Bill Clotworthy, a veteran NBC standards and practices executive who was affectionately called “Doctor No” by the cast and crew of Saturday Night Live, has died. He was 95.
Clotworthy died Thursday in hospice in Salt Lake City, his son Robert Clotworthy announced.
After 28 years in advertising, Bill Clotworthy decided to return to NBC — he had been a page there right out of college — and became an executive in standards and practices, keeping watch over such programs as The David Letterman Show, Late Night With David Letterman, The Cosby Show and several daytime dramas.
In 1979, he found himself back at Studio 8H, where he had watched performances of Arturo Toscanini’s NBC Symphony Orchestra, as the on-set director of program standards for Saturday Night Live.
“Doctor No” spent 13 years with the show before he retired in 1991. A decade later, Clotworthy published a memoir titled Saturday Night Live: Equal Opportunity Offender.
Censors are “hard working, dedicated professionals trying to make television acceptable to a large and culturally diverse audience and, not incidentally, to keep the FCC and the U.S. Congress off the backs of their employers,” he wrote.
“And it is not easy, for he (or she) catches it from all sides — the creative community that wants to push the envelope; management that wants ratings and increased profits; special interest groups interested in their image; and educators who want a classroom and preachers who expect a catechism. Did I say the censor was also a juggler, balancing those interests without compromising the creativity or diluting the entertainment value?”
And in a 2002 interview, Clotworthy described one SNL sketch that never made it to air:
It revolved around “a bunch of guys in a fraternity house trying to light farts,” he recalled. “You didn’t see anything, but you heard the voiceover and then there was this big explosion, and Joe Piscopo was dressed as Smokey the Bear, and he came out and said that should be a lesson to everyone — don’t fart with fire.”
He said he was OK with it but was overruled by his boss.
Born on Jan. 13, 1926, in Westfield, New Jersey, William Griffith Clotworthy attended Westfield High School and enlisted in the U.S. Navy toward the end of World War II. While serving from 1943-45, he attended Wesleyan University and Yale on the G.I. Bill and earned a degree in theater from Syracuse University in 1948.
He moved to New York City and was an NBC page for eight months, then joined the Madison Avenue advertising agency BBDO, where he served as the agency representative on Sid Caesar’s Your Show of Shows, Groucho Marx’s You Bet Your Life, The Jack Benny Program and Your Hit Parade.
After moving to Los Angeles in the early 1950s, he was the agency rep on The Danny Kaye Show, The Bing Crosby Show and General Electric Theater, where he met and became lifelong friends with then-host and future U.S. president Ronald Reagan.
In 1974, BBDO transferred Clotworthy to its New York office and promoted him to business manager of television production before he left for NBC.
After his retirement, Clotworthy became a prolific author and lecturer who traveled the U.S. to conduct research for his books on George Washington and first ladies and for his guidebooks to presidential homes, libraries and notable sites. He was an enthusiastic genealogist for more than 50 years.
Survivors include his third wife, Jo Ann; sons Robert — a narrator on the History channel shows Ancient Aliens and The Curse of Oak Island — and Donald; daughters Lynne and Amy; stepsons Peter and Bradford; grandson Will; nieces Susan, Jodi and Erin; and nephew Bruce.
His younger brother was diving champion Bob Clotworthy, who won a bronze and gold medal at the 1952 and 1956 Summer Olympics, respectively.
Clotworthy donated five gallons of blood during his life, his son said. Donations (either in money or blood) in his memory can be made to the American Red Cross or to diabetes research; he lived with Type 2 diabetes for 40 years.