I was all set to recommend Time-Life’s new set of selected episodes from the famous 1968-9 season of The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour, for the episodes, the historical value, the still-kinda-remembered — and highly influential on The Daily Show and the like — “Pat Paulsen For President” special, and the Paul Brownstein special features, which include musings by Tom Smothers and interviews with many of the guest stars. (And also Rob Reiner, who started as a writer for the show, as did the late Lorenzo Music.) But one thing puzzled me: why were most of the episodes only 40 minutes long, when an hour-long network show in 1968 would have been at least 50 minutes without commercials?
This review at DVD Talk explains it: these are versions that were cut by 10 minutes for reruns in the ’90s.
Time-Life is doing terrific work with its TV-on-DVD sets, but I can’t recommend a set where every episode is missing one-fifth of its content.
For those who don’t know why this season is famous, the team of singer/comics actually addressed issues like the Vietnam War and the 1968 Democratic national convention at a time when the American pop culture industry — and, in fact, the pop culture industry in most countries — was terrified of addressing the events of 1968. (And remember, if 2008 thinks it has problems, 1968 wants 2008 to shut the hell up and stop complaining. 1968 has real problems.) It wasn’t particularly radical or even political, but just acknowledging these things was unusual at the time because producers just didn’t want to go anywhere near them, and others were so shattered and disoriented by what was going on in 1968 that they couldn’t really deal with it.
They had numerous censor battles with CBS (which frequently cut whole segments out, sometimes after they’d been taped), turned the censor battles into a running bit on the show itself, and got abruptly canceled at the end of the season.