Monday, January 16, 2017

Was Star Trek The First Show To Say "Pregnant" On Television?

Still from "The Trouble with Tribbles" (1967)
In "The Trouble with Tribbles," when asked about the furry creatures that have begun to infest the Enterprise, Dr. McCoy explains to Captain Kirk that, "The nearest thing I can figure out is they're born pregnant, which seems to be quite a time saver."

This was the only time the word "pregnant" was uttered on the original Star Trek. McCoy had been scripted to say, "I just finished examining her. She's pregnant," at the end of "Who Mourns for Adonais?" — but the scene was cut during editing. And although "Friday's Child" was centered on a pregnant woman (played by Julie Newmar), neither the word "pregnant" nor the word "pregnancy" were said on air.

Nearly fifty years after the episode was made, however, "Tribbles" writer David Gerrold is making a much more grandiose claim about it:
This was the first time the word 'pregnant' was used on TV. Lucy couldn't use it when she got pregnant.
- David Gerrold, Commentary track for "The Trouble with Tribbles," Star Trek: The Original Series - The Roddenberry Vault (2016), 32:35-32:40
Gerrold's anecdote about I Love Lucy has been confirmed by multiple people involved with the famous sitcom. In his posthumous memoir, for example, producer Jess Oppenheimer wrote:
The network [CBS] had already issued a firm edict that we could not use the word "pregnant" on the show. We could say she was expecting." She could be "with child." But never "pregnant." They were still deathly afraid that some segment of the public would find something offensive in our pregnancy shows.
- Jess Oppenheimer with Gregg Oppenheimer, Laughs, Luck...and Lucy: How I Came to Create the Most Popular Sitcom of All Time (1999), p.198
The episodes covering Lucy Ricardo's on-screen pregnancy were filmed and broadcast in 1952 (during I Love Lucy's second season), fifteen years before "The Trouble with Tribbles" first aired on NBC (on December 29, 1967). When it came to the emerging medium of television, much had changed, both creatively and technically, between 1952 and 1967. Is it really possible that the word "pregnant" went unused on TV until Star Trek?

As it turns out, the answer is a definite no. Although I've hardly done comprehensive research in this area, the word "pregnant" shows up at least five years earlier on The Dick Van Dyke Show. In "Never Name a Duck," written by Carl Reiner (who also created the series), an eccentric character says of her cat, "She thinks she's pregnant." The episode first aired on September 26, 1962, and the relevant line can be viewed here.

It's possible, of course, that "pregnant" appeared on television earlier. I certainly don't know enough about the subject to claim with any certainty that The Dick Van Dyke Show was the first show to say "pregnant" on television, but it certainly precedes the use of the word on Star Trek. If you know of earlier examples, I'd love to hear about them in the comments below.

Image courtesy of Trek Core.


The Robert H. Justman Collection of Star Trek Television Series Scripts (1966-1968)

Laughs, Luck...and Lucy: How I Came to Create the Most Popular Sitcom of All Time (Jess Oppenheimer with Gregg Oppenheimer, 1999)