The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour

CBS (ended 1970)



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The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour

Show Summary

Considered by many as a "poster show" for the First Amendment, The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour didn't quite begin that way.
Less than a year after the cancellation of a sitcom also on CBS, the network gave Tom and Dick Smothers another chance with a variety series. This time, the formula worked. The sibling rivalry continued with aplomb, and the show was a better showcase for their musical and comedic talents. Not to mention the high-caliber talent who guested on the show: Mickey Rooney, George Segal, Kenny Rogers, and Liberace, to name just a few. The show was also a showcase for new talent and a venue for hot music. Mason Williams, Steve Martin, Bob Einstein, and Rob Reiner cut their teeth in the entertainment business with this show. Among the highlights in the music department: The Doors, The Who (whose "smashing" appearance ranks among VH1's Greatest Moments In Rock And Roll History), George Harrison, and Paul Revere And The Raiders. The show was also a hotbed of controversy, more or less. Through 72 episodes over 2½ seasons, and depending on the source of the story, The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour was either working their butts off to make the CBS network happy over bits and pieces of their programs being censored, or were just being outright rebellious to see how much they could put on the air. In April 1969, the flashpoint happened: the show was cancelled, despite protests. The battle over the show would actually end in 1973, when a court ruled the Smothers firing to be illegal (they had been officially renewed weeks before their cancellation), and that their First Amendment rights had been violated. The win was financially small compared to the multi-millions won in lawsuits today, but the moral win was a lot bigger: the door opened for more venues or creativity. There remains some question, however, if Free Speech in the form of political satire is still really free. Tom Smothers expressed this in his appearance on the American Public Television series Speaking Freely.


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    • A show that pushed the envelope of free speech on TV while entertaining us at the same time.

      There have been many, many variety shows in the history of television. Many were very good, others were very bad. But most seemed to follow a similar format, offering music, comedy, sketches, and celebrity guests.

      The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour was no different in its format. What made the show stand out from all other variety shows were (1) the unique humor of and relationship between Tom and Dick and (2) their willingness to push the bounderies of what could and could not be said on television.

      As for the second element, we aren't talking about dirty words; we're talking about saying things that were (gasp!) critical of our government and its dealings. The Smothers Brothers' show was the first to tackle the problems and controversies of the very troubled and changing times of the late 60s. They embraced the youth movement, the anti-war movement, the hippy culture, and the anti-establishment feelings of the time, and they allowed their show to be vessel for contrary and controversial opinions and attitudes.

      At the same time, the show was very funny, smart and entertaining. The Smothers themselves always seemed to be on the mark with their hilarious routines and brotherly arguments interspercing their folk songs. They had an excellent cast of regulars (Pat Paulsen, Leigh French, Bob Einstein) and a wonderful mix of old-school and new-school celebrity guests.

      So, while its format was familiar, the show itself was like no other on television. It was controversial and entertaining at the same time, and it paved the way for greater and greater freedom of speech on the small screen in the years to come. There will likely never be another show like The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour.moreless
    • Controversy Shmontroversy

      Although known to be outspoken, and quietly rebellious one thing seems to be forgotten about the Smothers excruciatingly funny they were. Dick, the perfect strait man, and innocent looking Tom hitting every one out of the park. They were also very musically talented. If you haven't seen them seek them out.
    • 10:00 pm