A variety show
that ran on CBS
. It eventually became a highly politicized entity, over issues like the Vietnam War
, and network censorship
, but, originally, it was just your garden-variety show, produced by old television
hands, with the fresh-faced Smothers Brothers
as nearly-harmless figureheads. It succeeded in attracting a younger demographic
(while not scaring away older viewers - any drug references and anti-war swipes tended to be stealth
y enough to get through Standards and Practices
), and, for the first time, CBS was successfully challenging NBC
, the show that owned
the Sunday 9 PM Eastern time slot.
Tom Smothers wrested control, and infused more baby boomer content into the show, leading to many battles with CBS execs, over, e.g., Pete Seeger singing a thinly-veiled anti-war song (in his first post-blacklist TV appearance), the use of footage from the 1968 Chicago riots as the backdrop for another performer's song, and more of the usual battles over what you could and could not say on TV. The show also provided a venue for rock bands and comedians who normally wouldn't get on the air - The Who's documentary The Kids Are Alright includes footage from their Smothers appearance.
The ante was raised further by the assassinations of Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy (a friend of the Smothers) - Tom Smothers, as "Voice of a Generation", began receiving death threats. Eventually, CBS pulled the plug; it was still a top-rated show, but the network's éminences grises (Bill Paley and Frank Stanton) were trying to curry favor with the newly-elected US president Richard Nixon - both wanted to be Ambassador to the Court of St. James (i.e. Great Britain), and both also wanted to avoid clashes over the content of CBS News (all it took was Walter Cronkite's thumbs-down on The War to bring Middle America into the anti-war camp, which made neither LBJ nor Nixon especially fond of CBS). The Smothers' show was a sacrificial lamb, one that went wasted, since Walter Annenberg (the right-wing billionaire owner of TV Guide) got the London gig, and Nixon, Congress, and the FCC all took swipes at TV in subsequent years, instituting, e.g., the "Fairness Doctrine", and the first in a series of crippling cuts to public-broadcasting funding (leading, eventually, to the begathon-as-staple).
The Brothers also produced their summer replacement, a show starring the conservative, squeaky-clean Glen Campbell, that served as a "farm team" to the parent show; Campbell eventually took over the time slot.
Among the alumni (both onstage and on the writing staff) of the two shows: Steve Martin, Mason Williams (of "Classical Gas" fame), Allan Blye, who would later co-produce several "Smothers Lite" shows of the 70s, like The Sonny and Cher Comedy Hour, Pat Paulsen (who ran a semi-serious 1968 presidential campaign on the show), Bob Einstein (brother of Albert Brooks; his "Officer Judy" was the show's psychotic authority figure, sort of a deadpan version of Graham Chapman's colonel, IIRC), a.k.a. Super Dave Osborne, and some members of The Committee, including Rob Reiner and Carl Gottlieb (who later produced the film version of Jaws).
A few years after the smoke cleared from the nation's various socio-political skirmishes (by which time the smoldering endgame of Watergate was the only Big Thing on the front burner), the Brothers tried again, on NBC, but it just wasn't the same. It took Lorne Michaels and Richard Pryor, with their respective shows (as well as the sitcom Soap) to bring shit-disturbing back to TV.