Mistakes are a part of life, even for professional actors and actresses. When TV was live, viewers were able to see every blown line or missed cue. In the early 1980s, blooper specials hosted by Dick Clark became popular, presenting censored bloopers from hit shows of the era. Uncensored bloopers from shows like Star Trek, The Waltons, and M*A*S*H are often hilarious and vulgar.
Bloopers Live On The Air
Outtakes, also commonly known as bloopers, goofs or gaffs, are the result of someone involved with the production of a television program messing up. Perhaps an actor or actress forgets or flubs a line and then curses out of frustration. Or maybe a member of the crew accidentally walks in front of a camera, ruining a shot. Improvisation on set, practical jokes, and accidents can all result in mistakes that are caught on film or video. Often, these goofs are strung together into “blooper reels” that are then shown at Christmas or season wrap parties for cast and crew to enjoy.
During the era of live television in the late 1940s and throughout the 1950s, mistakes were seen by viewers as they happened on the air, provoking laughter or, in some cases, anger. An August 1954 article in The New York Times about Dean Whitmore, stage manager for NBC’s Television Playhouse, mentioned several examples of production gone awry: an actor who kept yelling “Bang!” when he fired his gun during rehearsals did the same thing on the air; during a commercial a lace handkerchief prop goes missing and is replaced on the fly with Whitmore’s own hankie; an actor forgets to mime making a phone call in a phone booth, walks off stage and is thrust back on to make the call .
The Chicago Times ran an article in May 1957 about goofs, recounting practical jokes that included spiking drinks, writing lines on a cue card in reverse (or holding them upside down) and even sketching nude drawings on cue cards . Popular programs also provided goofs for viewers. In an episode of The Honeymooners, according to legend, after a door jammed, Art Carney climbed on set through a window . Dinah Shore, Bob Cummings and Gale Storm once rehearsed a number seated on a bench — when the show was televised, the bench had been replaced with one without a back and when the three sat down they promptly tumbled over .
One of the most famous goofs of all time occurred during the premiere episode of Climax!, broadcast live on October 7th, 1954 on CBS. The episode, entitled “The Long Goodbye” and based on a story by Raymond Chandler, starred Dick Powell, Teresa Wright and Cesar Romero. After one of the characters — an alcoholic author — is shot and killed, his body is covered with a blanket. As the action continued around him, the actor playing the deceased author crawled off stage, blanket and all [5, 6].
Televised Blooper Specials
During the 1960s and 1970s, actors and actresses continued to flub their lines, crew members continued to interrupt filming, and practical jokes continued to be played on unsuspecting members of the cast. It was not until the 1980s, however, that television viewers began seeing these bloopers. On Friday, May 15th, 1981, NBC aired an hour-long special entitled “TV’s Censored Bloopers,” hosted by Dick Clark and Milton Berle, with special guest Mariette Hartley. The special drew a 22.3 rating and ranked fifth for the week .
Bloopers featuring Ronald Reagan from his acting days were withheld from the special after Dick Clark attempted to contact the then-President through an attorney and never heard back . The same bloopers were again withheld from the second NBC special, “More TV’s Censored Bloopers,” although this time Reagan’s TV adviser officially denied permission for their use . “More TV’s Censored Bloopers” was aired on Friday, November 13th, 1981.
Ironically, despite being titled “TV’s Censored Bloopers,” a repeat airing of the first special was itself apparently censored. Bloopers from M*A*S*H, which had been included in the original broadcast, were cut from the repeat, which was shown Friday, December 4th, 1981 . Additional “TV’s Censored Bloopers” specials were shown through 1983. On Monday, January 9th, NBC premiered TV’s Bloopers, Commercials and Practical Jokes, later renamed TV’s Bloopers & Practical Jokes, hosted by Dick Clark and Ed McMahon.
The following day, ABC introduced Foulups, Bleeps and Blunders, hosted by Don Rickles and Steve Lawrence. NBC’s bloopers show drew a 25.0/35 rating and ranked fifth for the week; ABC’s a 20.1/29 rating, good enough for 13th . For the 1983-1984 season as a whole, TV’s Bloopers & Practical Jokes ranked 11th . Foulups, Bleeps and Blunders, although renewed for the 1984-1985 season, was never as successful as NBC’s show and was cancelled in May 1985 .
