4. THE SMOTHERS BROTHERS
Some day all the old hippies will be dead…. Some day…
I chant that to myself sometimes.
It doesn’t help.
You gotta give ‘em credit:
Baby Boomer-run Hollywood takes the tiniest tragedies, most mediocre accomplishments, and most tedious historical events and constructs multi-generational, award-winning, and highly lucrative mythologies around them.
Can our supposedly fragile Planet Earth sustain yet another “brave” new movie about “McCarthyism” or the “assassination” of some semi-famous individual who wasn’t actually “assassinated,” or some other “disgraceful” “crime” from a previous century? We’re going to find out.
George Clooney is producing a movie about the “controversial” Smothers Brothers, whose “controversial” comedy-variety show in the late-sixties was totally “controversial” and got cancelled by their evil corporate television bosses, probably on the say-so of PRESIDENT RICHARD NIXON HIMSELF!!!
Here’s the author of the Smothers Brothers hagiography that got optioned by Clooney:
First, I’m thrilled on behalf of Tom and Dick, whose story deserves to be told and retold, and whose efforts to inject topicality into scripted TV comedy in the 1960s led very directly to the sort of thing Jon Stewart, Stephen Colbert and Bill Maher are doing today.
Gee, I wonder if the movie will talk about this, too?
For decades, I believed, as I think almost everyone who followed the issue did, that the Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour was yanked by CBS because of CBS’s objection to the Smothers Brothers’ edgy commentary about social issues. Various “public” television stations, in their December fund-raising, are showing a documentary special that pushes that view. WGBH in Boston, for example, will show it on December 11. The documentary is entitled Smothered: The Censorship Struggles of the Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour.
It is true that CBS had a lot of difficulty with the Smothers Brothers’ edgy looks at politics and religion. But that’s only part of what got the show yanked. The other part was a humorous bit done by guest Dan Rowan. Rowan gave the “fickle-finger-of-fate” award (i.e., the finger) to John O. Pastore, a U.S. Senator from Rhode Island. Why did Rowan single out Pastore? Pastore was the chairman of United States Senate Subcommittee on Communications. In that role, he had a great deal of power over the Federal Communications Commission, the federal agency that censors radio and television. In other words, Rowan “fingered” a man who had a great deal of power over television content.
That man was not even mentioned in the documentary. Why not? Here’s my “public choice” speculation. Pastore is also known for pushing hard for subsidies to public broadcasting. Indeed he did so only about a month after CBS yanked the Smothers Brothers show. He became a hero to those who believe in tax-financed subsidies to public television. So the stations have probably never wanted to look at the truth because it would mean admitting that their hero was a nasty censor who, like most politicians, couldn’t stand being made fun of. Ironically, while the various public broadcasting stations try to come across as open-minded people who want the truth to come out, by trumpeting this movie and not mentioning one important thing left out, they are not trying to broadcast the whole truth at all.
Speaking truth to power! (But only as long as that power isn’t liberal, taxpayer-supported public television.)
Tommy Smothers is such an obnoxious, small-minded, ill-informed ideological bully that even Penn Jillette was struck (temporarily) speechless. [Language warning.]
Penn Jillette is a smart guy who believes a lot of stupid things. At least he was candid enough to struggle publicly with the awful realization that his lifelong anti-censorship comedy idol could be just as mean to him as he’d been to his on-air targets decades earlier.
The Smothers Brothers did one clever thing: before they gave in and started wearing Nehru jackets, they disguised themselves as “squares,” all the better to trick middle Americans into inviting them into their living rooms. I quite prefer that sort of mercenary phoniness to the other kind: when comedians try to look “relevant” by sporting weird beards, red bandanas, and long grey ponytails…