What has changed is the mechanics of removal. In predigital days, taking an episode out of circulation meant cutting it from the syndicated rerun schedule and, behind the scenes, removing the physical tape masters and “servicing files” from their designated inventories and labeling them “out of service.” Episodes or films were then funneled to climate-controlled vaults and, in the case of companies like Sony, the Library of Congress’s National Audiovisual Conservation Center in Culpeper, Va.
Nowadays, with most shows entirely shot and stored digitally, pulling one of them “is just to take the digital file down,” Simon said. An episode — or potentially an entire series — can be ordered down, fully removed from streaming and access-restricted in less than 24 hours.
In a sketch called “Know Your Rights” from the episode, Cross plays Gilvin Daughtry, a citizens’ rights vlogger who desperately dons blackface to try to provoke a Black police officer, played by Keegan-Michael Key, into arresting him. Daughtry is then pepper-sprayed and tased by a white cop played by Jay Johnston, another writer on the series.
In certain cases, takedowns are executed voluntarily. Fey and Robert Carlock, the creators of “30 Rock,” as well as Bill Lawrence of “Scrubs,” requested that episodes of their series featuring blackface be removed from streaming services. NBC, ABC and their various partners complied.
Other times, however, the process is more complex. Cross said his episode’s removal, for example, set off a series of contentious discussions involving his manager, Odenkirk and Netflix executives. He and Odenkirk also tweeted about the episode’s withdrawal, prompting a phone call from Ted Sarandos, the company’s chief content officer (since promoted to co-chief executive), who was “very, very respectful” of “the frustration that we would be feeling as artists who put this thing out there with no ill intent,” Cross said.