'Smothers Brothers' could have been a golden age

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It turns out that there's no sell-by date on satire inspired by a conservative administration and a controversial war.

The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour: The Best of Season 3 is a nostalgic collection of best bits from a once-popular program, and a document of what was a pivotal moment in television history.

Going into its third season in the fall of 1968, The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour was popular with viewers but troublesome for CBS and its censors. The problem was the folksinging brothers' barbs aimed at the Vietnam War and President Nixon. Throughout that season, the show would have bits trimmed or cut altogether. At one point, an entire episode was deemed unsuitable for broadcast.

After the season concluded, The Smothers Brothers was unceremoniously dumped, despite good ratings and Emmy nominations.

Such is the price of satire.

The episodes collected here represent a pinnacle in comedy and music. Writers on the show included Rob Reiner and Steve Martin, with George Carlin, Jonathan Winters and Bob Newhart appearing as guests. Musical guests included the Who and The Beatles.

Those musical guests are part of the reason the series has taken so long to make its way to DVD and represent one of the more significant problems with the set. Music rights have precluded inclusion of shows featuring some significant acts -- indeed, none of the acts mentioned appear. On the collected episodes you see Ray Charles, Ike and Tina Turner, Donovan and Harry Belafonte, whose politically charged version of Don't Stop the Carnival was originally cut. Though better known for comedy, the Smothers Brothers were excellent folk musicians.

Though incendiary in 1969, much of the comedy here seems pretty tame: Some shots are taken, but nothing that seems offensive or ill-mannered.

What's interesting is that the episodes are not necessarily the versions that were broadcast. Instead, they are presented as taped. It's a treasure from what might have been a golden age of satire, had two brothers just been allowed to speak.

Reach Steven Uhles at (706) 823-3626 or steven.uhles@augustachronicle.com.

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TITLE: The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour: The Best of Season 3


THE BASICS: Time Life Entertainment, $49.98


THE VERDICT: ****1/2 out of *****


EXTRAS: Introductions and commentary tracks by Tom and Dick Smothers, bits recorded to replace pieces excised by censors, and a piece of film featuring Smother Brothers presidential candidate Pat Paulson, Tom Smothers and Robert Kennedy spending some time together.

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