General + Regulatory + Telecom + Media News'Outdated' Happy Days episode not racist, says CBSC

‘Outdated’ Happy Days episode not racist, says CBSC

The Canadian Broadcast Standards Council (CBSC) has released a lengthy decision concerning an episode of Happy Days broadcast on CHCH-TV Hamilton, finding that while “outdated,” it did not violate broadcast codes.

The episode of the American sitcom in question – which originally aired in the 1970s but was set in the 1950s – was Episode 1 of Season 1 entitled “All the Way,” centred around Richie going on a date with classmate, Mary Lou Milligan. At the beginning of the episode, Richie’s friend Potsie encourages Richie to ask Mary Lou out, informing Richie that “she’s kind of got a reputation,” “even once dated a sailor” and prefers high school seniors.

Once Richie has arranged his date with Mary Lou, Potsie gives him some instructions on how to act. Richie has arranged to meet Mary Lou at the house where she is babysitting. They sit on the couch together and Richie awkwardly tries to follow the advice Potsie gave him about reading passages from a seductive novel, blowing on Mary Lou’s ear, and putting his arm around her. When Richie tries to undo Mary Lou’s bra through her sweater, she gets up and says, “What are you doing back there? I don’t do things like that.” Richie, relieved, teaches her how to play chess with a set lying in the living room.

The next day, Richie’s friends question him about how far he got with Mary Lou. Richie is evasive in his answers, but then Mary Lou shows up, greeting Richie enthusiastically with the comment, “It was fun the other night. Let’s do it again real soon.” Once she leaves, his friends ask, “Did you, Richie?” implying sex, to which Richie simply responds, “You kidding?” Later at home, Richie explains to his father that he feels guilty for lying to his friends by letting them believe that he had sex with Mary Lou. His father tells him he should set the record straight and Richie subsequently reveals the truth.

A viewer complained that the episode contained “extremely sexist” and racist content and was demeaning to women. The complainant also took issue with several jokes, including one suggesting that if an “Eskimo” ever became president, he would throw a snowball to start the World Series. 

The CBSC English-Language Panel examined the complaint under the Human Rights and Stereotyping clauses of the Canadian Association of Broadcasters’ (CAB) Code of Ethics, as well as numerous clauses of the CAB Equitable Portrayal Code relating to stereotyping, stigmatization, exploitation and offensive language. It also considered the Violence against Women article of the CAB Violence Code.

The panel found no breaches of any of the broadcast codes, but acknowledged the difficulty in applying modern standards to retro programming. While agreeing the portrayal of women could be considered sexist, it found nothing that rose to the level of a code breach, particularly given the plot context, noting that “a chauvinistic character is acceptable within the context of some fictional programming, particularly if the character’s behaviour is depicted as negative.”

The panel also noted that the term “Eskimo” is outdated, but not abusive and the snowball joke related more to the temperature in Alaska than to the Indigenous group. It also wrote that the term “Eskimo” in Alaska remains in more common usage and is the legal terminology in some contexts. 

“Moreover, the Panel believes that there is an awareness today especially in regards to the use of certain terminology,” the decision states. “There is a greater sensitivity which seeks to have programming content be reflective of how society has evolved and positively adapted to these changes. Having said that, the Panel is mindful of the fact that and, as stated earlier, ‘Assessment of prevailing tastes on new content, terminology, or comedic value is a hard task.’ It requires broadcasters to address the problems associated with beloved retro programming within the context of ensuring content continues to meet the various applicable broadcast codes and ensure that they are not censoring all historical works.”

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Connie Thiessen
Connie Thiessen
Connie has worked coast-to-coast as a reporter, editor, anchor and host at CKNW and News 1130 in Vancouver, News 95.7 and CBC in Halifax, and CFCW Edmonton, among other stations. With a passion for music, film and community service, she led News 95.7 to a 2013 Atlantic Journalism Award and regional RTDNA award for Best Radio Newscast. More recently, she was nominated for Music Journalist of the Year at Canadian Music Week 2019. To report a typo or error please email -

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