THE SIMPSONS CENSORSHIP FAQ (hosted by The Snipsons)
READ THIS FAQ before asking questions about Simpsons censorship in the UK.
This FAQ aims to provide a brief overview of the issues surrounding the censorship of the popular animated TV Show, The Simpsons, by broadcasters thereof in the UK, and is written in conjunction with, and hosted by, 'The Snipsons' website - http://www.depro.co.uk/page11.html - the website for detailed information the subject of Simpsons censorship in the UK. This FAQ will also be posted to the uk.media.tv.simpsons newsgroup at the beginning of every month.
Oh, is The Simpsons censored in the UK then?
Of course it is, otherwise this FAQ, and 'The Snipsons' project would never have existed. You had better read on, hadn't you?
'The Snipsons' project?
Yes, 'The Snipsons' (nice pun, huh?) - a voluntary project run by Ben Nunn, and contributed to by several (primarily) UK-based fans, the purpose of which is to list all the cuts made to UK editions of 'The Simpsons' (ie:- the difference between the original episodes as produced by Fox and the versions broadcast by SKY and the BBC) and where possible, to provide video clips of the cut scenes. Most people seem to find it quite interesting to know what has been cut from the programmes they watch, and many of us consider it to be a very serious issue, especially when the level of censorship is high, and the things that are cut are ludicrous. To the best of my knowledge, this information did not exist in one concentrated source before I established this site, so it is a necessary and unique service to UK Simpsons fans. If you don't care, or are not interested in what SKY and the BBC stopped you watching then this website is not for you.
Is it complete?
No, it is a work in progress. It will always be as complete as it possibly can, in that I will include all verified cuts that I find out about, but new entries will invariably keep on being added because: a) new episodes are still being produced, b) The BBC are showing episodes new to them, c) people are always noticing little bits and pieces that have been censored which aren't immediately discernible from looking at the episode capsule, and d) SKY and the BBC may be further editing their episodes once in syndication anyway.
So, what exactly has been going on then?
SKY were the original broadcasters of The Simpsons in the UK, and when they bought the rights to the show, it was generally considered to be a children's programme, or at best, something 'for the whole family'. Thus, SKY scheduled it in primetime, and continue to do so until this day. However, the show's writers soon realised that their primary audience did not necessarily consist solely of young children, and it could be argued that the content therein, with regards to language, sex and violence became rather less suitable for children (at least as far as the parents were concerned). Instead of re-scheduling the show at a more 'age-appropriate' time, SKY introduced a censorship programme to remove anything they considered unsuitable for children - something they have done with several programmes since they began broadcasting in 1988.
The policy continues to this day, and as episodes became less childish, the extent to which they were censored became greater, until around 1997, when they appeared to have made a u-turn on some issues, and censored new episodes less, but did not revise their copies of older episodes which remained heavily censored. This is indicative of the inconsistency surrounding the issue. There is also, of course, the matter of cutting episodes in order to reduce the running length (7F14 for example), but this is not a common occurrence, and again there is little consistency, as some of the longest episodes of all have aired uncut.
The BBC has been showing the show for a few years now - again, promoted largely as a children's programme. They have broadcast seasons 1 to 5, censoring the episodes for themselves from the original copies and tend to be more scissor-happy than SKY, but this is not always the case, so some scenes that were cut by SKY will be seen but others that SKY left in will go. There has been far less censorship so far by the BBC, but this is only because the episodes they have shown are older and tamer. The BBC consider the show to have been 'virtually unscathed' by censorship.
Neither channel has publicly admitted to censoring The Simpsons, nor have they ever offered anything in the way of 'late-night' uncut versions - although SKY are rumoured to have such an idea in the pipeline.
What sort of things get censored?
There is no hard and fast rule. Some things that are cut in one episode are left in when it comes to another (often where they are seen as being more critical to the plot, or where it is difficult to edit them seamlessly). Generally 'bad' language is often snipped - 'ass', 'crap', 'bastard', 'bloody' and 'bitch' have all been cut at some point (and all have been left uncut in other episodes). References to sexual things (condoms, intercourse, pornography etc.) sometimes get snipped, and also scenes judged to be 'violent' (mainly close-ups of knives and guns). Ironically, The Simpsons has frequently poked fun at the media's attitude to sex, swearing and cartoon violence - which may explain the TV companies reluctance to admit to censoring the show. When episodes are cut for time purposes, it tends to be scenes considered less relevant to the plot or less amusing that go. It varies historically too, SKY were particularly censorious of Season's 5 - 7, cutting something from virtually every episode. In the last couple of years, they have been more tolerant. However, it varies from one episode to another and there is obviously no consistency of any kind on the issue.
So they even censor 'Itchy & Scratchy'?
Yes. Quite often. A cartoon that in itself is a send-up of the concept of animated violence is censored for being too violent. If they have any sense of humour, the censors must be cringing with embarrassment whenever the episodes that address the censorship issue are aired.
