… And We F**king Love Them For That: SNL’s Jenny Slate & Other Fleeting Expletives on TV

The 35th season premiere of “Saturday Night Live” dropped a bomb on American TV screens – an F-bomb. On her first night on last weekend’s show, newest cast member Jenny Slate swore during the “Biker Chick Chat” skit. Slate’s only the most recent example of the “fleeting expletive” (an instance of profane language or images on a live broadcast). Here are some more examples of live profanity on television.

  • “Saturday Night Live” has long been a bastion of bad language. The most famous instance came in 1981 when cast member Charles Rocket slipped up during a skit parodying Dallas and its “Who Shot J.R.?” episode, uttering “Oh man, it’s the first time I’ve been shot in my life. I’d like to know who the f**k did it.” (Rocket was fired later that year.) A year before Rocket’s expletive incident, future “Letterman” bandleader Paul Shaffer had let one loose. And in the ‘90s cast members Norm MacDonald and Cheri Oteri also cursed during the show. [NBC Miami]
  • Rock stars have kept the FCC working overtime, too. When U2 appeared at the Golden Globes in 2003, frontman Bono described winning as “really, really f**king brilliant!” The government agency also looked into Motley Crue singer Vince Neil’s exuberant “Happy F**king New Year!” on the “Tonight Show”‘s Dec. 31 broadcast. After a 2005 “SNL” performance, NBC also had to answer for System of a Down guitarist Daron Malakian, who yelled “f**k yeah!” (System was performing their song “B.Y.O.B.,” which frequently uses the line “Where the f**k are you?”). [NY Daily News, MSNBC, EW]

  • In early 2008, morning shows were hit by a trifecta of fleeting expletives from older actresses. In January Diane Keaton told a fellow Diane, “Good Morning America” host Sawyer, that if she had her lips, “I wouldn’t have worked on my f**king personality” (Sawyer, in turn, feigned shock). Kathleen Turner asked permission to use the word “a-hole” on a February broadcast of “Good Day L.A.” And on Valentine’s Day, Jane Fonda told “Today” about the vagina monologue she previously refused to perform, simply called “C**t.”[Huffington Post, YouTube, Huffington Post]
  • But why should actors and musicians have all the fun? Many well-known examples of on-air profanity have come from newscasters. FOX5 anchor Ernie Anastos ran afoul when he advised weatherman Nick Gregory to “keep f**king that chicken.” And last year NBC4 anchor Sue Simmons was caught berating a crew member with a curt “What the f**k are you doing?” (She later apologized.) [NY Daily News, NYMag.com]
  • FCC vs. Fox Television Stations is a 2009 Supreme Court case that upheld the FCC’s right to ban fleeting expletives, reversing the U.S. Court of Appeals Second Circuit’s decision — and helping bring the term “fleeting expletives” into the popular discourse. The Fox network had found itself in hot water over several instances of profanity: at the 2002 Billboard Music Awards when Cher responded to her critics with a dismissive “f**k ‘em,” and at the following year’s show when Nicole Richie mused about the difficulties of removing “cows**t” from a Prada purse. The 5-4 ruling also addressed U2 at the Golden Globes and Janet Jackson’s bare breast at Super Bowl XXXVIII, sometimes known as “Nipplegate.” [Oyez.org, Boston Globe]