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"Was it Something He Said?": Censorship and the Richard Pryor Television Show, 1977"

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Abstract:

“He could say almost anything and not be offensive.”
-Cicely Tyson

This paper, part of a project that examines the cultural impact and legacy of
Richard Pryor (1940-2005), focuses on his performance as host and creative impresario of his short-lived variety show on network television in 1977. The paper begins with a critical -biographical profile that attempts to place Pryor’s oeuvre in a broader social context. The paper proceeds to argue that his work in one of the most controversial and heavily censored television shows in network history was a prism that reflected a socially conscious critique of white power. The censors at NBC disagreed with Cicely Tyson, a friend and film co-star, about Pryor’s ability to offend. Several of the scripts were labeled “offensive” and never were aired. Others were heavily edited. Although it lasted for only four airings, Pryor and his multiracial crew of actors and writers managed to defy convention and to introduce new standards of comedic performance and racial representation. Kristal Brent Zook (1994) has noted that television is a discursive space for blacks because it can serve as a vehicle for “ intertextual and autobiographical dialogue.” Pryor recognized this inherent power and attempted to use it. I want to “do something significant,” he stated. This paper uses a combination of media and performance theory and a critical Afrocentric perspective to examine how Pryor–for a brief while—outwitted NBC’s posse of censors to produce a provocative, entertaining social critique amidst the white noise of network television.

Author's Keywords:

Richard Pryor, television, popular culture, 1970s
Convention
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Association:
Name: Association for the Study of African American Life and History
URL:
http://www.asalh.org


Citation:
URL: http://citation.allacademic.com/meta/p143286_index.html
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MLA Citation:

Thomas-McCluskey, Audrey. ""Was it Something He Said?": Censorship and the Richard Pryor Television Show, 1977"" Paper presented at the annual meeting of the Association for the Study of African American Life and History, NA, Atlanta, GA, Sep 26, 2006 <Not Available>. 2013-12-16 <http://citation.allacademic.com/meta/p143286_index.html>

APA Citation:

Thomas-McCluskey, A. , 2006-09-26 ""Was it Something He Said?": Censorship and the Richard Pryor Television Show, 1977"" Paper presented at the annual meeting of the Association for the Study of African American Life and History, NA, Atlanta, GA <Not Available>. 2013-12-16 from http://citation.allacademic.com/meta/p143286_index.html

Publication Type: Individual Paper
Abstract: “He could say almost anything and not be offensive.”
-Cicely Tyson

This paper, part of a project that examines the cultural impact and legacy of
Richard Pryor (1940-2005), focuses on his performance as host and creative impresario of his short-lived variety show on network television in 1977. The paper begins with a critical -biographical profile that attempts to place Pryor’s oeuvre in a broader social context. The paper proceeds to argue that his work in one of the most controversial and heavily censored television shows in network history was a prism that reflected a socially conscious critique of white power. The censors at NBC disagreed with Cicely Tyson, a friend and film co-star, about Pryor’s ability to offend. Several of the scripts were labeled “offensive” and never were aired. Others were heavily edited. Although it lasted for only four airings, Pryor and his multiracial crew of actors and writers managed to defy convention and to introduce new standards of comedic performance and racial representation. Kristal Brent Zook (1994) has noted that television is a discursive space for blacks because it can serve as a vehicle for “ intertextual and autobiographical dialogue.” Pryor recognized this inherent power and attempted to use it. I want to “do something significant,” he stated. This paper uses a combination of media and performance theory and a critical Afrocentric perspective to examine how Pryor–for a brief while—outwitted NBC’s posse of censors to produce a provocative, entertaining social critique amidst the white noise of network television.

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