In the same era that episodes of Family included the mere sound of a flushed toilet in an unseen bathroom, even the Brady Bunch, which ran from 1969 to 1974, didn’t have a single shared bathroom. Audiences chuckled at the toilet’s sound, even though there wasn’t even a bathroom containing a toilet in the show. It’s remarkable to think about how many common aspects of ordinary life, such as pregnant women in bathrooms or married couples sleeping in the same bed, were excised by network Standards and Practices groups. It’s also remarkable to ponder and recall those ordinary aspects of life that were not glimpsed on camera or seen before broadcast, especially for those of us who grew up in the 1960s and 1970s. But in our modern era, with hundreds of cable stations and multiple television networks, there is little left that hasn’t been seen on television.
It’s surprising, therefore, that networks were so cautious about showing scenes of toilets in prime-time programs in the 1950s, considering that Leave It to Beaver had already aired a series back in the 1950s. This raises several questions: Why did it take until the 1970s for networks to become more relaxed about showing an actual toilet? And how did Leave It to Beaver manage to bypass those restrictions if they were in place?
Although Leave It to Beaver didn’t actually depict a toilet in any of its episodes, it did suggest that there is some truth to the claim. The response to both of those inquiries is affirmative.
Wally referred to the toilet tank in “Captain Jack’s” aquarium as the place where they hid Captain Jack to ensure his safety from being discovered. Because they were concerned that their parents would find their reptilian pet, who they had now named Captain Jack, they couldn’t keep him in their bedroom, so they opted to conceal him in the bathroom instead. The boys sought guidance on how to properly care for and feed an alligator from the owner of Captain Jack’s Alligator Farm, after purchasing a “genuine Florida alligator” for $2.50 based on an advertisement in their Robot Men of Mars comic book. However, their expectations were let down when they received a small eight-inch baby gator instead of a fully grown saurian, which was the network’s main concern regarding “Captain Jack.” The intended premiere episode of Leave It to Beaver, titled “Captain Jack,” had to be postponed by a week due to issues with CBS’ Standards and Practices group, resulting in another episode being aired in its place. In October 1957, the episode’s storyline revolved around Wally and the Beaver ordering a “genuine Florida alligator” from a comic book advertisement.
The problem lay in the fact that networks in 1957 were reluctant to show a television bathroom, let alone an actual toilet. CBS refused to approve the episode in its original form since the scenes with the bathroom had to be redone, but it couldn’t reasonably be done elsewhere in the boys’ house since there was nowhere else that an alligator could plausibly hide. After several rounds of wrangling between the production company and the network, a compromise was reached: the episode could include shots on the tank itself, where Wally walked over to the tank and put Captain Jack inside it, and viewers saw the brief scene of the boys feeding their baby alligator in the middle of the bathroom floor where Wally had seen it. Only the very top portion of the tank was ever seen, the lid on the back of the tank and the inside of the tank itself were never seen.
It can be argued that it is among the earliest programs to feature a show set in a bathroom, however, it is not quite accurate to claim that it was the first series to showcase a toilet on network prime-time television. The first program to do so was Leave It to Beaver.
In a FOX News interview in 2014, Jerry Mathers, the protagonist of the show, discussed the controversy surrounding the “Captain Jack” episode.