Are the episodes likely to get edited further once in rotation?
Not normally. This is what happens in the US, but generally in this country the version first shown on SKY or the BBC is the one they use for repeats. However, there are some exceptions - SKY's versions of Rosebud (1F01) and Burn's Heir (1F16) for example. A precedent was set with the death of Diana, Princess of Wales when several episodes were censored for a few airings, and the footage restored several months later. However, the vast majority of episodes do not change once they have been aired for the first time.
Are the UK episodes ever affected by censorship in the US?
Not by censorship, but there have been a few 'oddities' among early episodes, whereby different versions of episodes have been produced (eg 7F14). These are all documented in the Snipsons. What happened it that 'long' and 'short' versions of a couple of episodes were produced - sometimes edited differently with scenes in different orders, dialogue altered etc. - sometimes to shorten the running time in order to include new content or music promos. Sometimes SKY and the BBC have got hold of the alternate versions and are showing them. This does not mean that they have censored them themselves. However, if this wasn't complicated enough, the situation is blurred further when these episodes have been censored in the UK as well. For example, 'Saturday's of Thunder' appeared in two different versions. SKY show the short version uncut. The BBC show the long version, but have made a couple of cuts to it. However, because their's is the long version it does still contain footage not included in SKY's uncut short version. If you can get your head round this concept then the Snipsons has been a success.
What about banning episodes outright?
This has happened once - The Cartridge Family (5F01) - and is probably likely to happen again as there are considerable commercial benefits to it. By not showing episodes, demand is created for the eventual video release. Perhaps this explains why they have been censoring the show from the start.
Why are episodes getting censored to a far far lesser degree than they used to be?
Possibly because they finally realised the hypocrasy and inconsistency of the situation, and realised that we fans had noticed what was going on. The censorship reached a peak in 1994-6 when Seasons Six and Seven were new on SKY, and the BBC first started showing early episodes. Since then, fewer and fewer episodes have been cut by SKY - to my knowledge only one in all of season ten, while the BBC have re-instated some of the footage they cut from early episodes. However, SKY have not made any efforts to do this, so although the new episodes are generally uncut, they still show the heavily-butchered versions of older episodes.
What has happened to your video clips of censored scenes?
They are off-line indefinitely, until we get a webspace donor - the free-space accounts were slow, unreliable, and did not allow copyrighted material to be housed thereon. We need 50-100+ meg of space on a fast, private server before these will be reappearing.
Damn, the whole situation stinks like a rotting carcass. What can I do?
It's not all that bleak, honestly - you have many paths to follow in the pursuit of uncut Simpsons... Always try to watch the most complete versions of each episode where the SKY and BBC versions vary and buy the video releases which are pretty much always uncut FOX originals. Try obtaining uncut copies of the episodes from friends in the USA or other countries. Watch the show uncut (or at least edited differently) on foreign channels. Hope that eventually ratings sink to the extent that SKY hits upon a 'Simpsons Uncut' slot to win viewers back. Keep looking here to find out what you're missing, and be sure to sign my anti-censorship petition. Write to your MP (don't expect much). Write angry letters to SKY and the BBC (SKY's 'backchat address for comments on their programming: BackChat@sky.co.uk is a god place to start). They probably won't take that much notice.
Whoa, whoa, slow down. Uncut versions on foreign channels?
Yes. If you have a satellite or cable system that carries the German Pro 7 channel - and it is broadcast by Astra so lot's of people will have it - you can watch their versions of the episodes which, although sometimes censored, are edited differently, and to a lesser extent than the UK versions. They normally air at 3:55 PM weekdays and maybe at other times too (Schedules at www.pro-sieben.de ). They are quite amusing to watch because the characters sound so un-characteristic in their accents. You still won't get to hear the cut lines, but you'll be able to see the animation and be left wondering why the scenes were deemed to be so 'violent' they were cut in the first place. Some of the episodes make a lot more sense uncut too, even in German!
And, better yet, if you have a rotational dish, or can pick up other satellite broadcasts, you may be able to watch uncut English language episodes with Scandinavian subtitles. I'm told that you need a large dish; between 90cm and 200cm depending on where you live pointed at 1*w, a D2MAC decoder and a pirate card. - Which is technically not illegal since you can't buy the subscriptions over here. TV3 Norway shows The Simpsons at 14.10, weekdays. TV3+ Denmark at 18.30, weekdays, and TV3 Sweden at 15.35, Sundays. Or, if you're ever in Holland or Belgium, Flemish light entertainment channel VT4 shows uncut episodes in English language with subtitles, every day at 6 PM. You can also see episodes in Ireland on RTE - although they have a tendancy to show the most recent episodes which have not been censored much anyway.
And I believe you said something about a petition for me to sign?
Yes, indeed I did. I figured that if we can get as many people as possible supporting an anti-censorship initiative, we might just get a bit of influence over those misguided censorship types at SKY and the beeb. So if you haven't added your name already, go and do so now, for the good of the nation!!!