tom smothers

Tom Smothers:At the age of 86 half of the comedic team Smothers Brothers passes away.

Tom Smothers passed away on December 26 at his Santa Rosa, California, home. He was the elder half of the comic pair Smothers Brothers, whose popular CBS variety program in the late 1960s was canceled due to controversy stemming from routines that ridiculed politics and the Vietnam War. He was eighty-six.

The National Comedy Center made the announcement of Mr. Smothers’s passing; they did it on his behalf. He had been receiving cancer treatment.

The Smothers Brothers were not exactly rabble-rousers, with their preppy, matching blazer outfits and polished, glee-club appearances. Initially, Dick played string bass and Tom played acoustic guitar as they were folk singers. However, they soon set themselves apart by parodying the genre and adding sardonic banter based on sibling rivalry. Mr. Smothers once remarked that since they had been “arguing from the time that we could talk,” developing the content was simple.

As well as serving as the title of the brothers’ 1966 album, “Mom always liked you best!” became Tom Smothers’ catchphrase. Before using their irreverence and flawless timing to support their own network variety show, they were a well-known nightclub act and frequent guests on late-night TV shows.

In order to produce a variety show for the Sunday night slot against NBC’s “Bonanza,” which at the time was the highest-rated program on television, CBS first hired the brothers in 1967. In his book “Dangerously Funny: The Uncensored Story of the Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour,” TV critic David Bianculli said that although network officials had guaranteed Tom Smothers “creative control,” the term had never been included in a contract.

From the beginning, “The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour” was a ratings triumph, drawing more viewers than “Bonanza” in certain weeks. The show’s formula, which aimed to appeal to audiences of all ages, included well-known performers like jazz vocalist Mel Torme and belter Kate Smith with rock bands like the Who and Jefferson Airplane.

Hollywood greats like Jack Benny and George Burns appeared in the non-musical portions, along with up-and-coming comics like Steve Martin and David Steinberg. With the Straight Talkin’ American Government (STAG) Party, Pat Paulsen, a master of dry humor, launched a presidential campaign in 1968 after penning droll, double-talking articles on social concerns. President Lyndon B. Johnson was depicted by impersonator David Frye as marrying off his “semi-beautiful daughters.”

The program’s creator and main source of its political comedy was Tom Smothers, a liberal who identified as such. Dick was the conceited “straight man” on camera, while Tom was a well-intentioned idiot who drove his brother crazy with his absurd claims and inability to remain on subject.

During one act, Tom declared, “You can tell who’s running the country by how much clothes people wear.” He clarified that those who lack power and cannot afford expensive clothing “are the less-ons.”

“Who is in charge of the nation?” questioned Dick, puzzled.

“The extras.”

The screenplays started off with references to politics, drugs, and sex, reflecting the growing antiwar movement and hippie lifestyle. Additionally, the comedy on the program had sharpened significantly by the third season.

In one performance, Tom turned to the camera and said, “Okay, all you guys in Vietnam, come on home,” in response to Dick bringing up a request from the US government for individuals to abstain from traveling to other countries where there is violent turmoil.

According to Bianculli, the brothers “were the first members of their generation with a prime time pulpit, and they used it.””The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour” was as relevant, significant, and influential a television program as they came.

That cost him a never-ending struggle with network censors who were against ridiculing social mores, as Tom Smothers put it. Ironically, the network scrapped a whole Elaine May comedy that parodied excessively prudish movie censors.

Pete Seeger’s 1967 rendition of the wartime ballad “Waist Deep in the Big Muddy,” which is set during World War II but obviously has contemporary resonance and subtly criticizes Johnson, was originally cut by CBS: He sung, “We were knee deep in the big muddy.” “And this big idiot says to keep going.”

Seeger was asked to return many months later to perform the controversial song, thanks to the Smothers Brothers’ exploitation of their ratings power. However, they continued to run across strong opposition to their artistic autonomy. Johnson complained about an inaccurate representation to William S. Paley, the creator of CBS, over the phone late one night.

Two days prior to its planned broadcast, a piece featuring Harry Belafonte singing “Lord, Lord, Don’t Stop the Carnival” was removed in response to footage of the violence outside the 1968 Democratic National Convention.

After battling the network, Mr. Smothers turned into a fervent supporter of free speech.According to Rob Reiner, a show writer, despite his empty TV character, he “was a very serious-minded guy who cared deeply about what was going on in the country” (Smothered: The Censorship Struggles of the Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour, 2002). “I wanted to use my television show as a platform to inform people,” he said.

When longstanding liberal nemesis Richard M. Nixon was elected president in 1968, during the network’s third season, tensions between Mr. Smothers and the organization reached a breaking point. The CBS program was discontinued in April 1969.

The network said that Mr. Smothers had broken his pledge to give a sample recording of a forthcoming show. Timely delivery, Mr. Smothers said, had been made. After suing CBS, the brothers were awarded damages totaling over $775,000 in 1973. However, it was too late to keep the show alive.

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