Network television standards and practices is a department within the network that reviews everything – scripts (every draft), photographs, advertising, on-air promos, finished shows & movies, credits at the top and end of shows – EVERYTHING. They look at and pass judgment on everything. If what you’re submitting to them, for air on their network, does not fit within their standards or their practices they will tell you to change it .

They won’t tell you what to change it to, but they will tell you that as written or as executed it will not get the approval of standards and practices and the ultimately will not wind up on the network.

Network Standards And Practices ALWAYS wins - against all creatives and even network executives ' Share on X

In Practice

My experience, when delivering programming to the networks, is that they are the end-all-be-all decision-maker about what gets on the network and what does not. I remember a time when my boss wasn’t happy with a decision from the head of standards and practices (they said take out a line that was too racy) so she called the network boss, who she had a close relationship with, and complained.  The intention of that call was to get the head of the network to tell standards and practices to let us keep the line in the movie we were about to deliver. The head of the network politely said “whatever standards and practices is telling you is what will happen.”

That meant even the highest ranking person at the network, the man running the network and their most profitable producer on the network, could not tell standards and practices what to do and allow producers or other creatives to work around that department.

Why so powerful

Over the decades, the networks have built a very serious wall around the standards and practices departments so that they’re not influenced by outside forces and pressured into putting material on the air that could possibly jeopardize the broadcast license of a companies like ABC, NBC, CBS, & FOX, Etc.

For decades standards and practices have been very good at maintaining a level of quality and keeping the salacious and  potentially damaging material from being released on their air and through the network. The purpose was to prevent the federal government or the state government from telling the broadcasters what to do and what to say on air. And it has been successful for decades and continues to be successful to this day.

Pitch A Fit If You Want

If you’re a creative, a mid-level executive or a producer who is unhappy about a decision that has been rendered by standards and practices, for material that you’re hoping to get on the air –  get over yourself!

As I said, the system of standards and practices was designed for the sole purpose of keeping the government out of the networks business and censoring what was allowed to be broadcast on their network. Without standards and practices the networks were concerned that the federal government and state governments would censor what they were allowed to do, say and report on what is a public airwave licensed by the federal government to the networks. They did it for the sole purpose of keeping the government out.

If you think that you’re need to show someone’s ass or boob, to get an adult subject on air or a swear word out, supersedes the networks desire to keep the federal government at bay you truly don’t understand the power of the federal and state governments with regard to censorship.  You also don’t understand your place in the pecking order or your career’s longevity compared to the network’s ability to survive and thrive for decades.

You can try a First Amendment argument – you will lose!

You can try “the story needs it” argument – you will lose!

You can even try “everyone else is doing it” argument – you will lose!

You can try “but they can do it on cable TV” argument – you will lose!

Are you seeing a trend?

There has been no more powerful department or individual at a broadcast network then standards and practices.  Get used to it and learn how to play ball with them.   Good luck!