocking each other up and snorting coke at the age of 10, but at least their cartoons are clean.

  • FP

    —How do shows like South Park and Family Guy get away with making abominable jokes while us poor cartoonists who want to make product get struck by the producers?—

    What I wanna know is: Why can Cartman say “suck my balls” and “god damn it” five hundred times per SOUTH PARK episode, but an HOUR LATER, after 11 o’clock, on the same network, John Stewart is bleeped when saying the same things?

  • Professor Widebottom

    Reading this document, I was carried along with requisite outrage, which was naive of me. But I know better, because television has always been a blood-sucking dust bowl for creatives and a cash bonanza for fast-talking hucksters with pencil mustaches. Television is one of the most compromised of all mediums and you should at least know that when going in. Think twice before subjecting yourself to such a masochistic fate. Stop whining. Go outside and get some sunlight. Chop some logs. Work off the disappointment. Kiss a girl. Grow up… should I go on?

    Also, in the late 70s, animation was never more left for dead. ‘Called too expensive and farmed out in Taiwan. Maybe there were some visionaries bucking the system -please tell me who- but when you look at what was being produced then, it was like the industry was so craven, so beaten down that it practically begged to be put out of its misery.

    At least the notes are “comical and absurd”. That’s entertainment value! See, that’s the other side of the coin. Television sometimes succeeds in spite of itself.

  • Greg Colton

    A few years back when I was working on Mucha Lucha, we had notes telling us not to draw sharp objects. For instance, there was a character with a lightbulb for a head…and in one shot it exploded….we couldn’t draw the glass shards sharp – they had to be round. Same w/ a scene w/ broken plates. All the plate pieces had to be rounded. I guess they were afraid kids would cut their hands on the TV images? Fuck if I could ever make sense of that note….

  • joecab

    I think they spent more time writing this memo than Filmation did animating the entire episode.

  • Mike

    This is the note that jumped out at me;

    “Please avoid undue suspense or jeopardy…”.

    Forget about imitatable violence, you can’t even tell a story.

  • Oh my…they seem familiar to me…
    In TV things haven’t changed THAT much.

  • Casper the friendly executive

    My all time favourite, from when I was scripting an episode of a show that was based around a comedy retelling of Macbeth..

    ‘From the line ‘Tis a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury..’ please delete the word ‘idiot’ as this may offend people of lower intelligence.’

    Yep, not only rewriting Shakespeare but trying to protect all the children in the audience who are going to say “Hey, I’m an idot and I’m really offended by that!”

  • Mario500

    The anger behind the expletives in some of the posted commentary on a broadcast standards acceptability report from many years ago makes me concerned about civility here. If you can’t even type something nice, it’s best not to type anything at all for the sake of civility.

    It was interesting to see an expletive used by someone who worked on “Mucha Lucha” in response to an old report about broadcast standards, in which language (“geez”) is of concern.

  • Chris Sobieniak

    BS&P and other notes given from those above you really stink sometimes. It gets to a point you don’t even wanna take it anymore, let alone continue doing what you loved best because your idea of writing or plotting may offend/disgrace even the lowest common denominator.

  • Sean

    Yeah, these BS&P notes are not much different than the notes we had to deal with on a show I worked on for Playhouse Disney for a few years. Ditto on the seatbelts… we had to have seatbelts on everything… motorcycles, scooters, boats (along with life jackets). And certainly no behaviors that could be imitated. Made sense to me tho, since the show was for little kids, who might mimic any behaviors they see and get themselves or somebody else hurt (and land a lawsuit on the production studio).

  • Feh.

    Looking at this today, I can only laugh at the simple minded people who retroactively suggested that stupid, and utterly worthless notes like these actually CONTRIBUTED to the creativity of shows like Ren and Stimpy instead of merely capping it’s potential.

    Anyone who thinks that silly notes like these actually promoted creative strategy and a superior creative project, are likely the same kind of simple minded fools who believe that an army is more effective when it’s limited to 100 people with sticks and rocks, than those with thousands with tanks and infantry.

    Conditions like these are deplorable and nothing but wholly deconstructive to the creative process. Always has been, always will be.

  • Clint H.

    Unbelievable! Just…unbelievable!