Network TV shows—by design and in practice—are about the most innocuous entertainment in the world. There are so many levels of oversight to prevent anything offensive from making it onto the air. But once in a while, an offensive episode makes it to broadcast (or it becomes offensive in retrospect). And then it's not aired again for 20 years… or ever again.
1. Boy Meets World: the one where Cory and Topanga almost have sex.
Boy Meets World did okay when it aired on ABC in the early ‘90s, but it became a millennial touchstone because of endless reruns on the Disney Channel and ABC Family. One episode that never made it to the kid-centric cable networks was the fifth season prom episode, in which Cory and Shawn tried to get their dates to do what all teenage boys try to get their dates to do on prom night. (Sex. They wanted to have sex.)
2. Seinfeld: the one where Kramer burns a flag.
The second-most hated episode of Seinfeld (behind the finale) is the one that aired the week before. In “The Puerto Rican Day,” Kramer accidentally sets the Puerto Rican flag on fire—during New York City’s Puerto Rican Day parade—and then stomps on it to put out the flames. This, along with some scenes depicting Puerto Ricans as angry mobs, led to a concerted letter-writing complaint campaign to NBC. The episode never aired in summer repeats, and didn’t air in syndicated reruns until 2002.
3. The Simpsons: the one where they go to New York.
In the 1997 The Simpsons episode “The City of New York vs. Homer Simpson,” the Simpsons go to New York and find it to be a bigger hellhole than their hometown of Springfield. They have to go because Barney stole Homer’s car and abandoned it in the Austin J. Tobin Plaza at the World Trade Center. After the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, the World Trade Center-heavy episode was pulled from reruns for as long as five years in some parts of the country. The episode still airs with some tasteful cuts, including when a guy in Tower One argues with a guy in Tower 2, who says, “They stick all the jerks in Tower One!”
4. Arthur: the one with Lance Armstrong.
Arthur is a sweet little show based on Marc Brown’s children’s books about an alternate world where everyone is aardvarks. They had versions of real-life celebrities, too, such as Vance Legstrong (voiced by Lance Armstrong) who shows a competition-shy Binky that having a strong character means doing your best and learning from failure. After it was discovered that Armstrong did his best by using illegal performance-enhancing drugs, this 2006 episode of Arthur was pulled from circulation.
5. Hawaii Five-O: the one where the woman dies of autoerotic asphyxiation.
In the second season of the original version of Hawaii Five-O, the cops investigate a woman who died after trying a yoga pose that looked a lot like autoerotic asphyxiation. It never aired again on CBS in reruns, and hasn’t made it onto the show’s DVD sets. The name of the episode strongly suggests autoerotic asphyxiation, too: “Bored, She Hung Herself.”
6. Too Close For Comfort: the one where rape is funny.
Too Close For Comfort was a generic '80s sitcom about a cartoonist (Ted Knight from The Mary Tyler Moore Show) and the craziness of his home life, including his two attractive daughters and a boarder/comic foil named Monroe (Jm. J Bullock). The 1985 episode "For Every Man There's Two Men" disappeared from the show’s syndication rerun package for more than two decades. Its premise: Monroe is kidnapped and raped (offscreen) by two women. Hilarious sitcom antics! Because men can’t be raped! Not only is that played for laughs, but the laugh track goes bananas when it’s revealed that Monroe’s attackers are not just women, but overweight women.
7. Married… With Children: the one where Al and Peg Bundy make a sex tape.
Presaging the Hulk Hogan v. Gawker lawsuit by 20 years, the 1989 Married…With Children episode “I’ll See You in Court” involves the Bundys and their neighbors Steve and Marcy suing a sleazy motel for recording their sexy times. (Al and Peg’s is a few seconds long, ha-ha, Steve and Marcy’s is hours long, ha-ha.) While crude sex humor was the whole point of Married… With Children, Fox did not allow this episode to air in primetime because it was more explicit that usual. While the show usually had some jokes about sex, this time it was the basis of the plot. It didn’t air in the U.S. until 2002, late at night on the FX Network (and with four lines cut out).