One of the offbeat highlights of the late-1960s was “The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour,” an hourly variety show that debuted in February 1967 on CBS. Showcasing the talents of irreverent folk-singer/comedians the Smothers Brothers (who had a bevy of folk-tinged musical/comedy album hits in the 60s), the show quickly morphed from a “hip” version of the typical comedy-music variety show of its era (hosting the likes of Jim Nabors, Jill St. John, Ed Sullivan, Eddie Albert and Eva Gabor) to a show that extended the boundaries of what was considered permissible in television satire, eventually turning hard into politics and anti-Vietnam War sentiments before CBS pulled the plug after Season 3 in 1968.
Until now there have been no compilations of the show (In 2003 New Video put out a documentary, “Smothered — The Censorship Struggles of the Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour,” which looked at the trials and tribulations of the show). Now, Time Life has finally stormed the bulwarks and, on September 16, will release “The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour: The Best of Season Three,” a four-disc set with 11 episodes for $49.95.
The final season of “The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour” burst forth with all the defiance and urgency expected after a volatile summer that included the assassinations of Martin Luther King, Jr. and Robert F. Kennedy, the violence-filled Democratic National Convention, and the emergence of Richard Nixon as the 1968 Republican presidential nominee. Tom and Dick Smothers begin Season 3 by boldly singing about political unrest and network censors, and together with their guests, continued in the following weeks to challenge political and corporate authority. Despite popular success and a renewal for a fourth season, the network suddenly dissolved the contract, with the brothers being summarily — and, as a lawsuit later proved – wrongly fired.
While the Smothers themselves were at the forefront of the counter-cultural efforts, a large portion of the credit also goes to the roster of writers and regular performers they brought to the show, some of whom would go on to become some of the biggest names in comedy, including Rob Reiner, Pat Paulsen, Bob Einstein (“Super Dave Osborne” and “Officer Judy”) and resident hippie Leigh French (“Share a Little Tea With Goldie”).
“The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour: The Best of Season Three” contains 11 episodes selected by Tom and Dick Smothers, many shown as they were intended, complete with sketches and performances that were cut by the network censors for the original broadcast. Among the original footage preserved is a stunning piece in which Harry Belafonte sings “Don’t Stop the Carnival” as footage of police brutality and riots at the Chicago Democratic National Convention plays behind him, and an intense interview with anti-war activist and famous “baby doctor” Dr. Benjamin Spock. Time Life has also uncovered never-before-seen footage of Robert F. Kennedy originally taped for the “Pat Paulsen for President” special. The segment, displaying a comic side to Kennedy, was cut from the original broadcast as the nation mourned the Senator’s recent assassination. Guests that season included George Harrison, Harry Belafonte, Bob Newhart, Steve Martin, George Carlin, The Doors, Donovan, Ray Charles, Jackie Mason, Cass Elliot, Jonathan Winters, Joan Baez, Ike and Tina Turner, Judy Collins, David Steinberg, more. Plus there’s a host of bonus features including the 1968 press conference following CBS’s termination of the Smothers’ Brothers contract; the complete Aspen Comedy Festival 2000 Smothers Brothers Reunion hosted by Bill Maher, with Tom and Dick Smothers, Steve Martin and Mason Williams; interview outtakes, alternate show opening, and much much more.
Order an advance copy of “The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour: The Best of Season Three” now.
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