Richie Cunningham, the All-American 1950s teenager played by Ron Howard on the long-running sitcom “Happy Days,” has a poster on his bedroom wall that bears the image of a Confederate flag.
But you won’t see it again as long as the show is running on MeTV. From now on, the flag on Richie’s poster will be digitally blurred whenever it appears on the hometown network for “Memorable Entertainment Television.”
It’s one of numerous judgment calls they’re making as Chicago-based MeTV owner Weigel Broadcasting systematically scours its library of reruns from the ’60s, ’70s and ’80s to spot offensive stereotypes and other objectionable material in light of the times.
“We're being responsible, not reactionary,” explained Neal Sabin, vice chairman of Weigel Broadcasting and the driving force behind the network he created in 2008. “I’m not a fan of ‘cancel culture,’ but there are certain episodes and certain things we’re taking out and other things we’re leaving in. It's an ongoing process.”
In all cases, Sabin said, the standard they’re applying considers “nuance, intent and the context in which it was done.” Westerns and cop shows on MeTV may deal with touchy subjects, but that doesn’t automatically render them unacceptable.
On the other hand, an episode of “The Beverly Hillbillies” focused almost entirely around racist Asian stereotypes was permanently removed.
An episode of “The Flintstones” in which Fred and Barney refer to two Arab characters who show up in Bedrock as “towelheads” has been excised. “Fred Flintstone will never be heard saying that on MeTV,” Sabin said.
And an episode of “The Monkees” was cut for Asian stereotypes and slurs.
On the other hand, Sabin strongly defends airing “Hogan’s Heroes,” a sitcom set in a Nazi prison camp during World War II, although he gets more complaints about it than any other show on the network.
“The world was never like 'Leave It to Beaver,’” he said. “These are shows from another era, and we think people realize that.”
It’s all happening as MeTV enjoys record-high ratings from coast to coast. Boasting an audience of 27 million viewers a week, it’s the fifth highest-rated cable network in the country, behind only Fox News, MSNBC, CNN and HGTV.
“We are trying to make MeTV an escape from reality,” Sabin said. “That's why we're not jumping onto the bandwagon of doing 'special programming.' We're just here, doing what we do, entertaining people, and helping them escape.”
Tuesday’s comment of the day: Devan Gourdine: I support Maze Jackson's decision [to quit WVON]. Censorship on any level is wrong. Black residents of Illinois should be free to participate, align and most importantly think in whatever manner brings economic and justice accomplishment. Mr. Jackson's voice brings that. And we appreciate him for that.