She was a 47-year-old grandmother with a dilemma: an unexpected pregnancy. It was 1972, the year before Roe vs. Wade made abortion the law of the land.
Even though she lived in New York State, where the procedure was legal, the decision on whether to carry the baby to term wasn`t easy. She thought her husband wanted the child; he thought she did. Then they realized that, at their ages, they didn`t want to raise a second family.
Today, Maude’s decision stands as a watershed in TV history, an event that brought the battle over choice into the prime-time arena.
In the current political and economic climate, with the networks besieged by pressure groups and afraid to lose even more of their viewers to home video and cable TV, Maude, like Murphy Brown, would probably have the baby…
The reruns were broadcast, but nearly 40 affiliates chose not to air them, not one corporate sponsor bought commercial time, and CBS received more than 17,000 letters of protest.
Maude’s most famous episode – or infamous, depending on your point of view – actually aired without creating a huge stir in November 1972. Abortion had only recently been legalized in New York, and Roe v. Wade, the 7-to-2 U.S. Supreme Court decision that made the procedure legal nationally, was still two months away. When CBS re-aired the episode in the summer, after Roe v. Wade became law, more than 30 of its affiliated stations declined to carry it because of protests by anti-abortion viewers. Despite the affiliate defections â€” and almost certainly with unintended help from the protesters – the rerun attracted 65 million viewers.
Norman Lear on the controversial abortion episode of Maude
Norman Lear on the controversial abortion episode of Maude.
What is most surprising about “Maude’s Dilemma” upon re-watching it now is not its glib jokes but, rather, its presumption that legalization in New York had settled the issue. Writer Susan Harris, who later created The Golden Girls for Arthur and McClanahan, didn’t anticipate the ferocious anti-abortion backlash that would develop in the wake of Roe. Any rights that “the unborn” might have are not part of the discussions. Indeed, the term “fetus” is never heard. Maude and Carol and Walter and Vivian all speak of “the baby” she’s carrying, but only as an object or appendage. The concerns are entirely for Maude â€” her age, her health, her state of mind, her life expectations.