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Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour, The

1 9 6 7 – 1 9 6 9 (USA)

The Smothers Brothers had a popular nightclub act in which Tom played guitar and acted like a dolt, and Dick played stand-up bass and acted like a normal guy.

CBS decided to use the duo as hosts in a variety format and The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour debuted in February 1967.

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The show landed Tom and Dick Smothers in hot water many times because its skits, guests and overall humour often carried a counterculture political flavour, and people took that stuff very, very seriously at the time.

America was, after all, in the middle of the Vietnam conflict at the time, and 1968 alone saw the Tet offensive, the massacre at My Lai, the violent Chicago Democratic Convention and the assassinations of Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy.

The show was structured much like any variety show (the not-as-threatening Rowan and Martin’s Laugh-In, for example), with production numbers, routines, singing, dancing and celebrity guests. But there were plenty of incidents to raise the CBS hackles . . .

Comedian Pat Paulsen ran for President in 1968 on the campaign slogan “If nominated I will not run, if elected I will not serve,” and Leigh French’s hippie creation Goldie O’Keefe hosted a mock afternoon tea-party show for housewives.

Amazingly, the censors didn’t get that the “tea” represented pot, even though she greeted the audience with: “Hi… and glad of it”.

Singers such as Pete Seeger, Joan Baez and Harry Belafonte ran into problems on the show with plans to do protest songs. CBS killed all those plans, although the network did allow Seeger to reschedule after catching flack from the public.

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Anti-war doctor Benjamin Spock was also barred from the show.

Add to that the frequent accusations of anti-religious attitudes and anti-establishment leanings plus the brothers’ loud objections to network meddling, and it’s surprising the show stayed on TV as long as it did.

According to rumour, President Nixon had been putting pressure on CBS because he didn’t want his authority and Vietnam policy ridiculed.

Despite healthy ratings, the show was unceremoniously booted off the air on 4 April 1969 by network CEO and President, William S. Paley, and replaced by the considerably safer Hee Haw.

The Brothers filed a breach of contract suit against the network, and on 6 April 1973, the Federal court ruled in favour 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.

Tom and Dick found themselves on some sort of blacklist – or a greylist as Tom described it; “You never see a blacklist. It’s just that your career starts to shrivel. TV work stopped, jobs in Las Vegas slowed down, that kind of thing.”