The Monkees Took on NBC’s Censors by Slipping in a Word Not Appropriate for Primetime Television

The Monkees writers were held to entirely different social standards than those who pen the series of today. In the late 1960s, there were still certain things one could not say on television. The Monkees cast bent the rules during the filming of a particular episode, where they took on NBC’s censors by slipping in a word not appropriate for primetime television at the time

The Monkkes pose in front of a red curtain in the episode "The Devil and Peter Tork."
The Monkees pose in front of a red curtain in the episode “The Devil and Peter Tork” | Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

The show’s stars had some fun with the censors during season 2

In season 2’s “The Devil and Peter Tork,” Mike Nesmith, Peter Tork, Davy Jones, and Micky Dolenz, had some fun with NBC’s censors. They each slipped in a censored word to see if it would be noticed before the episode aired.

The incident brought the whole idea of censorship to a crux.

Loosely based on the film The Devil and Daniel Webster, Tork sells his soul to the devil after finding an ornate harp in a pawn shop.

The man running the shop, named “Mr. Zero,” allows Tork to take the harp home and pay for it later. The hapless Tork signs a contract and leaves with the instrument. He realizes he can play it beautifully in spite of never having touched a harp before.

Little did Tork know that he had sold his soul to the devil to be able to play the stringed instrument.

What was the censored word The Monkees said repeatedly?

The Monkees pose wearing red pants, yellow shirts and black vests.
The Monkees pose wearing red pants, yellow shirts, and black vests | NBCUniversal via Getty Images

In the scene, Nesmith, Jones, and Dolenz try to explain the idea of hell to Tork.

The use of the word ‘hell” on-camera was not allowed at the time.

However, each time a cast member mentioned “hell,” an off-camera toot censored the word so it could not be heard.

After explaining how he achieved his new musical prowess, Nesmith tells Tork, “That’s what hell is all about.”

“Yeah, hell is pretty scary,” said Jones.

“You know what’s even more scary? You can’t say ‘hell’ on television,” joked Dolenz, who looked directly at the camera as he said the verboten word.

Micky Dolenz spoke of the incident in his autobiography

Micky Dolenz poses for a photograph.
Micky Dolenz poses for a press photograph in the 1960s | King Collection/Avalon/Getty Images

Dolenz discussed the incident in his book I’m a Believer: My Life of Monkees, Music, and Madness.

“Having to do with the Devil, of course, there was the occasional mention of the word ‘hell,’ Dolenz said of the season 2 episode.

“The network refused even to let us mention the word! The producers went to bat on this one, and we managed to make a joke of it on the show. That should give you some idea of the national sociopolitical atmosphere that prevailed at the time.” Dolenz admitted in the book.

It would be Star Trek who would gain notoriety as the first series where the word “hell” was uttered.

William Shatner, as Captain Kirk, says, “Let’s get the hell out of here” at the conclusion of the “City on the Edge of Forever” episode reported IMDb.

The Monkees aired on NBC for two seasons, from 1966 through 1968.

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