'Smothers Brothers' to air on cable TV

January 03, 1993|By Susan King | Susan King,Los Angeles Times

Tom Smothers admits he was never particularly interested in having episodes of "The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour" resurface on television.

"Maybe if people see them again, they wouldn't remember them with such fondness," Mr. Smothers said in a recent interview. "The emotions and feelings about the show are beautiful now. Why show them?"

But cable's E! Entertainment Television is dusting off all 71 episodes of the landmark CBS series, which aired from 1967 to '69, and will air them weeknights beginning Monday. "The people who have seen the episodes are very excited about it," Mr. Smothers said. "The editors [at E!] are saying 'God. These are great.' I might be too sensitive about the show. My opinion doesn't matter any more."

Mr. Smothers and younger brother Dick (who were 30 and 27 when the show debuted) were hosts for the popular comedy-variety series, which is remembered for being irreverent and controversial. The comedy team poked fun at everything from government to religion. Series regular Pat Paulsen ran for president in 1968. The show aired during the height of the Vietnam War, and the guests tended to be the left-wing, anti-war variety, such as Joan Baez and Pete Seeger.

Run-ins with the CBS censors became more frequent and volatile. In 1969, a sketch spoofing religion caused so much outrage that the brothers were forced to make an on-air apology. Finally, CBS fired them in the spring of 1969.

Each hour episode on E! features new interviews and introductions from the Smothers Brothers and with original guest stars. "The concept of wrapping them up and putting a context on them was attractive to me," Mr. Smothers said.

In one interview, singer Grace Slick, who performed on the show with her group Jefferson Airplane in blackface, didn't even remember her performance until she was shown her clip. According to Mr. Smothers, "She said, 'I wonder why I put black face on? I didn't know why I did it. Nobody said a thing.' "

Despite being more youth-oriented, the series attracted such legends as Bette Davis, Tallulah Bankhead, Greer Garson and Lana Turner as guests. "I remember them as major movie stars we grew up with, and they were available," Mr. Smothers said. "We had Bette Davis and the Who together."

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