‘Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour’: Ahead of Its Time

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Tommy Smothers interviewing Roger Daltrey on The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour, Sept. 17, 1967

CBS TV thought they were getting an old-school variety show when they added The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour as a mid-season replacement in early 1967 to air up against NBC’s longtime powerhouse Western drama Bonanza on Sunday nights. Instead they wound up with the most cutting-edge TV series to date.

The program was one of the first shows on TV to feature political comedy and satire, with its critical views of the Vietnam War and the Nixon administration. The hour-long series, which ran from 1967-1969, starred Tom and Dick Smothers, and a (literal) Who’s Who of talented guests and classic rock acts.

Because of its then-controversial content, portions of the show were constantly cut and bleeped by the network censors. Though it had already been renewed for a fourth season, CBS reversed course and made the decision to cancel it even though the show was regularly in the Top 10 and a huge hit with its socially conscious younger audience. Decades later, it’s considered not only ahead of its time, but one of television’s greatest and most influential series.

The program’s writers – including Steve Martin, Rob Reiner, and Bob “Super Dave” Einstein – won an Emmy and were nominated for another.

Dick (L) and Tom Smothers

The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour served as a showcase to some of the greatest names in rock music, including The Who, The Doors, the Buffalo Springfield, the Byrds, Simon & Garfunkel, Steppenwolf, and Jefferson Airplane.

It was a sublime moment for those who witnessed it on TV when it aired on September 17, 1967, that helped The Who make their mark with American audiences and then some.

Watch a bit of the legendary mayhem

The Smothers Brothers and series regulars Pat Paulsen and David Steinberg consistently locked horns with the CBS censors regarding content, which led to the show’s cancellation. The final episode ran on April 20, 1969.

Older brother Thomas Smothers was born Feb. 2, 1937, at an army hospital on Governor’s Island in New York City. He was joined by his younger sibling, Richard, on Nov. 20, 1939. Their father, Thomas, was a U.S. Army officer who died as a prisoner of war in 1945.

The boys moved with their mother, Ruth, to California, where they were both accomplished track-and-field athletes. Their first professional appearance as the Smothers Brothers comedy-musical duo was in San Francisco in 1959. Two years later, they made their national TV debut on The Jack Paar Show.

The pair recorded numerous albums and continued to appear on television variety shows, most notably The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson. Younger brother Dick would play the straight man in their routines.

Watch their take on “The Impossible Dream” on The Tonight Show

Their appeal ultimately led CBS to developing The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour. During that late ’60s run, their guests also included such stars as Ray Charles, George Carlin, the Bee Gees, and Ike and Tina Turner.

Watch the episode that originally aired on Nov. 17, 1968, with guests George Harrison, Donovan, Dion, and Jennifer Warnes

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  1. AcademicJock
    #1 AcademicJock 3 February, 2021, 02:08

    Pat Paulson ended up living in Napa, CA – the wine country where he owned a winery. I have a signed (by Paulson) empty wine bottle.

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