The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour
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|The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour|
Tom and Dick as Romans in a 1968 skit.
|Directed by||Bill Davis
|Narrated by||Roger Carroll (announcer)|
|Theme music composer||Mason Williams
|Opening theme||"The Brothers Theme"|
|Country of origin||United States|
|No. of seasons||3|
|No. of episodes||71|
|Executive producer(s)||Ken Fritz|
|Running time||45–48 minutes|
|Production company(s)||Comedic Productions, Inc.|
|Original run||February 5, 1967– June 8, 1969|
|Preceded by||The Smothers Brothers Show (1965)|
|Followed by||The Smothers Brothers Show (1975)|
The series was a major success, especially considering it was scheduled against the major NBC television series, Bonanza, with content that appealed to contemporary youth viewership with daring political satire humor and major music acts like Buffalo Springfield, Pete Seeger and The Who. Despite this success, continual conflicts with network executives over content led to the show being abruptly pulled from the schedule in violation of the Smothers' contract in 1969.
The show started out as only a slightly "hip" version of the typical comedy-variety show of its era, but rapidly evolved into a show that extended the boundaries of what was considered permissible in television satire. While the Smothers themselves were at the forefront of these efforts, credit also goes to the roster of writers and regular performers they brought to the show, including Jim Stafford (who served as their head writer and producer), Steve Martin, Don Novello ("Father Guido Sarducci"), Rob Reiner ("Mike Stivic"), Presidential candidate Pat Paulsen, Bob Einstein ("Super Dave Osborne", "Marty Funkhouser", and "Officer Judy"), Einstein's brother, Albert (who works professionally as Albert Brooks), and resident hippie Leigh French ("Share a Little Tea with Goldie"). The show also introduced audiences to pop singer Jennifer Warnes (originally billed as Jennifer Warren or simply Jennifer), who was a regular on the series. The television premiere of Mason Williams' hit record, Classical Gas, took place on the show, and Williams himself received an Emmy for his work as a staff writer.
The series showcased new musical artists that other comedy-variety shows rarely gave airtime, due to the nature of their music or their political affiliations. George Harrison, Joan Baez, Buffalo Springfield, Cass Elliot, Harry Belafonte, Cream, Donovan, The Doors, Janis Ian, Yank Barry, Jefferson Airplane, Peter, Paul and Mary, Spanky and Our Gang, Steppenwolf, The Who, Simon and Garfunkel, Ray Charles, The Hello People and Pete Seeger were showcased during the latter years of the show despite the advertiser-sensitive nature of their music.
Seeger's appearance on the Season 2 premiere which aired on September 10, 1967 was his first on network commercial television in 17 years since being blacklisted in 1950. His performance of "Waist Deep in the Big Muddy" was dropped from the broadcast after his refusal to comply with CBS's request to remove the sixth verse. The song, its story related to the present by the controversial stanza, was a metaphor for President Lyndon B. Johnson and his Vietnam War policy. Seeger was eventually allowed to reappear on the show to perform the song again on Episode 24 later that season.
In 1968, the show broadcast several promotional videos (later known as "music videos") for The Beatles' songs "Hey Jude" and "Revolution". Before a rowdy crowd at the Los Angeles Forum, Jimi Hendrix dedicated "I Don't Live Today" to the Smothers Brothers, as heard on The Jimi Hendrix Box Set.
The performance by The Who in 1967 was another defining moment in the series. As they often did during that period, The Who destroyed their instruments at the conclusion of their performance of "My Generation", with the usual addition of mild explosives in Moon's drum kit for light pyrotechnic effect. Unbeknownst to the cast and the crew of the show and his bandmates, Moon had bribed a stage hand with a bottle of whiskey to place 10 times of the standard amount of explosives commonly hidden in his bass drum, prior to the show. When Moon detonated it, the explosion was so intense that a piece of cymbal shrapnel cut into Moon's arm; Moon is heard moaning in pain toward the end of the piece. Townshend, who had been in front of Moon's drums at the time, had his hair singed by the blast; he is seen putting out sparks in his hair before finishing the sketch with a visibly shocked Tommy Smothers. Allegedly, the blast contributed heavily to Townshend's long-term hearing loss.
Controversies and cancellation
With the focus of the show having evolved towards a more youth-oriented one, the show became both popular and controversial for those same references to youth culture and the issues that both interested and affected this particular target audience. Three specific targets of satire — racism, the President of the United States, and the Vietnam War — would wind up defining the show's content for the remainder of its run, and eventually lead to its demise.
Whereas most older audiences were tuning into shows like the western Bonanza, the younger generation — ages 15–25 — were watching the Smothers' more socially relevant humor.
The Brothers soon found themselves in regular conflicts with CBS' network censors. At the start of the 1968/69 season, the network ordered that the Smothers deliver their shows finished and ready to air ten days before airdate so that the censors could edit the shows as necessary. In the season premiere, CBS deleted the entire segment of Belafonte singing "Lord, Don't Stop the Carnival" against a backdrop of the havoc during the 1968 Democratic National Convention, along with two lines from a satire of their main competitor, Bonanza. As the year progressed, battles over content continued, including a David Steinberg sermon about Moses and the Burning Bush.
With some local stations making their own deletions of controversial skits or comments, the continuing problems over the show reached a boiling point after CBS showed a rerun on March 9, 1969. The network explained the decision by stating that because that week's episode did not arrive in time to be previewed, it would not be shown. In that program, Joan Baez paid tribute to her then-husband–David Harris–who was entering jail after refusing military service, while comedian Jackie Mason made a joke about children "playing doctor." When the show finally did air, two months later, the network allowed Baez to state that her husband was in prison, but edited out the reason.
Despite the conflict, the show was picked up for the 1969-70 season on March 14, seemingly ending the debate over the show's status. However, network CEO and President, William S. Paley, abruptly canceled the show on April 4, 1969. The reason given by CBS was based on the Smothers' refusal to meet the pre-air delivery dates as specified by the network in order to accommodate review by the local affiliates before airing. This cancellation led the Brothers to file a breach of contract suit against the network. On April 6, 1973, the Federal court ruled in favor of the Smothers and ordered CBS to pay them $766,000. The suit, however, failed to see the Brothers or their show returned to the air.
The saga of the cancellation of the show is the subject of a 2002 documentary film, Smothered.
The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour was revived for the 1988–1989 television season, which included the return of cast regular Pat Paulsen as well as new, aspiring performers. The revival lasted one season. The revived Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour began production during a 1988 Writers Guild of America strike, resulting in the brothers being allowed to perform their own material.
- The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour (1967) at the Internet Movie Database
- Dangerously Funny: The Uncensored Story of the Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour, by David Bianculli, Touchstone, 2009.
- Fresh Air with Dave Davies, Nov. 30, 2009
- Gent, George. "Seeger Accuses C.B.S. Over Song; Act Cut When He Refused To Drop Verse, Says Seeger," The New York Times, Friday, September 15, 1967.
- The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour – The Museum of Broadcast Communications.
- Tom Smothers Interview
- Smothered: The Censorship Struggles of the Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour at the Internet Movie Database
- The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour (1988) at the Internet Movie Database
- Bianculli, David (2009). Dangerously Funny: The Uncensored Story of "The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour". Touchstone. ISBN 978-1-4391-0116-2.
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour.|
- The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour at the Internet Movie Database
- The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour at TV.com
- list of episodes on official Smothers Brothers site: www.smothersbrothers.com/episodes.htm
- The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour-related interview videos at the Archive of American Television