Happiness is a Warm TV

WRAL censors ‘Saturday Night Live’ episode with Dave Chappelle

Comedian Dave Chappelle, center, with members of the group A Tribe Called Quest, Jarobi White, left, and Q-Tip, right.
Comedian Dave Chappelle, center, with members of the group A Tribe Called Quest, Jarobi White, left, and Q-Tip, right. Rosalind O'Connor/NBC

Local viewers of last night’s Dave Chappelle-hosted “Saturday Night Live” may have noticed something a little off about the broadcast: a whole lot of audio outages.

Complaints across social media questioned whether the station was censoring the show or perhaps having technical problems.

Steven D. Hammel, vice president & general manager at WRAL, confirmed this morning that the outages were intentional and according to their “obscenity, decency and profanity” policy.

In a statement, Hammel said:

“WRAL-TV has a station obscenity, decency and profanity policy that outlines 10 specific words that will not be broadcast on our air. This policy is based on our own standards in combination with FCC guidelines. Our broadcast operators have a 10-second delay button they can choose to use. During Saturday Night Live on NBC, guest host Dave Chappell used 2 of those words on 9 different occasions and they were silenced. Obviously, SNL is a live show so we had no prior indication about what would be said during the broadcast. We understand this caused disruption during the program. We wanted our audience to know this was a station decision, not the network's, and why we made that choice.”

Viewers in other markets – from Philadelphia, Dallas, New York and Greenville, N.C. – reported on Twitter that their broadcasts were not interrupted.

The outages occurred repeatedly during Chappelle’s monologue and again during a digital short in which Chappelle spoofed a well known scene from the TV show “The Walking Dead,” in which he threatened characters from his old “Chappelle’s Show” (all characters played by Chappelle) with a baseball bat. The outages also occurred during a later sketch featuring Chappelle.

Later Sunday, Hammel elaborated on the station’s decision to censor portions of the show and promised to review the policy:

"We apologize for impeding the full flow and message of Dave Chappelle's monologue. It was not our intention to censor his message. We followed policies and procedures that have been in place for many years for programming of any kind.This is an opportunity for us to review those policies and procedures. We will, and will consider viewer input as we do that."

[Note: Clips here are not censored.]

The episode, the first after the election, opened with Kate McKinnon as Hillary Clinton singing “Hallelujah,” the most famous song by Leonard Cohen, who died this week.

There was also an “Election Night in America” sketch in which Dave Chappelle and Chris Rock watch election results with a group of white friends in New York City who are shocked by the Trump win.

“Chappelle’s Show” ran for three seasons on Comedy Central, 2003-2006, and became a cultural phenomenon. He abruptly ended the show and has been, for the most part, out of the spotlight since then.