Ask the Flying Monkey: What’s the Most Famous Example of Accidental Male Nudity on TV?

From Jack Tripper to Survivor: Gabon’s Mark Lehman, we count down TV’s most infamous peek-a-boo-boos.

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Q: That old rumor about Jack Tripper’s scrotum being visible on an episode of Three’s Company got me thinking: what do you think is the most famous example of accidental nudity on TV? – Scott, Boise, Idaho

A: There are a number of ways to think about this – and since we’re talking male nudity, I’m determined to think about them all.

The most famous example of a TV peek-a-boo-boo? It’s still probably peace activist Robert Opel’s nude streak across the stage at the 1974 Oscars, prompting host David Niven to quip, “Isn’t it fascinating to think that probably the only laugh that man will ever get in his life is by stripping off and showing his shortcomings?”

David Niven and streaker

A couple of interesting facts: while the theater audience got a good look, Opel’s genitals were only very briefly visible (in a blur, no less) to the live television audience. And evidence has emerged that the stunt was planned and that Niven’s quip was written in advance – not “just in case it happens,” as has often been reported.

Also, Opel, who became briefly famous after the stunt, was gay. He was murdered in 1979 in a San Francisco gallery of erotic gay male art that he opened in 1978 (reportedly the first ever). At first, it was thought to be a robbery-gone-bad, but it was later learned the two killers were drug dealers to whom Opel reportedly owed money.

The most explicit example of accidental nudity on American broadcast television? Well, I’m discounting sporting event streakings and accidental locker room flashes – like Minnesota Viking Visanthe Shiancoe’s (very brief) full-frontal exposure on Fox Sports in 2008 (out rugby star Gareth Thomas was similarly caught on British television). If we included these, we’d be here all day.

Visanthe Shiancoe

As for Mark Ballas’ much-ballyhooed so-called “erection” with dancing partner Shawn Johnson on a 2009 episode of Dancing with the Stars, I’m reminded of people who see Jesus in their cornflakes. I simply don’t see anything that can’t be easily explained by a tucked-in shirt.

Mark Ballas

So I guess I’d call it for Marcus Lehman’s infamous “boxers bounce” on Survivor: Gabon in 2008. How Lehman’s visible penis coming out the front of his fly got past the editors, I don’t know – but it’s a good bet that it’s part of the reason why reality show producers have gone somewhat “pixelate-happy” in recent years, as with gay brothers Sam and Dan’s mud-volleyball-game-in-their-underwear in a 2009 episode of The Amazing Race.

Marcus Lehman

As for Jack Tripper’s Three’s Company flash, I’m of the opinion that it also was much ado about nothing – and no, that’s not a pun about the size of star John Ritter’s member. No one even noticed that Ritter’s barely visible scrotum in the 1983 episode “The Charming Stranger” until it began to rerun on Nick at Night in the late 1990s (when, presumably, people were more likely to freeze the frame on the VCRs). The episode was re-edited in 2001.

Jack Ritter

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