Standards and Practices
From The TV IV
Standards and Practices, or S&P, is a legal department within most networks, or groups of networks (Turner Broadcasting, MTV Networks) which creates a set of rules and guidelines for the networks to abide by so that they may function without any legal worries. For fans of television, Standards and Practices is mainly thought of as the governing body that determines acceptable content.
Standards and Practices reviews programming prior to broadcast to make sure the content won't create any backlash that the network would have to spend money on fighting in court, or through other legal methods. A good example of this is the fair use law. If a TV show uses a copyrighted character or image in more than one episode, S&P will most likely ask them to remove it the second time as it has now become infringement. S&P is also obligated to remove any potentially offensive images, language, and situations. This is to avoid government censorship or fines, public outcry, and loss of advertisers (who don't wish to be associated with offensive content). Most smaller networks that fly under the radar do not have a Standards and Practices department, as they don't have enough viewers to warrant a backlash. The more viewed cable networks, and all the terrestrial networks, need an S&P department in place as there is more money to potentially lose.
The creative people behind television shows are frequently at odds with Standards and Practices, with their efforts to push the envelope with edgy or racy content often thwarted. Some creators will get lucky and get more leeway from S&P, simply because the department enjoys the program more. Unfortunately, a lot of the content restrictions placed on television series, moreso on cable, are because of S&P assuming the potential negative outcomes. In some select cases, Standards persons have tried to remove content from programming because it didn't agree with their political ideologies. Stars of shows like Tough Crowd with Colin Quinn have spoken out about this. It often depends on what standards person has been assigned to review the show, and how lucky the creators and staff can get.