Lois & Clark Studio Notes: No Superman Sexy Times, On-Screen Violence

Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman ran from 1993 to 1997 and is perhaps best known for "reviving Superman" – but what did it take behind the scenes to bring the man of steel to network television? We have an exclusive look at some behind-the-scenes notes from an episode in the show's fourth and final season.

I recently came across a copy of ABC's "standards and practices" notes for an episode of Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman. The episode, the 1997 "Faster Than a Speeding Vixen", focuses on Lois and Clark's relationship when Vixen, a sexy villain, comes into Superman's life and the new owner of the Daily Planet sets his sights on Lois. The episode aired April 12, 1997, but was written in January and in production early- mid-February.

Lois & Clark
Image: Screencap

Standards and Practices is basically the ratings board responsible for censoring shows on broadcast television. For every episode, they read through a script and present notes on what is kosher and what needs changing. These guidelines or "rules" every showrunner has to follow are generally similar – like no f-words or nudity – but specifics vary from network to network – like ABC's "no cigarettes" missive.

The script complaints on the episode range from gentle reminders to asking to have an element changed – several, in fact. Most of the notes center around not showing violence or the injury and death as a result of violence. The wardrobe and modesty of female characters also show up, as sexual situations are a big thing S&P moderates.

The violence notes alone are organized first, with several notes pertaining to not showing serious injury, suffering, or death. While the episode does show, for example, a CEO's death by electrocution, it's largely done through sound and reactions instead of actually showing the event, which is a clever narrative workaround to being unable to air the accompanying visuals.

As for policing the "sexiness" of the script, there's a note that mentions not to make Vixen's costume too sexy, tight, or low cut. If what we got in the finished episode was restrained, I can only imagine what it would have been like without network censorship. Alongside Vixen's wardrobe, Lois' bedtime attire is also policed, as well as two separate notes about being careful not to stage characters on top of one another in a sexual manner. No sexy times for Superman, apparently…although given that the episode opens with Lois and Clark lying on the kitchen floor post-morning romp, then discussing how they didn't use protection (with zero notes on that scene)…I'm not sure I fully understand the sexy censorship here.

The final notes have to do with not stereotyping the people in the scene where Vixen and Superman race to China (which more resembled ancient China than actual villages in 1997) and promoting diversity (even though all the main characters, side characters, and the vast majority of background actors are rather white, not elderly, nor have visible disabilities).

Tonally, these requests read more like an "I'm the boss, do it my way or you don't get to play anymore" and I wonder how the writers and creatives felt about the notes, even now, nearly 15 years later. Having gotten these notes on every single episode of the show, the notes read like they both know the status quo by this point, after having gone through this process for every one of the 81 episodes prior to this one. In case you happen to be curious – all four seasons of Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman are available to stream on HBO Max.

Should networks have the ability to censor the creative process of shows that appear on their air and are made on their dime? It's an interesting question and one that's being challenged with the boom of streaming services. Regardless of what happens going forward, this is the process by which television shows were made for decades, and it's an interesting fossil of television history – and Superhero media.

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About Eden Arnold

Eden enjoys watching baking shows with her cat, and they have lots of opinions about television (as well as movies and everything else). She puts this to good use along with her journalism degree and writing experience with by-lines over the years in newspapers, magazines, books, and online media outlets. You can find her on Twitter and IG at @Edenhasopinions.
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