Looking Back at the Edits Made in TV Comedies After 9/11

Usually with “Checking In,” I look back at a show or movie or Off-Broadway musical and tell you know what the cast and creators (and wonder hamsters) are doing today. Not this week, though. This Friday, let’s go with “Looking Back.” As you might have heard, Sunday is September 11, 2011, and that means not only has it been a decade since “Love and Theft,” The Blueprint, and Nickelback’s debut were released, it’s also been 10 years since this. In the aftermath of that terrible day, many TV comedies either revised soon-to-air scenes featuring the Towers, or took previous episodes and clips showing the buildings out of syndication. Why? Some out of respect, some out of respect, and some for reasons still unknown. Here are some of the biggest edits.

“The City of New York vs. Homer Simpson,” The Simpsons

Many fans point to season nine as the beginning of the end of The Simpsons (pointing most directly at “The Principal and the Pauper”), but it certainly began with a classic episode: “The City of New York vs. Homer Simpson” (original airdate: September 21, 1997). Due to some unpaid parking tickets, the Simpsons take a bus trip to the Big Apple, where Homer finds his car parked, ticketed, and booted between Tower 1 and Tower 2 of the World Trade Center. After September 11, 2001, many Fox affiliates removed the episode from syndication, and even for those who didn’t, “City of New York” is rarely broadcast (if I had a nickel every time “Dumbbell Identity” was shown instead…) and somewhat edited. For instance, the “they stick all the jerks in Tower 1” line is now gone. (Also, let’s never forget my favorite conspiracy theory.)

“Jet Scream/Dirty Dog,” Rocko’s Modern Life

Here’s what I’m wondering: how long after 9/11 did someone remember the 1993 episode of Rocko’s Modern Life that features a plane crash? I’m sure it’s someone’s job at Nickelodeon to keep track of this kind of stuff, but c’mon, “Jet Scream/Dirty Dog” (original airdate: September 26, 1993) had to have been about the 18,964th thing on anyone’s mind in the weeks following. And yet, the episode, in which Heffer has a pleasant experience on an airplane and Rocko a miserable one (not unlike the Seinfeld episode “The Airport”), was yanked off of Nick because it ends with the plane crashing, and hasn’t been seen since. (Unless you have Netflix.)

“The Road to Rhode Island,” Family Guy

In the second season episode of Family Guy, “The Road to Rhode Island” (original airdate: May 30, 2000), Stewie is about to go through airport security when he remembers he’s carrying a suitcase full of guns and other various weapons. To distract the guards from seeing his stash on an x-ray machine, he breaks into song, performing the ever-adorable “On the Good Ship Lollipop” (a song written by Richard A. Whiting, whose daughters, Margaret and Barbara, starred on Those Whiting Girls, a summer replacement for I Love Lucy). Stewie then says, “Let’s hope Osama bin Laden doesn’t know any show tunes.” Cut to Osama singing “I Hope I Get” from A Chorus Line, because it’s Family Guy. The scene would remain cut until the release of 2004’s “Freakin’ Sweet Collection” on DVD.

“The Good Fight,” Sex and the City

In the original opening credits of Sex and the City, the World Trade Center towers could be seen twice, once when the show’s title appeared and once when “Starring Sarah Jessica Parker” came on-screen (0:16 seconds in). When the show returned for the second half of its fourth season, in January 2002, the structures were edited out, replaced by the Empire State Building. They weren’t done: that first episode in January, “The Good Fight” (original airdate: January 6, 2002), had initially ended with Samantha and Richard dancing on a rooftop, with the Towers prominently featured in the background. That, too, was scrubbed out. In a must-read article from New York magazine about how the most New York show of its time handled the 9/11 situation, Emily Nussbaum writes, “The show took place in present-day New York, [creator Michael Patrick King] said, where there was no World Trade Center.” Later in the series, Carrie uses the term “manthrax,” proving once and for all that no show could provide a great bad pun better than Sex and the City.

“The One Where Rachel Tells…” Friends

Monica and Chandler are going through airport security to depart for their honeymoon, when Mr. Bing makes fun of a sign that reads, “Federal Law Prohibits Any Joking Regarding Aircraft Hijacking or Bombing,” saying, “You don’t have to worry about me, ma’am, I take my bombs very seriously.” Chandler gets escorted away by TSA agents, with Monica running after him, and he explains the situation (could he be any more inappropriate?). But right as they’re leaving the security office, Joey calls Monica about a possible gas leak in her apartment, and she sarcastically (and loudly) exclaims, “No, I want you to stand there and watch the whole place blow up.” The agents ask them to step back inside, please. This already-filmed episode of Friends, “The One Where Rachel Tells…” was scheduled to air October 11, 2001, so needless to say, the script was quickly rewritten, swapping out the terrorist plot for one about Chandler and Monica competing against another newlywed couple. (The original can be seen here.)

“Get Outta Dodge,” Married…with Children

Al Bundy has to sell his beloved rusty Dodge, because it can barely make it over speed bumps anymore. So, at Peggy’s behest (to quote Al, “Women, you can’t live with them…the end”), he puts an ad in the newspaper. The prospective buyers soon arrive at the Bundy household, including a pair of winos; mobsters holding a body; and two Arabs, one of whom is holding an alarm-clock bomb. They tell Al that they want the car and have no time to haggle, and ask directions to the Sears Tower. The third of those three arrivals was cut from syndication, but the plot about Kelly looking for Waldo remains.

“Just One Bite/The Bully,” Spongebob Squarepants

In one of the more well meaning, yet idiotic in hindsight edits, Squidward is starving for a Krabby Patty in the Spongebob Squarepants episode “Just One Bite/The Bully” (original airdate: October 5, 2001). He runs from his house to the closed-for-the-evening Krusty Krab, and scoffs at their security system, which seemingly consists of nothing more than a bucket of water. Actually, the bucket is filled with gasoline, and a robotic arm appears from off-screen, dropping a lit match into the puddle of gas, leading to a huge explosion. A huge ball of fire scorches Squidward (and the same thing happens again when he thinks he’s safe), and it also set off the censors at Nickelodeon, where the scene was cut in all later airings. An official reason was never given for the edit, although its airdate might have had something to do with it. (That, or Nick was afraid it’d teach kids to play with matches and gasoline.)

Josh Kurp still wants to try Crab Juice.

Looking Back at the Edits Made in TV Comedies After […]