April 4 – Anniversary of the Cancellation of the Smothers Brothers

Posted on April 4, 2015

The Smothers Brothers pushed the boundaries of TV, and they got canceled.

Today, we now can enjoy edgy political satire on television – and of course on the internet – but back in the 1960s, it was hard to find such content anywhere. The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour was pretty much the only place I heard anti-war stuff in my own living room. Criticism of the government and the President of the U.S. was rarely heard on TV, in those days, except on The Smothers Brothers.

The CBS network decided that the Smothers Brothers would have to deliver their shows finished and ready to air TEN DAYS before air time so the censors could edit controversial stuff out of the shows. The censors cut out a song sung by Harry Belafonte against the backdrop of protests and rioting during the 1968 Democratic National Convention. They took out lines of satire. They cut a satirical David Steinberg sermon about Moses. They ran a re-run, rather than a show – I guess, in that case, the censors had problems with the entire hour!

Some local station cut and edited and pruned, too.

In March of 1969, the show was picked up for another season. But then, suddenly, just a few weeks later (on this date in 1969) the network CEO canceled the show! The Smothers Brothers successfully sued for breach of contract – but that didn't bring their show back on the air. The Smothers Brothers won an Emmy Award for best writing – but that didn't bring their show back on the air, either.

I was so disappointed. It was my favorite show, at the time.

In recent years, of course, we have enjoyed almost-daily fake-news shows bringing us very funny and biting political commentary and satire – I'm speaking, of course, of The Daily Show with Jon Stewart and The Colbert Report. I think that Stewart and Colbert have been national treasures, and I am (or will be) sad to see their particular shows end...but something new, something good, will surely rise again!

In addition to politics...

The Smothers Brothers did their act, including much of their political commentary, while making music and singing. But they also brought to television audiences some of the music that other shows never featured – music young people like me (at the time!) loved. Music by everyone from Cream and The Doors to Joan Baez and Janis Ian, Simon Garfunkel to Jefferson Airplane.

One time, The Who was performing. As usual with The Who, at the end of the song, the guitarist Pete Townshend destroyed his guitar and an amp. And there were mild explosives for pyrotechnics. Unfortunately, the small charge of explosives kept in the bass drum didn't go off during rehearsals. Not knowing that, a stage hand added another before the taping of the actual show. And not knowing that the first charge hadn't gone off OR that the stage hand had already restocked the drum, drummer Keith Moon added another charge.
So...now there were THREE charges in the drum, instead of just one. The resulting explosion was so intense that a piece of shrapnel flew off into Moon's arm, and Townshend's hair was singed and his hearing was possibly partially impaired.

The moral of the story is, always check your pyrotechnics several times, rather than restocking explosives several times!

If you want to see this...uh...explosive performance, the magic of YouTube can grant that wish.

Also on this date:

International Pillow Fight Day

HolidayTime in Taiwan 

Independence Day in Senegal

Anniversary of the knighthood of Francis Drake

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