This morning on my radio talk program, The Woodstock Roundtable, we had a great conversation with David Bianculli, author of a fascinating look at one of the most interesting and important TV shows of the 1960's. The book is Dangerously Funny: The Uncensored story of the Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour. David is a nationally known TV critic.
The Smothers Brothers were a very funny duo act which poked fun at folk music at the same time they celebrated it. They were given a chance at a network prime time TV show for one reason: The time slot was considered a death call as the western, Bonanza, owned the Sunday night time slot. Every show CBS had tried to program against Bonanza, didn't last long. Until the Smothers Brothers. The clever mix of veteran guests (Jack Benny, George Burns) with newcomers (George Carlin, Steve Martin) plus rock acts not normally seen on TV at the time (The Who, Buffalo Springfiedl) attracted upwards of 30 million viewers.
What CBS did not anticipate was Tommy Smothers obsession with satirizing the political establishment and the conservative heartland of America. Against the orders of CBS executives Tommy booked controversial talent like Pete Seeger (the folk singer who had been blacklisted for 17 years) and David Steinberg (whose comic sermons poked fun at the Bible). CBS censors either edited these performances of all bite or cut them out entirely. Tommy Smothers went to the press and the controversy became national news.
The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour laid the groundwork for Satruday Night Live, The Daily Show, and The Colbert Report. This book is a great read and an important document of the charged up, politically transforming era of the late 1960's.
You can hear the interview "On Demand" at wdst.com (click on The Woodstock Roundtable).