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5 TV Episodes So Controversial They Sparked Protests

From Sesame Street to The Connors, these shows faced major backlash.

Not every TV show is for every viewer. But there have been several occasions in which the strong, negative reaction to an episode of a series has gone beyond a matter of preference, even leading to public outcry. The following five TV shows even faced protest for their content, for reasons ranging from terrified children to re-traumatized families of murder victims. Read on to find out why these episodes led to such loud and angry backlash.

READ THIS NEXT: The Most Hated TV Finales of All Time.

Sesame Street, Episode #847

Margaret Hamilton with Oscar the Grouch on "Sesame Street"
Sesame Workshop

A 1976 episode of Sesame Street was pulled and never shown again after the initial airing led to a barrage of complaints. The episode features Margaret Hamilton in character as her character from The Wizard of Oz, the Wicked Witch of the West. She arrives on Sesame Street to get her broom back from one of the series regulars, who accidentally obtained it, but some viewers felt that she was too harsh and scary in her pursuit.

Sesame Street received letters from parents who claimed that their children found the episode upsetting, and it was never aired again. Though it was taken out of circulation, the episode has resurfaced online and has been screened, including at the Museum of the Moving Image in New York City.

Married… with Children, "Her Cups Runneth Over"

Amanda Bearse and Katey Sagal on "Married... with Children"
Sony Pictures Television

Arguably the most famous TV protest of all time started when a woman named Terry Rakolta spoke out against the series Married… with Children. The episode "Her Cups Runneth Over," which includes a considerable amount of sexual content, including a scantily clad woman in a lingerie store and references to a vibrators and pornography, aired as part of the sitcom's third season in 1989.

An angry Rakolta wrote letters to the show's advertisers asking them to stop sponsoring the show. In response, some brands declared that they would no longer air ads during the series, but didn't stick to their self-imposed ban. As reported by Entertainment Weekly, Fox did move the show's timeslot from 8:30 p.m. to 9 p.m., which may have changed those advertisers' minds.

The Connors, "The Dog Days of Christmas"

John Goodman, Sara Gilbert, and Jane Curtin on "The Connors"
ABC/Eric McCandless

In December 2022, an episode of The Connors was pulled from streaming and on-demand over complaints that it seemingly made light of a recent tragedy. In the episode "The Dog Days of Christmas," Dan (John Goodman) asks his mother-in-law Doris (Jane Curtin) about driving with her  night vision. "What about pedestrians and bicycle-riders? Did you feel any 'bump-bumps' on the way over?" Dan asks. Doris responds, "I could run over a marching band and not feel a thing in that RV."

Given that Doris drove from Wisconsin, some felt the line was an offensive reference to the Waukesha Christmas parade attack and made their feelings known online. In 2021, a man drove through a parade—which included a marching band, killing six people and injuring over 60 more.

The show's producers apologized and said in a statement, "We would never consciously make light of such an event and are mortified that it was perceived that way. We have pulled the episode in its current form and will ensure this dialogue is removed from future airings."

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Dahmer, "Lionel"

DaShawn Barnes as Rita Isbell in "Dahmer"

Netflix's true crime series Dahmer faced calls for a boycott that were fueled by one episode in particular. The show revolves around serial killer Jeffrey Dahmer and depicts his heinous crimes, which was enough for some potential viewers to stay away. But the episode "Lionel" in particular led to backlash from one of the real-life victim's family members themselves.

That episode features a recreation of the victim statement of Rita Isbell, the sister of Dahmer victim Errol Lindsey. (She's played on the show by DaShawn Barnes.) Isbell made a passionate court appearance, during which she actually faced Dahmer. But while the fictional version of the appearance is accurate to footage of the real Isbell, she said she wasn't contacted at all about the show. She felt that the series could have benefitted the victims' families in some way, considering their stories were being mined for content. She was also upset about having to contront those painful events again.

"When I saw some of the show, it bothered me, especially when I saw myself—when I saw my name come across the screen and this lady saying verbatim exactly what I said," Isbell told Insider, noting that she only watched the parts that featured her as a character. "If I didn't know any better, I would've thought it was me. Her hair was like mine, she had on the same clothes. That's why it felt like reliving it all over again. It brought back all the emotions I was feeling back then."

Midnight Caller, "After It Happened"

Kay Lenz on "Midnight Caller"
Warner Bros. Television Distribution

An episode of the series Midnight Caller was already the target of protests before it even aired. In 1988, word got out that the plot of an episode of the new show would include a bisexual man diagnosed with AIDS knowingly infecting partners and then being killed by one of them. Members of the public protested on location where Midnight Caller was filming in San Francisco.

Critics of the planned episode felt it would be a negative depiction of both people diagnosed with HIV/AIDS and members of the LGBTQ community, as reported by The Los Angeles Times. In response, NBC revised the content of the episode, including cutting out the murder at the end. Midnight Caller went on to air for three seasons, from 1988 to 1991.

Lia Beck
Lia Beck is a writer living in Richmond, Virginia. In addition to Best Life, she has written for Refinery29, Bustle, Hello Giggles, InStyle, and more. Read more
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