Jean Stapleton as Edith Bunker, Carroll O'Connor as Archie Bunker, show creator: Norman Lear, Rob Reiner as Michael Stivic, Sally Struthers as Gloria Bunker Stivic and Mike Evans as Lionel Jefferson. On the set of 'All in the Family,' Sept. 25, 1971.
CBS Photo Archive / Getty Images
June 11, 2015 4:30 PM EDT

In 1976, when a U.S. District Court ruled that the “adoption of the family viewing policy by each of the networks constituted a violation of the First Amendment,” it was a victory for freedom of speech—and for television ratings.

In the lawsuit, the Writers Guild—and famous-name plaintiffs like Norman Lear and Allan Burns—successfully established that the FCC had pressured the networks into a programming policy that neither the public nor the artists chose. The so-called family hour or family viewing policy (also known as the “prime time censorship rule”) mandated that the hours before 9:00 p.m. should be used only for shows that were appropriate for all ages.

As this preview clip from CNN’s The Seventies (premiering Thursday night at 9:00) shows, that wasn’t working for anyone:

But free speech wasn’t the only reason why the writers were glad to ditch the family hour. As TIME had reported in 1975, attempts to rearrange schedules to fit with the family viewing policy had also contributed to a noted decline in ratings:

Read the full story, here in the TIME Vault: When Things Are Rotten

Write to Lily Rothman at

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