Entertainment

11 Great Milestones in Televised Nudity

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Won't somebody please think of the children?!

The Parents Television Council has released their annual report about the state of American television, and (spoiler alert) things are terrible. Que escandalo! In tribute to their glorious anti-nipple jihad, we're taking a look back at some of the pioneers who made it possible for such debauchery to invade prime-time. (Please note, we're not including nudity as a result of on-air accidents, or anything suggestive of educational television. We're not monsters.)

1964: Gilligan's Island is cool with cleavage, less so with navels

The real battle on Gilligan's Island was fought in the hearts and loins of viewers and concerned Ginger and Mary Ann. But an equally vicious war waged behind the scenes over the amount of skin the pair could show. In the 1960s, the belly button was one of the prime battlegrounds of decency, and so despite Ginger's cleavage-baring outfits, she and Mary Ann were barred from showing their navels. Promo shots exist with navels bared, but on-air, there were a lot of high-waisted shorts and one-piece bathing suits on that extended three-hour tour.

1965: I Dream of Jeannie plugs Barbara Eden's belly button

The story of a meek, submissive genie and her dominant master, I Dream of Jeannie remains a perfect piece of candy-colored '60s camp. Of course, despite all the skin exposed by Barbara Eden's outfit, the show was still subject to the puritanical whims of the Powers That Be. For starters, the only reason censors were cool with the show intimating that the main characters lived together was because it was established that Jeannie slept in her bottle. (Like a good woman.) The pesky navel thing popped up again, too, but the show's creators took a more direct route than a high waistline: they filled Eden's navel with a flesh-colored cloth plug. 

1966-67: Star Trek and the "Theiss Titillation Theory"

William Ware Theiss was the costume designer for the original run of Star Trek, and his censor-skirting costumes like the ones above, from "What Are Little Girls Made Of?" and "Who Mourns for Adonis?" (l-r) inspired something called the "Theiss Titillation Theory." It states that "the degree to which a costume is considered sexy is directly proportional to how accident-prone it appears to be," and proves that sometimes when it comes to nudity, less is more.

1973: PBS aims to make plays less boring with breasts

PBS became the first network to intentionally reveal a woman's breasts and nipples with its serialized version of Bruce Jay Friedman's play Steambath. The series positions a steambath as the afterlife; future Hulk Bill Bixby as God; and Valerie Perrine as… the above lady. Perrine was shown from the side taking a shower, and the scene was so daring at the time that only a few PBS affiliates deigned to carry the show. Steambath ultimately ended up showing a few bare male buttocks as well, but it's Perrine's scene that remains a touchstone in TV nudity.

1976: Captains and the Kings fails to account for TV-set variances, with sexy results

Occasionally technical ineptitude yields has… erotic results. Beverly D'Angelo (best known as Chevy Chase's wife in Vacation) made her debut as Miss Emmy in the NBC miniseries Captains and the Kings, and one of her love scenes involved a matte cut placed carefully just above her nipples. But the crew failed to account for variances in new television sets across the country, and so the morning after the scene premiered, they received a panicked call that one half the country had seen more of D'Angelo than the other half. Surprisingly, there were few viewer complaints, though producer Jo Swerling Jr. recalls that NBC's Broadcast Standards warned them "not to cut it that close in the future."

1976: Live from New York, it's Jane Curtin's bra

On Weekend Update, Jane Curtin played the uptight foil to Dan Akyroyd's smarmy conservative, which was why she got such a shocked laugh when she ripped her top open during a debate over whether or not she was sexy enough to fill Chevy Chase's shoes as the Weekend Update anchor, exclaiming, "Get a load of these, Connie Chung!" (Never breaking from her trademark dry delivery.)

1987: Playtex uses real women (and, by extension, real breasts) in advertisements

Prior to 1987, mannequins were the only acceptable form upon which to drape bras in advertisements. Anything other than their cold, unfeeling flesh was naturally assumed to start riots. So you can imagine just how shocking it was when, in 1987, Playtex decided to run an ad that featured real live ladies wearing their products. They were only allowed to air the promo during daytime programming, when it was assumed fewer impressionable young minds would be watching.

1993-on: NYPD Blue shows buttocks, in flagrante and otherwise

NYPD Blue broke barriers to primetime nudity in its very first episode, and continued to do so repeatedly, to the point where it became a joke. That said, the show apparently inspired L. Trent Bozell to start the Parents Television Council, so maybe having a nagging, sanctimonious watchdog group is the price we paid for so much sweet, sweet Dennis Franz ass. 

 

2002: C.S.I. allowed to show a breast, provided it's attached to a dead person

Perfectly illustrating our national hypocrisies over sex and violence, C.S.I.'s first episode with the "partial nudity" warning, "Slaves of Las Vegas," ran in 2002. The caveat? The nudity was of a woman's exposed breast — during her autopsy.

I guess they did it to avoid getting "nipple and dimed" by the FCC. Yeaaaaaaaaahhhhhhh! *Cue intro music*

2004: Janet Jackson's totally not-planned wardrobe malfunction

It was the breast heard 'round the world. The areola of rock n' rolla. The… time when Janet Jackson's boob popped out. At the 2004 Super Bowl halftime show, Justin Timberlake was incongruously singing, "I'm gonna have you naked by the end of this song," and then he pulled open Jackson's Matrix-esque top to reveal a lovely… metal… pasty thing, instead of the tasteful red bra she no doubt meant to expose instead. The whole thing was famously chalked up to a "wardrobe malfunction," but it ushered in a new era of FCC pissiness, as well as a still-ongoing series of lawsuits

2011-2012: Pixelated nudity is the new frontier of offense

The PTC has been able to claim a 6300% increase in full-frontal nudity on primetime television in the past year, largely thanks to the relatively new phenomenon of pixelating full-frontal nudity. Everyone from Howie Mandel (in America's Got Talent) to Krysten Ritter (above, in Don't Trust the B— in Apartment 23) has been donning a flesh-colored bodysuit to fake-nude their way to ratings gold, and the PTC is pissed, claiming (probably rightly) that such tactics only draw more attention to the censored area. Proponents claim that it's as much a visual gag as the classic black bar, and shouldn't be considered indecent. Moral poison or just a cheap grab for ratings? Either way, it's working.