An early master of TV satire finds today's version coarse

December 23, 1992|By Knight-Ridder Newspapers

Dick Smothers, half of the Smothers Brothers duo that drov CBS censors batty in the '60s, says most of today's TV satire "is terribly insensitive."

Shows such as NBC's "Saturday Night Live" and Fox's "In Living Color" "don't seem to care who they hit or who they hurt," says Mr. Smothers, whose left-wing, antiwar "Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour" was abruptly canceled after three seasons in 1969. "Our satire was more gentle, nudging. It wasn't coarse."

In a move sure to attract baby boomers with political memories, reruns of the classic comedy-variety show will run weeknights at 8 on cable's E! Entertainment Television, beginning Jan. 4. Dick Smothers and his older bro, Tom, will update the episodes with commentary between segments.

It's the first rebroadcast of "Smothers," which featured such then-controversial bits as the semi-comatose Pat Paulsen's run for president. "I never thought it would take this long for reruns," says Mr. Smothers. The brothers own the rights to the show.

Despite being "nit-picked about every word" by CBS censors, not to mention being replaced by "Hee Haw," Mr. Smothers says he bears no grudge against CBS. (After the boys made a big splash with their Magnavox commercial, CBS gave them a reunion show in '88, which led to six more specials.

"It was just the nature of things in the '60s. We didn't think we were controversial. Only a small segment of the audience thought we were controversial. In those days, 200 letters from viewers would drive the network crazy. They were definitely afraid of their affiliates."

These days, Mr. Smothers, 54, lives outside of Washington with his second wife, Lorraine, 33, and their children Sarah, 5, and Remick, 3. Mr. Smothers spends eight months a year on the road doing standup with his California-based brother. They also do endorsements.

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