Why ‘The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour’ Was Abruptly Replaced by ‘Hee Haw’

Tom Smothers, Dick Smothers, 1967-1970
Everett Collection

On April 4, 1969, the popular show The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour was abruptly canceled by CBS and then replaced by the show Hee Haw. Despite its high ratings, CBS cut it short after the network claimed that the siblings Tom and Dick Smothers failed to submit an episode in time for the censors to review. They had already gotten in trouble with censoring because of the political commentary, which was relatively low on primetime TV during that time.

Just a month before the show’s cancellation, CBS ran a rerun instead of a new broadcast because it featured folk singer and anti-war activist Joan Baez. During other sketches, they did comedy bits in opposition of the Vietnam War and in support of civil rights. They resisted any effort to censor the show which was the true reason for its cancellation. In 2019, the brothers spoke about the 50th anniversary of the show’s cancellation (Dick is now 85 years old and Tom passed away in 2023). They spoke about the firing and shared a display of archival material including their red suit jackets.

The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour from left, Tommy Smothers (aka Tom Smothers), Dick Smothers, 1967-70 (photo ca. 1967)

Everett Collection

Dick admitted at the time, “Don’t tell a comedian not to say a certain word. For sure they’ll do it. The funny thing is, I look back at those things. They’re so benign, but at the time they were volatile.” After their firing, they filed a breach of contract lawsuit and CBS lost. While they said it wasn’t a substantial amount of money, it was about the principle of the matter.

The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour: The 20th Reunion Dick Smothers, Tom Smothers, 1988

CBS/Everett Collection

Just a year later, they took their comedy show over to ABC and later NBC in 1975. In 1988, they went back to CBS but the popularity of their comedy show waned. Even so, their outspokenness and humor will always be loved and remembered. As for that little show Hee Haw that replaced it? It became a smashing success that ran for 23 seasons but we’ll save that story for another time!

Tell us, did you watch The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour? What were some of your favorite sketches?

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Classic Comedy Duos

March 2021

Chuckle at television & films funniest comic duos.

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