Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Another Milestone for Archie

All in the Family was always blazing new trails in American television. Most of the time, those trails provoked conversations about isms — you know, communism, racism, sexism, that kind of thing.

In the episode that aired on this night in 1976, Archie (Carroll O'Connor) blazed a different kind of trail for network television — full frontal nudity. Not his own. The nudity of his infant grandson in the series. I'll get back to that in a minute.

What happened was that Mike (Rob Reiner) was taking Gloria (Sally Struthers) out for the evening. It was three weeks since the episode in which the baby was born, and it must have been three weeks in the timeline of the series as well because Mike mentioned that it was the first time in three weeks that they had been able to go out.

That part seemed to be rushing things, I thought. Now, I have never been married, and I have never lived with a new mother — at least, not since I was 3 and my brother was born, and I had no comprehension of time in those days — so I don't know how long it usually takes for a new mother to be sufficiently recovered from labor to go out for the evening, but three weeks seems a little premature to me. Perhaps I am wrong about that.

Anyway, the Stivics were going out for the evening, and Mike had retained one of his students to babysit. Archie wasn't wild about that, especially after the babysitter's boyfriend showed up, presumably so they could study together while she watched the baby. Archie thought they were more interested in studying each other than studying for class — and it followed that they would be more interested in studying each other than keeping an eye on the baby.

So Archie ran them off.

That presented a problem for Archie. There was no one to babysit except him — and he was hosting a poker party at his house. Edith, as I recall, was visiting her aunt who was in her 80s and, apparently, in poor health so Edith didn't appear in the episode.

Archie brought his grandson over to his house, and the poker party soon gave way to efforts to figure out why the baby kept crying. Was he hungry? Did he need to be changed? The card players gave a barbershop quartet rendition of "Rock–A–Bye, Baby" to try to put him to sleep.

The answer came quickly enough. The baby made a noise that everyone thought, at first, was a burp. But after a few seconds, the looks on their faces confirmed what Archie soon observed: "That wasn't no burp."

His poker buddies made their exit, leaving Archie to change the baby.

And that is when the full frontal nudity part came in.

It wasn't a lingering shot. It was very brief, actually. But it was a first for network television — and it was controversial in 1975, much more so than it is 40 years later.

As I understand it, summer reruns and subsequent syndicated airings had that scene edited out.

But viewers in Canada can still see the episode unedited.

As far as I was concerned, it was always a nonissue. It was such a fleeting moment, like Janet Jackson's wardrobe malfunction during the Super Bowl. It was over before most viewers could comprehend what they had seen.

But, as I say, it was controversial, as sexual topics always are.