Tom and Dick. Tea with Goldie. Pete Seeger. These are just a few associations one makes at the mention of The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour. Some others: controversy, cancellation, law suit.
The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour first premiered on CBS on February 5, 1967 with brothers Tom and Dick Smothers as hosts. The variety show lasted three seasons and seventy-two episodes and attracted a young, anti-establishment audience. The program featured hip, up and coming musicians like Seeger, who in 1967 famously performed “Waist Deep in the Big Muddy”on the show. The song told the story of a Louisiana platoon on a practice patrol in 1942 and was a not-so-subtle satire of President Johnson’s views on the Vietnam War. CBS executives found the song to be too political and Standards and Practices censored the performance from the broadcast. The Who, known for destroying their instruments at the end of a set, had a particularly explosive finish to their performance on The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour - pyrotechnics overloaded by the band resulted in drummer Keith Moon getting hit by cymbal shrapnel and guitarist Pete Townshend’s hair getting singed. The music on the program was not exactly standard Ed Sullivan or Lawrence Welk fare.
In addition to lively musical acts, the program consisted of a stand-up routine with the brothers (during which goofy Tommy would often utter his signature line, “Mom liked you best” to straight man Dick), and sketches that regularly tested the censors’ boundaries. Leigh French played the recurring character “Goldie O’Keefe” whose “Share a Little Tea with Goldie” parodied a typical advice show for ladies. Standards and Practices was unaware that tea was slang for marijuana, so Goldie often got away with dialogue like “Hi(gh)–and glad of it!”
The young brothers’ frequent anti-war and pro-Civil Rights guests, and overall counter-culture sensibilities conflicted with those of CBS and the program was abruptly cancelled on April 4, 1969, after CBS President Bob Wood stated the Smothers Brothers had failed to submit the upcoming episode for review at the scheduled time. The brothers were fired and in turn sued CBS.
We sat down with Tom and Dick Smothers in 2000 and they discussed the cancellation of the show:
CBS Executive Mike Dann brought The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour to CBS, and believes the show’s cancellation was a travesty:
Despite the cancellation, The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour won the 1969 Emmy for Best Comedy Writing, thanks to staff writers like Rob Reiner, Steve Martin, Bob Einstein (“Super Dave”), and Pat Paulsen. Reiner recalled his time on the program fondly, stating that he learned much about the art of comedy from the brothers:
Though the program aired for only three seasons, it garnered a loyal following and many see it as the forerunner of current programs like The Daily Show with John Stewart and The Colbert Report. The brothers recently entered the headlines again as George Clooney’s production company, Smokehouse Pictures, announced it will develop a movie about The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour in an adaptation of David Bianculli’s book, Dangerously Funny: The Uncensored Story of The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour. A dedicated fan base, clear convictions to which they remain true, and a movie based on their TV show? Mom’s got lots of reasons to be plenty proud of both her sons.
Visit our Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour show page for more about the program.
- by Adrienne Faillace