The Smothers Brothers blazed the trail for political satire
NIA Broadcasting announced today that renowned comedian Dick Smothers will be the fill-in host from 6a to 9a, Monday, February 11th, 2019. You can hear the show on WWBA AM 820 live in the Tampa Bay area, also on the TuneIn app or you can access the show on the News Talk Florida website (www.newstalkflorida.com)
Mr. Smothers will replace Bubba The Love Sponge, who is moving to NIA sister station Sports Talk Am 1040 The Team.
Smothers stated, “I am honored to be part of this great radio station that covers from here to Mars. It will be fun. There will be many of my friends joining me during the three hours that will have stories never heard before. Scandalous, could be in order or more than likely an egg sandwich will be in order.”
There might not be shows like Saturday Night Live, Jon Stewart, John Oliver, Steven Colbert or Bill Mahar if the Smothers brothers had not blazed the trail battling political censorship with their ground breaking show. Dick and his brother Tom were very popular guests on the top variety shows in the 1960s with their combination of folk music and humor.
In the February of 1967 The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour, made its debut on CBS. They were up against the Sunday night powerhouse Bonanza airing on NBC, the top rated show on television at the time.
One thing that the brothers insisted on was “total creative control of the program.” CBS gave them the ability to hire their own writing team and control the direction of the show.
Quickly they became the first “Must See TV,” show for young viewers in the turbulent 1960’s. The show began as a normal variety show with some of the top names in the entertainment industry on the program.
It was not until the end of season one that they began to address social issues that never before was part of primetime television. But it was a fine balancing act of adding a new younger audience while still attracting big name mainstream stars to the show.
The show attracted a monster average audience of 30 million people on a weekly basis and beating Bonanza on NBC.
Comedians George Carlin, Steve Martin, David Steinberg, Mason Williams, Rob Reiner and Bob Einstein brought cutting edge comedy to a show in primetime for the first program to do it.
They also landed some of the top music guests in the business including The Beatles, who released their first ever music video Revolution on the show, The Who made their first United States appearance on the program and the West Coast cast of Hair, and Dion singing a song about assassinated heroes, with Abraham, Martin and John, showed just how important the show was to a generation of comedians and musical acts in the late 1960’s.
But it was their satirical brand of cutting humor that put them in direct conflict with the executives of the CBS television network almost on a weekly basis. The Smothers sketch comedy about the Viet Nam war resulted in then-President Lyndon Johnson, call William Paley, the president of CBS telling him to have “the boys back off attacking him.”
Not long after he was elected President Richard Nixon was also upset with the shows social stance on the key issues of the day and like Johnson, he let CBS know he was not pleased with the show.
But through both comedy and song the Smothers brothers did not back off and instead pushed CBS on a weekly basis. They were committed to tell the truth about social issues and their many vocal supporters included George Harrison, who made an unexpected appearance on the program to support the brothers work on TV.
In a 2017 New York Times, article about the Smothers brothers impact on television Dick was asked if he thought if he and Tom were ahead of their time?
“Not correct at all,” Dick said in a telephone interview with The Times. “We would have been ineffective if we were ahead of our time. We were on time.” But, he added, “the time was right for us, too. It was like a big crane just dropped us down right at the start of the bubbling part of the ’60s.”
Despite high ratings and massive viewer support CBS and The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour parted ways in 1969 just three years after it began. The network announced on April 4, 1969, that CBS fired the brothers on grounds of breach of contract just a few weeks after the show had been renewed for another season. The brothers contended that CBS was simply caving to the demands of their critics, who at that point included President Nixon.
They sued and won a settlement of more than $900,000 and won in court.
But because of The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour, and to a lesser degree Rowan and Martin’s Laugh In, on NBC along with late 1970 launch of the late night The Dick Cavett Show, on ABC smart political stature was here to stay.
To show you how powerful the Smothers brothers were, as mentioned earlier President Johnson thought they were dangerous and a few years later in The Washington Post, coverage of Watergate they uncovered President Richard Nixon’s Enemies List and there were the Smothers brothers.
So, if nothing else you should call Dick Monday morning to thank him for what he and his brother did to allow freedom of expression to use on television.