Maude’s Abortion, November 14 & 21, 1972

Written By: Greg Howell - Feb• 24•14

0Maude, the radical spin-off from All In the Family, was even more controversial than Archie Bunker. Brash, loud, and feminist, Maude Finley was a character like no other before on television. Just ten episodes into the series, Norman Lear’s comedy created one of the biggest television controversies of the decade. 47 year-old Maude discovered she was pregnant. This was before the Supreme Court’s landmark Roe vs. Wade decision, but Maude decided to have an abortion.

Titled “Maude’s Dilemma,” the two-part episode unfurls plot devices dealing with the abortion, and also birth control as Walter considers a vasectomy. Over 25,000 letters were written in protest, yet 65 million viewers tuned in. The boycotted show produced an unexpected result: CBS, and the entire television industry, discovered that extremely controversial television brought blockbuster ratings, and Maude hovered in the top ten for the next 4 years.

“Maude’s Dilemma” started a revolution as various advocacy groups turned their attention to television. Religious groups, African-Americans, Gays & Lesbians, and Hispanics began to threaten networks and advertisers with boycotts. A 1989 New York Times article, Taming of the Tube,

“details a more chilling story of human vulnerability to power and corruption: how again and again the networks craftily subverted idealistic protesters by offering them official status as consultants, thus transforming them, if not into pussycats, at least into well-behaved beasts of burden, unwittingly laboring to help the networks achieve their primary goal: higher ratings for the very programs under protest.”

By the home video explosion in the 1980’s, the networks were using hot-button topics to actually lure viewers back to television .

In an interview with USA TodayMaude‘s star Bea Arthur described her experience portraying “the liberal, 4-time married adversary of Archie Bunker, “She was not your average, beautiful heroine, but I felt like Cinderella,” said Arthur. “It was one of the first times on television that a woman was seen as the head of the family instead of the usual fumbling male.”
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