"Chicago Hope" in Deep S--t

CBS medical drama makes TV swear-word history

By Julie Keller Oct 14, 1999 7:30 PMTags
Apparently comedian George Carlin was wrong. There seem to be only six words you can't say on TV--not seven.

So the producers of the CBS medical drama Chicago Hope are proving when tonight's episode includes the first network broadcast of the phrase "shit happens."

Actor Mark Harmon's character, Dr. Jake McNeil, utters the words tonight when he's questioned by a superior about an operation gone wrong.

"It's a painful story that ends up with [Harmon] being unable to make his point clear," the show's executive producer, Michael Pressman, told the New York Post. "It's a full embodiment of what the episode is about, and there really wasn't a better way to say it."

Official word from the eyeball network? "The producers felt strongly that the line was important for artistic truthfulness," CBS said in a statement. "We wanted to support their creative vision, but clearly this is not something that will happen on a weekly basis."

CBS says it will deliver the episode early Thursday to its 200-plus affiliates so individual stations can decide whether to delete the expletive. A spokesperson says only a few stations have expressed concern.

The Federal Communications Commission has not immediately returned calls, but the lines between obscene language (which is prohibited) and indecent language (which can be broadcast only during times of the day when children are not likely to hear it) are fuzzy. According to FCC rules, indecent programming "contains sexual or excretory references that do not rise to the level of obscenity."

According to Carlin's famous 1970s comedy sketch, the seven words you can't say on television are (moms, better cover your kid's eyes): piss, fuck, cunt, cocksucker, motherfucker, tits and shit.

Whether the word is legal or not, the media watchdogs in the Parents Television Council are none too pleased with this latest addition to an era of NYPD Blue-esque harsh language and butt shots.

"It's not unexpected, but it's most unfortunate," says PTC director of operations Steven Schwalm. "We've seen over the past few seasons a rapid decline in standards of network and broadcast television. It appears that all of the standards that used to be maintained and respected have now given way to almost a total lack of standards."

An unexpected and ironic ally in fury is Howard Stern, a frequent subject of the PTC's wrath. The shock-talker is ticked off that CBS is able to air the offending word, when he claims he'd be yanked off the air immediately for even considering it. On today's show, he vowed to come on the air Friday morning at 5:58 a.m. (two minutes before the FCC kid-safe deadline), just to say "shit."

The offending Chicago Hope airs tonight at 9 p.m. on CBS.