Smothered: The Censorship Struggles of the Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour

Fri, 12/12/2008 - 10:00pm

Tom and Dick Smothers (The Smothers Brothers)

© 2002 Muldaur Media Ltd.

In true Smothers Brothers’ fashion, filmmaker Maureen Muldaur’s examination of the rise and fall of The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour is both light-hearted and critical. Pioneers in the use of social commentary on primetime television, the story of the Smothers Brothers’ highly publicized battle for artistic freedom against CBS censors comes to public television. Smothered: The Censorship Struggles of the Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour, airing Friday, December 12 at 10 p.m. on WXXI-TV 21 (cable 11) and WXXI-HD (cable 1011 and DT 21.1), is a well-balanced documentary featuring hilarious clips from The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour, and interviews with the performers, writers, and network executives embroiled in the controversy.    

The program follows the development of The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour from its 1967 premiere as an underdog variety show to its contentious elimination from the CBS lineup in 1969. Scenes from the show’s three seasons and commentary from Tom and Dick Smothers and their creative team convey the comic genius and acute social consciousness that compelled the Smothers Brothers to resist the conservative censorship of CBS’s Department of Program Practices.  

Smothered also combines previously censored material with appearances by counterculture icons Joan Baez, Harry Belafonte, and Pete Seeger, television critic David Bianculli, and famed Vietnam journalist David Halberstam to tell a quintessentially American story of artistic and political expression. Deeply affected by the state of the nation, the Smothers Brothers chose to challenge a powerful media conglomerate, and in the process became a voice of the Vietnam generation. Their staunch refusal to be silenced forced them off the air and into federal court.

Indeed, this documentary brings to life an incredible slice of America’s media and pop-culture history. The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour broke all the rules and helped pave the way for many of today’s hit television shows.