Thursday, February 10, 2011

CBS vs. the Smothers Brothers

Here's another excerpt from the book I'm writing about growing up in the '60s. Hopefully, I'll be finished sometime mid-year. The drugs are starting to take effect and I'm beginning to remember 1969 again. But this is an entry from 1967.  It gives a little TV history.

THE SMOTHERS BROTHERS COMEDY HOUR premiered on CBS. Tommy and Dick Smothers rose from the folk music ranks but with a spin. They did comedy. Gentle and wholesome and they still played banjos but comedy nonetheless. CBS figured they’d be the perfect hosts for a variety show geared towards middle-America. Boy, were they wrong.

THE SMOTHERS BROTHERS COMEDY HOUR evolved into the hippest show on television. And later, the most controversial. With young edgy writers like Steve Martin on board, the humor was biting and satiric. Very anti-establishment. Musical guests included Joan Baez, the Doors, Jefferson Airplane, the Who, and for the first time since he was blacklisted in the 50s – Pete Seeger. Seeger caused a huge stir when he sang “Waist Deep in the Big Muddy”, an anti-war song. CBS censored it his first appearance but allowed it his second.

That was just one of many battles between the Smothers Brothers (primarily Tommy, who was the creative force of the show) and network censors. Despite its high ratings, especially among my generation, CBS cancelled the show two years later. If they were on today getting those numbers in the key 18-34 demographic, they could show a snuff film live and still stay on the air.

I loved its subversive humor. So much so that I wrote the Smothers Brothers a letter offering my services as a writer. (I was in high school then and had never written a thing.) I got back an autographed picture. I guess that meant no.

Still, I adored that show and fifteen years later I won my first Writers Guild Award and the presenter was… Tommy Smothers. How cool is that? Now I have two autographed pictures.

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