Why the audio dropped out after Will Smith slapped Chris Rock during the Oscars

By Matt Collins Article may include affiliate links

After Will Smith’s now infamous on-stage smack during the 2022 Oscars, American viewers might have thought their TVs were malfunctioning after ABC’s telecast lost audio and the picture skipped around.

However, that was all done on purpose.

Like many awards shows, the Oscars is aired on a slight delay (typically around 7 seconds), giving the network’s standards and practices monitors time to remove anything objectionable that’s said from making it out over the network.

Most often this is profanity that’s not suitable for primetime network broadcasts.

However, after Smith took the swing at Chris Rock, who was on stage presenting, it appears ABC censors might have gotten overly cautious and dropped the audio completely.

The incident started after Rock made a joke about Smith’s wife, Jada Pinkett Smith, and her shaved head.

Pinkett Smith lives with hair loss, which is likely why she opted for that look.

“Jada, I love ya. G.I. Jane 2, can’t wait to see ya,” he said.

Shortly after this was when Smith came on stage and hit Rock.

In other parts of the world where standards are different or broadcasters simply have different rules, the full audio was carried.

In the U.S., audiences only heard Rock say “Will Smith just…” before the audio was silenced.

It turns out he actually said “Will Smith just smacked the shit out of me,” with “shit” being the word that likely caused the S&P to mute the audio.

It appears the network may have opted to keep the audio silenced in case anything else happened, which turned out to be wise.

“Keep my wife’s name out your fucking mouth!” Smith could be heard yelled from the audience, according to U.K. versions of the incident, while Rock remained on screen.

“Wow, dude, it was a G.I. Jane joke,” said Rock.

That garnered another “Keep my wife’s name out your fucking mouth!” from Smith, this time captured by a camera aimed at him. This was also muted in the U.S., though it’s fairly easy to tell he dropped an F-bomb.

At that point, ABC’s feed jumped forward slightly, likely because the standards team opted to yank the entire exchange at that point.

The audio returned and Rock can be heard saying “I’m going to, OK? That was the … greatest night in the history of television,” he joked before moving on to present the award.

Watch the uncensored version below (possibly NSFW and contains physical violence).

Many live telecasts also have a wide “cover” shot of the venue that can be quickly cut to, along with either a censor’s bleep or muted audio.

This shot is often a camera mounted high up in the auditorium or venue where nothing happening on stage is easily discernable.

This approach not only prevents objectionable language from making it on air, but also can prevent a person using offensive language from appearing on screen and, possibly, the words still possible to make out with lip reading.

It also protects from the network airing visuals of physical actions that might prove objectionable — anything ranging from flipping the bird or other gestures or even nudity.

In cases like this, it’s often not possible to blur parts of the screen so quickly because there’s only about 7 seconds to act and blurring requires someone to identify the location on screen that needs to be covered.