It at first seems odd, now that the Smothers Brothers’ famous late-1960s CBS television series finally is being released on DVD, that it begins with the third season in 1968-1969. After all, Tom and Dick Smothers’ most popular years were the first two seasons, when their Sunday night mix of political-protest humor, Rock music and their witty musical-comedy act was so fresh and radical it threatened to topple NBC’s same-time-slot Bonanza as a perennial ratings leader. By the third season, ratings were slipping and the season ended when CBS abruptly canceled the series.
But, actually, this makes perfect sense. Season 3 was the most important one historically, when the politics were most in-your-face. CBS didn’t cancel over ratings; it couldn’t take the pressure. In one episode on this four-disc set, staff writer Mason Williams reads an anti-censorship poem while pointing scissors right at the camera. In another, Harry Belafonte sings “Don’t Stop the Carnival” to footage of the police riots at the 1968 Democratic Convention. (CBS censored it from the broadcast; it is restored here.) In another, George Harrison drops by to offer the brothers encouragement in fighting their censors. Throughout, the live Rock music is a treat — Tina Turner wows with “River Deep, Mountain High”; Donovan sings a lulling “Lalena”; the Doors, Joan Baez, Dion, the L.A. cast of Hair and more. If you want to know where Saturday Night Live came from, here’s the place. It’s essential TV history, beautifully packaged with many extras. Grade: A