HomeTVTom Smothers, Comic Half of the Smothers Brothers, Dies at 86

Tom Smothers, Comic Half of the Smothers Brothers, Dies at 86

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He lost the first round of his campaign to have Pete Seeger, absent from television after being blacklisted in the 1950s, perform his antiwar ballad “Waist Deep in the Big Muddy.” The segment was pulled in 1967 but broadcast a year later.

“Television is old and tired,” Mr. Smothers told McCall’s magazine in 1968. “Television is a lie. The people who censor our shows are all conditioned to a very scared way of thinking, which is reflected in the kind of programs the networks put on. Television should be as free as the movies, as the newspapers, as music to reflect what’s happening.”

CBS began insisting that an advance tape of each week’s show be sent to the network and its affiliates for their review. In April 1969, when the tape of a show that included a satirical sermon, delivered by the comedian David Steinberg, failed to arrive on schedule for the second time, CBS informed the brothers that they had broken their contract and that the show, whose option had been renewed two weeks earlier, would be canceled.

The move was not a complete surprise.

“Tommy has been sticking pins in CBS ever since he started feeling his oats when he found he could command good ratings,” Percy Shain, the television critic for The Boston Globe, wrote. “He has been at times snide, ugly, resentful, bullheaded. In his various arguments with the network he has refused to compromise one iota. Every deletion meant a battle.”

TV Guide, in a stern editorial, deemed the cancellation “wise, determined and wholly justified.”

For the rest of his life, Mr. Smothers remained convinced that President Richard M. Nixon, who had assumed office just three months earlier after defeating Vice President Hubert H. Humphrey, had pressured CBS to cancel the show.

“When Nixon said, ‘I want those guys off,’ they were off,” he told “Speaking Freely,” a television program produced by the First Amendment Center, in 2001. “If Humphrey had been elected, we would have been on.”

Content Source: www.nytimes.com

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