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  • Entertainers and artists have always chafed under the restrictions of censorship, especially when they are as erudite as Fred Allen. The Dec 18, 1944 issue of Life Magazine reported: "Allen always gets his most effective humor by biting whatever hand feeds him."

    Fred AllenNBC felt that it had a duty to protect public decency in its broadcasts, even though the content of sponsored programs was the responsibility of the sponsors themselves. Scripts had to be submitted to the NBC Continuity Acceptance Department, Program Standards Division at least two days before broadcast, so that the material could be reviewed and the network could remove any "questionable dialogue." Scripts would be returned with the offending material marked in blue pencil (this being the origin of the term "Blue Language" for dirty jokes.)

    However there was little they could do about a comedian who had as big a reputation for ad-libbing as Fred Allen. Several Inter-Departmental Memos were generated at NBC complaining that the Master copy of Allen's scripts (which the censors had approved) often bore little or no resemblance to what was actually broadcast. The network sent correspondence to the Ad Agency, saying the Network "politely begs and cajoles Agency representatives to persuade their talent, namely Fred Allen, to refrain from… libel, derogatory reference, vulgarity, cross-[plugging of products] as may be encountered in the script before."

    Another problem that Fred often had was that due to his ad-libs, or at times the laughter of the studio audience, his show would go over time. When this occurred on the April 13, 1947 broadcast, the show was cut off before it was finished. Fred wrote into the next week's script an explanation: according to Fred there was a network Vice President who was in charge of collecting the extra seconds and minutes in comedy shows. When enough minutes and seconds accumulated, the VeePee got to include them in his vacation! The remarks did not escape the Blue Pencil. However Fred still gave the lines on the air. However the home audience heard only 25 seconds of silence.

    Anti-NBC reaction was swift. The ACLU accused the network of stifling free-speech. Bob Hope and Red Skelton both defended Allen on their programs from the West Coast (and NBC gave them the silent treatment.) In the end the network made a statement that basically said Oops, we goofed, and replaced the executive that started the whole mess, and replaced him with Ken R. Dyke, who instituted a censorship policy that was more consultive and talent-inclusive.

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