How A Toilet Caused Censorship Problems On Leave It To Beaver

Looking at the history of TV — note that we're limiting the discussion to network TV, and not pay cable, premium cable, or streaming — it's clear that we've come a long way from the early days of the medium. Cultural attitudes about what is and is not appropriate to broadcast into people's homes have changed since the 1950s. These days, sex, and sex-adjacent topics such as puberty, menstruation, pregnancy, sexual assault, and so on, are discussed openly and unflinchingly on prime time. Other once-taboo topics, like violence, divorce, even going to the bathroom, are also mundane and anodyne these days.

Generations ago, of course, things were decidedly different. Producers went to great lengths to avoid touching these subjects, even going so far as to depict married couples sleeping in separate beds.

Surprisingly, "Leave It To Beaver," the '50s sitcom that today serves as a metaphor for the comically quaint wholesomeness of TV in those days, broke one of those barriers, and the network had to wrestle with whether or not to include the "groundbreaking" scene.

'Leave It To Beaver' Showed A Toilet On TV, Sort Of

You may be positively shocked to hear this, but back in the 1950s, people used the toilet from time to time. They were even installed in people's houses! Of course, network TV executives in those days went to great lengths to avoid admitting that, but a plot point on an episode of "Leave It To Beaver" forced CBS' hand, in a manner of speaking.

To set the scene: There was a time in American history when you could order live animals from ads in the back of magazines and comic books. As IMDB explains, in the episode "Captain Jack," Beaver and his brother Wally ordered an alligator, thinking they were going to get an adult specimen. Instead, they got a baby one, and needing to hide it and put it in a place where there's water, they settled on the toilet, which was to appear in a few frames.

According to the Saturday Evening Post, that caused considerable hand-wringing in the CBS boardrooms. The "Standards and Practices" committee, which was in charge of, well, censorship, had the episode shelved for a while so matters could be discussed, and eventually a compromise was reached. They showed only the toilet tank, and not the, shall we say, business end of the appliance. It was the first time even a part of a toilet was ever shown on network TV.

Other TV Toilet Firsts

These days, there's very little that's off-limits to modern audiences when it comes to network TV (to say nothing of cable and streaming). But it took us a while to get there.

The first TV show to openly admit that people used toilets for things other than hiding alligators was "All in the Family," according to Outsider, which featured audio of — gasp! — a toilet flush. In fact, it was a comedic gag on the show, where Archie would be speaking to Edith from off-screen, and then a flush sound effect would indicate from where he was talking to her.

A generation later, "Married With Children” leaned pretty heavily into toilet humor, according to bathroom designers One Part Partitions, basically throwing the toilet taboo out the window for good. Indeed, when "Ally McBeal" hit the airwaves a while later, much of the show took place inside the (unisex) bathroom at the law firm where the show was set.