TV’s Bloopers & Practical Jokes continued as a weekly series until it was pulled in March 1986 . During the summer of 1988, NBC aired several “best of” editions of the show . Over the years, NBC brought back TV’s Bloopers & Practical Jokes on a number of occasions. Blooper specials still pop up on the networks every few years. On November 26th, 2001, CBS broadcast an hour-long special entitled “Carol Burnett: Show Stoppers,” filled with bloopers and goofs. It topped the Nielsen charts with 29.8 million viewers .
It is not uncommon for some shows, primarily sitcoms, to occasionally air bloopers during their end credits.
Uncensored Bloopers – Star Trek, Mork & Mindy, M*A*S*H and More
Bloopers aired on network television are censored, with foul language bleeped out and censor bars placed over anything potentially naughty. This can rob outtakes of their full impact. The adult nature of some gags or practical jokes also keeps them off the air. Uncensored blooper reels have been floating around for decades, sold by fans on bootleg video tapes and DVDs at conventions and, eventually, uploaded to the Internet.
Perhaps the most famous blooper reels are those from NBC’s Star Trek. According to David Gerrold’s The World of Star Trek, it was creator Gene Roddenberry who made sure there was a blooper reel for each of Star Trek‘s three seasons, “an expense that most producers won’t go to” . Initially, these blooper reels were only for the enjoyment of the cast and crew, but when conventions devoted to Star Trek began appearing in the early 1970s, Roddenberry would bring the blooper reels to show to fans.
Warning! Many of the uncensored bloopers contain profanity.
Joan Winston offers this account of the Star Trek blooper reel screened at the first Star Trek convention, held in New York in January 1972:
“If I may digress for one moment, I will try to explain what a blooper is. Sometimes an actor goofs a line and says a funny word–or a dirty word–or makes a funny face. These snippets of film are spliced together to form a “blooper reel.” When you have an imaginative nut like Bill Shatner on the set, the blooper reel becomes an art in itself. He would concoct very elaborate practical jokes (i.e. the arrow bit from “Private Little War”) and the crew would go along with him, filming all the way as if it were a regular scene. Nope, you can’t really describe it. You have to see it.” 
Winston also states that it is her believe that other shows also have blooper reels, “but not too many, as you really needed to have someone on the crew with a good sense of humor to sift the chaff from the grain” .
These uncensored outtakes give viewers a glimpse of the atmosphere on set during filming. The cast of M*A*S*H, for example, were incredible vulgar.
2 Woltersr, Larry. “Who Goofed?” Chicago Tribune 12 May 1957: C36.
3 Shanley, John P. “Video Goofs: Largely Live.” New York Times. 30 Nov. 1958: SM42.
5 Gould, Jack. “Television in Review: ‘Climax’.” New York Times. 8 Oct. 1954: 34.
6 “Where to Dial Today: Slain Guy Crawls off Video Set.” Chicago Daily Tribune. 8 Oct. 1954: 18.
7 “TV Ratings.” New York Times. 20 May 1981: C31.
8 Adams, Val and George Maksian. “Reagan’s Goofs Cut.” Boston Globe. 14 May 1981: 1.
9 Associated Press. “Bloopers By Reagan The Actor Won’t Be Aired.” Boston Globe. 10 Nov. 1981: 1.
10 Flander, Judy. “TV highlights: ‘Falcon Crest’ brings Wyman back.” Chicago Tribune. 4 Dec. 1981: E18.
11 Kerr, Peter. “No Network Follow-Up Planned for Reagan Talk.” New York Times. 21 Jan. 1984: 43.
12 Kerr, Peter. “CBS is first again in season’s ratings.” New York Times. 18 Apr. 1984: C.29.
13 Bianculli, David. “Trailing ABC to Add 11 New Prime-Time Programs.” Philadelphia Inquirer. 7 May 1985: E.1.
14 Siegel, Ed. “CBS, NBC Hope Changes Will Boost Ratings.” Boston Globe. 6 Feb. 1986: 46.
15 Roush, Matt. “It’s the new night of NBC’s ‘Molly Dodd’.” USA Today. 5 May 1988: 03.D.
16 Levin, Gary. “CBS laughs all the way to the top.” USA Today. 5 Dec. 2001: D.04.
17 Gerrold, David. The World of Star Trek. New York: Ballantine Books, 1973. 81.
18 Lichtenberg, Jacqueline, Sondra Marshak and Joan Winston. Star Trek Lives!. Bantam Books: New York, 1975. 58.
19 Star Trek Lives!. 59.
Originally February 1st, 2004
Last Updated April 22nd, 2018