Tom Smothers

Although best known as his on-stage persona of "Tommy," the gentle but easily irked half of the folk singing duo The Smothers Brothers, actor, writer and musician Tom Smothers was also one of the most socially conscious talents in Hollywood during the 1960s. With younger brother Dick, he formed a musical act that combined easy-going humor with traditional folk songs; their popularity on the nightclub circuit led to their own series, "The Smothers Brothers Show" (CBS, 1965-66). Smothers hit his true stride as an entertainer and social commentator with "The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour" (CBS, 1967-69), which began life as a typical variety program based around the duo's act. But Smothers moved the focus of the show to satiric jabs at the social and political ills of the day, including the war in Vietnam and civil rights. The show came under heavy fire from the network, which censored performances by politically-charged performers and even whole episodes before pulling the plug on the program in 1969. Smothers continued to return to television over the next three decades, both as a solo act and with his brother, though none of his subsequent efforts met the same level of quality as their 1960s variety show. Their contributions to television were largely overshadowed by their enduring popularity as a comedy act, but the 2002 documentary "Smothered" and a special Emmy Award in 2008 served as excellent reminders that Tom Smothers' contributions to the level of political discourse on American television were immeasurable.