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The Controversial Episode That Took Married With Children off the Air

Married with Children was a wildly popular sitcom that equally known for its low brow and crass humor. It was for pushing the boundaries of what was acceptable to show on TV. This Fox show about the middle class Bundy family showed perhaps a slice of life that was less cookie cutter and proper than most other sitcoms. While most shows were able to create comedy by often showing the flaws of their characters. And using those to propel the story, Married With Children was different. It basked in the characters being quite flawed, in some over the top, yet accessible ways. They were a family that might actually feel like the neighbors, your relatives, or even your own family.

And so, despite being more crass and low brow than other family-oriented sitcoms, Married with Children struck a chord with people all over. At the same time, there were, as usual, many people who failed to see the appeal of its rude and in your face style of humor. In this video, we’re talking about the protests put up against some of the more wild and crazy elements of the show. And about the fact that most of these public protests mostly served to make the show more popular. One did manage to get an episode put on the shelf – at least for a while. So join Facts Verse, as we present: The Controversial Episode That Took Married with Children Off the Air!

Terry Rakolta’s Revolt

Terry Rakolta was a mother who, on January 15th, 1989, decided to watch an episode of Married with Children with her kids. The episode on that evening called “Her Cups Runneth Over” and it was in the third season of the show. So that means while the tone and nature of the show had pretty firmly established by then, Rakolta still unaware of it.

She immediately shocked and offended by the episode. And after sending her kids out of the room five minutes in, she watched the rest on her own. She then compiled a laundry list of things she felt were offensive about the episode. These included things like an old man who wears a garter and stockings, a character (Steve) getting an (implied) erection while watching an adult movie. And when a character reveals her bare breasts to Al Bundy (though the nudity implied, not real.) She also took offense at a gay man with a tiara on, as well as a male stripper dancing in a G-string.

Rakolta sprang into action the next day, starting with a letter writing campaign to the show’s sponsors. She wrote directly to the CEO of 20 advertisers, not only threatening to boycott their businesses. But also accusing them of “pandering to and supporting…soft pornography.” She made sure to keep watching the show for several more weeks, continuing to compile a list of what she found offensive. So join Facts Verse, as we present: The Controversial Episode That Took Married with Children Off the Air!

The Response

Rakolta also tried in vain to reach the FOX complaint department. The reason she had trouble reaching them was because it didn’t yet exist. FOX was such a new network, it didn’t yet have the extensive infrastructure that other major networks had. Instead, she ended up speaking directly to Marcy Vosburgh, who wrote the episode. Marcy tried to assure Rakolta that they were intentionally pushing the envelope and trying something new. And that even her own mother didn’t like the show. But she said that they operating on the premise that it’s not required viewing. So anyone, like Rakolta or Vosburgh’s mom, who found it offensive had the right to change the channel and watch something else.

This logic didn’t resonate with Rakolta. She upped her letter writing campaign to the sponsors of the show, threatening a boycott on their products. On the surface, it seems quite unlikely that one person boycotting a product would have any influence on that company. Or on Fox’s opinion about their product. And yet, sponsors caved almost immediately to the whims of this one viewer. It somehow didn’t matter to them that millions of people adored the show. They, for some reason, felt the need to bend to Rakolta’s demands. So, many of the advertisers for the show decided to withdraw from their campaigns.

This included major corporations like Coca-Cola, Mitsubishi Motors, Johnson & Johnson, and McDonalds. These companies also decided to make changes in their screening processes for potential advertising buys, so that future shows wouldn’t bring them negative publicity. And they preemptively pulled their ad buys from future episodes of Married with Children as well. McDonalds put out a statement saying they had a family friendly image that the show didn’t fit with. Proctor and Gamble even name checked Rakolta, putting out a statement that said they shared “Ms. Rakolta’s interests in quality television programming.” And the president of Coca-Cola even sent Rakolta a personal apology for being a part of funding an unsuitable episode of the show.

