Hollywood's big night was beamed to the world with a five-second time delay, and broadcaster ABC ordered some controversial quips cut before the show, sparking debate about how far political correctness should go and freedom of speech controlled.

 

Comedian Robin Williams said it all when he walked on stage with a piece of white tape over his mouth.

 

Williams was to have performed a song lampooning conservative critic James Dobson, whose group had criticised cartoon character SpongeBob SquarePants for appearing in a video it branded "pro-homosexual."

 

He was going to do it by concentrating on the dark underside of other cartoon characters, asking, for example whether Casper the Friendly Ghost wore that white sheet as a member of the Ku Klux Klan.

 

Objections

 

Marc Shaiman, who wrote Williams' original routine, said he decided to withdraw the material after ABC raised objections that would have led to him re-writing 11 of 36 lines. ABC declined to comment.

 

"It's ironic because I feel the song is silly and the situation is silly and yet on the other hand it's extremely serious," Shaiman said from New York. "This is the most blatant, immature censorship that I've ever come across."

 

"This is the most
blatant, immature censorship that I have ever come across"

Marc Shaiman,
script writer

Williams did eventually develop an act questioning cartoon characters' sexuality. But it was a pale imitation of some of the lines originally planned, and he looked pained performing it.

 

"The show lost what would have been the best minute-and-a-half they would have had last night," Shaiman said, before adding: "Where does the buck stop?" 

Flagging ratings
 

 

Chris Rock, the edgy black comedian called in to host the show, and, some say, to boost flagging ratings, was also in trouble long before the Oscars got under way.

 

He previously joked that straight, black men did not watch the Oscars, drawing an angry response from commentators like Jake Lamar, an African American, who called Rock's comments "a massive generalisation" and "depressing."

 

Then Oscar producer Gil Cates weighed in, calling ABC's decision to introduce a time delay in transmitting from Kodak theatre a "terrible idea" and a concession to political correctness.