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'The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour,' 50 Years On
February 4, 2017  | By David Bianculli
 

Fifty years ago, The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour premiered on CBS and shook up TV seismically. And based on reader reaction to my Feb. 3, 2017 New York Times Op-Ed story about their show’s golden anniversary, the brothers, and their show, continue to be much appreciated…

I have a long-standing personal and passionate interest in The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour, so I don’t claim to be a wholly objective witness to this phenomenon. In 2009, I wrote a book on the show and its impact, Dangerously Funny: The Uncensored History of ‘The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour.’ But in loving the show, and its stars and guest stars and writers and other collaborators, I’m far from alone, even 50 years on.

Comedy Hour premiered on CBS Feb. 5, 1967, as a desperation-play sacrificial lamb to throw against the most powerful TV hit of that season, NBC’s Bonanza. Tom and Dick Smothers, and their blend of music and comedy, stunned just about everyone with how fast it caught on, and especially how it appealed to a formerly untapped young television audience. Five decades later, those former teenagers and preteens, now on or close to the payback side of Social Security, commented on my Times story by the hundreds, to register their memories of, and appreciation for, the Smothers Brothers and their 1960s TV show.

I’m so happy for Dick and Tom, and for head writer Mason Williams, and anyone else connected with the show who takes the time to read the posted comments. I’m proud of the article – but on behalf of the stars and creators of The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour, I’m touched, and thrilled, by the reaction, and the memories, from readers.

And if you have no firsthand memories of that time and that show, the Times editor of the online piece, Nick Fox, worked diligently to complement the story with videos – more than 30 minutes’ worth of clips from Comedy Hour and elsewhere, or, in one case, a brilliant Comedy Hour clip that was never shown because the network censored it.

Video clips include:

The full, uncensored seven-minute Harry Belafonte “Carnival” medley of rewritten calypso songs, a piece that never made it to air, with Belafonte singing as he stood in front of footage from inside and outside the violence-laden1968 Democratic National Convention in Chicago (held that summer).

The once-censored performance of Pete Seeger” singing his anti-war song “Waist Deep in the Big Muddy.”

Segments from a first-season “Billy the Kid” sketch, never released on home video, featuring Simon and Garfunkel and making some unexpectedly strong points about televised sex and violence.

Musical and comedic performances by Tom and Dick.

A mock editorial on gun control by series regular Pat Paulsen, who eventually ran for President as part of a literal year-long running gag.

And a cameo show of support by George Harrison.

(The New York Times story can be accessed by clicking here.)

And the readers of that Times story are not the only ones remembering the Smothers Brothers as the golden anniversary of Comedy Hour arrives.

New York Times TV critic Neil Genzlinger, in an unrelated article posted last month, put the series and its contributions in perfect context in his Jan. 20 article, The Smothers Brothers and the Birth of TV Buzz.

And a veteran TV critic, John Kiesewetter, noted the anniversary in his wonderful Feb. 3 story for Cincinnati’s public media WVXU website, Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour Premiered 50 Years Ago.

Jane Pauley is scheduled to do an "Almanac" report on the Feb. 5 edition of CBS Sunday Morning, on the exact golden anniversary. I'll be watching...

And, of course, there's always the 2003 documentary by Maureen Muldaur, the thorough and thoroughly entertaining Smothered -- The Censorship Struggles of the Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour, which predated my book by six years. (You can see me in it briefly, though, because I already had been researching the book for almost a decade by that point.) Find that wherever you can -- it gives a season-by-season sampler of clips and filmed interviews that no article, or book, can match.

I’ll try to add new posts and articles and links as I notice them. If you see any, please pass them on. And if you have your own Smothers Brothers memories, please do likewise.

 
 
 
 
 
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Good news, TVWW readers: David’s new book from Doubleday, The Platinum Age of Television: From I Love Lucy to The Walking Dead, How TV Became Terrific is available on Amazon for $20.

Doubleday says: “Darwin had his theory of evolution, and David Bianculli has his. Bianculli's theory has to do with the concept of quality television: what it is and, crucially, how it got that way."

"The Platinum Age of Television is an effusive guidebook that plots the path from the 1950s’ Golden Age to today’s era of quality TV. For instance, animation evolved from Rocky and His Friends to South Park; variety shows moved from The Ed Sullivan Show to Saturday Night Live; and family sitcoms grew from I Love Lucy to Modern Family. A high point is the author’s interviews with Carl Reiner, Mel Brooks, Norman Lear, Bob Newhart, Matt Groening, Larry David, Amy Schumer and many others...Bianculli has written a highly readable history." —The Washington Post

 

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