Rakolta, in turn, gained some fame and notoriety from the incident, appearing on shows like Nightline. And featured on the front page of the New York Times. So join Facts Verse, as we present: The Controversial Episode That Took Married with Children Off the Air!

The Results

Considering Married with Children ran for 11 seasons, it seems obvious that Rakolta’s campaign against the show was ultimately not very successful. But at the same time, it did manage to make some waves in the immediate future. Fox felt the pressure from their advertisers, so they decided to move the show’s time slot to 30 minutes later than it had been airing. So it went from 8:30 to 9pm, when theoretically it would seen mostly by adults. They also agreed to tone the raunch level down in upcoming seasons. There was less implied nudity as well as general sexual content in the immediate term.

At the same time, Fox tried to have it both ways, by putting out statements supporting the show. However, they apparently didn’t pass on fan mail to the show, and they gave in to the demands that it be less raunchy. So the show’s creatives felt stifled by not being able to continue pitching and writing episodes that were in line with what had made the show a hit in the first place. The entire 4th season considered, especially by the creatives involved. And as being the most toned down season of the 11.

Co-creator Michael Moye talked about how he pitched an episode for that season where Al gets a circumcision. It rejected by the network. However, it ended up being used later on in the 8th season. By that point the controversy had died down, and people were more used to seeing the sexy and raunchy humor of the show.

And at the same time, Jaime Kellner, then-president of the network, claimed that toning things down in season 4 was lessa bout the Rakolta boycott and the advertisers. And more about Fox feeling that the writers had been pushing things a little too far in season 3. He even stated that Rakolta had no right to impose her views on what people should be able to watch on television.

The Rakolta boycott might have resulted in some short term changes in advertising and content, but ultimately it backfired. After a year, all of the advertisers had returned, because the the publicity from the incident had made the show even more popular. Fox now getting bombarded by new advertisers as well, looking to cash in on the show’s popularity. The ratings were higher than ever at that point, thanks to the Rakolta revolt. So join Facts Verse, as we present: The Controversial Episode That Took Married with Children Off the Air!

I’ll See You In Court

However, the most direct and notable effect of the Rakolta campaign was that Fox decided to shelve an upcoming episode, called “I’ll See You In Court.” In the episode, Al and Peg Bundy book a hotel room for the two of them to enjoy a romantic excursion. Their hotel choice is a fairly cheap and scuzzy one. And which of course leads to the main storyline of the episode. The room has an adult video and a VCR, so they decided to play the tape.

To their shock and horror, they realize the couple in the video is actually their friends, Steve and Marcy. Eventually they deduce that the hotel has been filming couples without their consent when they are alone in the rooms. The Bundys, along with Steve and Marcy, file suit against the motel. The motel claims that it shouldn’t count as filmed having sex, since it only last for a number of seconds. The climax, if you will, of the episode is when they try to prove that it was indeed sex, by having it again in the courtroom. And of course, they are filmed again, cause there are cameras in the courtroom.

Fox, succumbing to the pressure of Rakolta’s campaign, and the loss of several advertisers, decided that they’d hold off airing the episode. At that point, it became known as the “lost episode” of Married with Children. Fans of the series wondered for years if it would ever seen. It finally did air, so to speak, 13 years later. That’s when it included in a DVD box set of the series. Although even that version toned down. Most of the course and lewd language was actually edited out of the DVD version.

Terry Rakolta may have had good intent when she spoke out against the content of Married with Children during the third season. And she did manage to stir up some notable changes, especially convincing major corporations that they needed to stop advertising with Fox during the show. And that was based on the threat of literally one person boycotting. But clearly the companies felt that she might not be alone, and didn’t want to risk the negative publicity. And she did manage to get one episode shelved, so that’s something. But in the end, her stunt ended up making the show more popular and successful than ever. So join Facts Verse, as we present: The Controversial Episode That Took Married with Children Off the Air!

Now it’s time to hear from you. Did you know about this incident with Married with Children? Let us know in the comments section below.

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