CBS Censors a ‘Good Fight’ Segment. Its Topic Was Chinese Censorship.
Midway through the most recent episode of “The Good Fight,” a legal drama that deals with Trump-era politics, a scene depicting a confrontation between lawyers and their clients abruptly stops. Shortly after, for about eight seconds, a black screen flashes the words, “CBS HAS CENSORED THIS CONTENT.”
Some viewers saw the message as satire, just part of the show’s irreverent approach to current events, Michelle King, one of the showrunners, said in an interview on Tuesday.
Others, Ms. King said, took it as the producers had intended: literally.
The show, which runs on the CBS All Access streaming channel, and is a spinoff of “The Good Wife,” often breaks from its plot for an animated musical short that digs into controversial political issues of the day with an explanatory style similar to “Schoolhouse Rock!” A theme of last Thursday’s episode was American companies that want to do business in China and the pressures they face to appease Chinese government censors. An animated short was created on that same theme.
But the short was pulled from the show at the request of CBS about two weeks before it was scheduled to stream, said Ms. King, who created the show with her husband, Robert King.
Jonathan Coulton, the songwriter who makes the shorts, said in an interview that this particular video started with the fact that “The Good Wife” had been banned in China, most likely because of an episode that showed a Chinese dissident character being tortured. (The spinoff “The Good Fight” has not been banned.)
Mr. Coulton said the animated short included a host of references to topics that have been censored on the internet in China. Those include Falun Gong, a spiritual movement that is repressed by the Chinese government; Tiananmen Square, a reference to the violent crackdown on pro-democracy demonstrators in 1989; Winnie-the-Pooh, to whom China’s president, Xi Jinping, is often compared; and the letter N, used by critics of the recent change to the Chinese Constitution that lets Mr. Xi stay in power indefinitely.
“It was a little bit like poking the bear,” Mr. Coulton said. “They had gotten approval all along, and at the last minute, a couple of weeks before, they got word that they couldn’t put it in the show.”
In a statement, CBS All Access said: “We had concerns with some subject matter in the episode’s animated short. This is the creative solution that we agreed upon with the producers.” A spokeswoman declined to comment further.
The New Yorker first reported the details of CBS’s decision to censor the animated short.
Ms. King said she and her husband were taken aback by what they called CBS’s “highly unusual” decision, because of how much controversial material the network normally allows in the show and its musical shorts. The shorts have previously delivered tutorials on neo-Nazi frog memes, Russian troll farms and how Congress could impeach President Trump.
Ms. King said that she and her husband initially told CBS that they would quit the show if the song was pulled but that they eventually agreed on inserting a message saying that the company had censored it.
“We love the show, and we love the cast,” she said, “One doesn’t want to walk away from something that is so creatively fulfilling.”
Mr. Coulton said that he was told that CBS had concerns for the safety of its employees in China if the segment were included. CBS also has a Chinese audience, and when releasing content that is critical of China, American entertainment companies often have to weigh the risk of having their shows or movies blocked in the country.
Just before the censorship message, in fact, the show’s characters discuss a fictional tech company’s decision to appease Chinese censors. The company, called ChumHum is engaged in a secret project to build a “customized” search engine for China. (Google was said last year to be considering such a product.)
“Customized? As in it allows China to censor its content?” one of the characters says.
A ChumHum executive responds: “We don’t like to call it censoring. It just obeys the laws of the land.” Seconds afterward, the show cut to its brief “censored” message.
Mr. Coulton said he bore no ill will toward CBS, understanding that as a large multinational corporation, it had some “tough choices to make.” Still, the whole situation is the “definition of irony,” he said.
“The song ends with me saying, ‘I hope this song is banned in China,’ ” Mr. Coulton said. “Now it’ll never get the chance.”