Live in Front of a Studio Audience: Norman Lear’s All in the Family and The Jeffersons was full of surprises, but one thing fans didn’t expect to hear was the “censor” bleep during the live ABC special. While fans of the original CBS shows initially questioned how a bigoted Archie Bunker would get past today’s TV censors and a predicted watered-down comedy special, it was announced that the episodes from the classic sitcoms would be restaged using the original scripts, word-for-word.
All in the Family and Jeffersons creator Norman Lear even issued a statement ahead of the 90-minute live TV event, posted by The Hollywood Reporter, in which he touted the two shows’ timelessness.
“They have said over and over again that these two shows were meant for the ’70s and would not work today. We disagree with them and are here to prove, with two great casts depicting All in the Family and The Jeffersons, the timelessness of human nature.”
And while the scripts were reenacted verbatim, the 2019 version of the 1975 Jeffersons episode “A Friend in Need” included lengthy bleeps to blot out characters using the “n-word,” according to TV Line.
In the remake, George Jefferson (played flawlessly by Jamie Foxx) explained to his wife Louise (Wanda Sykes) why their mixed-race neighbors Tom and Helen Willis (Will Ferrell, Kerry Washington) don’t ever fight. George said the Willises were afraid to fight because, in minutes, Tom would call his wife [the n-word] or she would call him a “honky.” ABC’s censors bleeped out the offensive n-word during the live broadcast, but in 1975, the line aired on CBS without a bleep.
After the ABC special aired, classic TV fans questioned why the n-word was bleeped out, with some pointing out that the derogatory term “honky” was still used without censor. Other noted that the uncensored version of The Jeffersons episode “A Friend in Need” still airs on retro TV stations like Antenna TV. You can see some viewer reaction to The Jeffersons remake below.
I remember there was no bleeping the N- word in the original script. On the Jeffersons Sandford and Son or Good Times. It was said freely because that was the reality. #AllInTheFamily— Sabrina L. (@locklooneytune) May 23, 2019
Its interesting they bleep out the N word now but during the late 70s when The Jeffersons aired that word was aired with no bleep. It just shows times have changed but the word is disrespectful. @ABCNetwork— Mikeandcars (@Mikeandcars1) May 23, 2019
Why did they bleep the n-word on this live Jeffersons, but honkey....not a problem. Wasn't offended when i first saw the episode and not offended now. But why sing the praises of these two great shows and censor what made them great.— Bad Hat Harry (@southpaw461) May 23, 2019
Enjoyed the All in the Family/The Jeffersons live. Two of my favorite shows. But... Censoring the N-word? That episode literally airs on Antenna TV unedited, not to mention the original ‘70s broadcast. Wasn’t the point of this to showcase how these shows handled race in America?— Ryan Lowery (@ryanmlowery) May 23, 2019
So, they used the original scripts of The Jeffersons. Back then they said the N-word on screen. It was done deliberately for a politically progressive purpose. Today’s reproduction? The word is bleeped out. That makes me uncomfortable. But it is what it is.— Academic Foxhole (@AcademicFoxhole) May 23, 2019
On the after-show special, All About All in the Family and The Jeffersons, it was revealed that producers struggled with changing that section of The Jeffersons script, but ultimately decided to bleep out the offensive word for today’s audiences. Kerry Washington said she was proud of how producers of the live special handled things and felt it was the most responsible way to do so.
In addition to the “A Friend in Need” episode, back in the day, The Jeffersons famously tackled the n-word in the 1981 episode “Sorry, Wrong Meeting.” In the shocking episode, Louise and the Jeffersons’ maid Florence attend a CPR class and are racially attacked by a father-son Ku Klux Klan duo in the class who refuse to practice CPR on the dummy doll the women had just used. The n-word is used multiple times in the exchange. Later, George Jefferson (Sherman Hemsley) performs CPR on the elder KKK member after he collapses. The ungrateful man, outraged that a black man breathed life back into him, says, “He saved my life? You should have let me die.”
But leave it to George to get the last word.
“Hmm. I should have inhaled,” he said in the classic episode.