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Tom Smothers, comic half of the Smothers Brothers, dies at 86

He lost the first round of his campaign to have Pete Seeger, absent from television after being blacklisted in the 1950s, perform his anti-war ballad “Waist Deep in the Big Muddy.” The segment was removed in 1967 but aired a year later.

“Television is old and tired,” Mr. Smothers told McCall’s magazine in 1968. “Television is a lie. The people who censor our shows are all conditioned to a very scary way of thinking, which is reflected in the type of programs broadcast by the channels. Television should be as free as films, newspapers and music to reflect what is happening.”

CBS began insisting that an advance tape of each week’s show be sent to the network and its affiliates for review. In April 1969, when a tape of a show that included a satirical sermon by comedian David Steinberg failed to arrive in time for the second time, CBS informed the brothers that they had broken their contract and that the show , whose option had been renewed two weeks earlier, would be canceled.

This decision was not a complete surprise.

“Tommy has been pinning CBS ever since he started feeling his oats when he discovered he could get good ratings,” wrote Percy Shain, the Boston Globe’s television critic. “He was sometimes sarcastic, ugly, resentful, stubborn. In his various debates with the network, he refused to compromise. Each suppression meant a battle.

TV Guide, in a harsh editorial, called the cancellation “wise, determined and entirely justified.”

For the rest of his life, Mr. Smothers remained convinced that President Richard M. Nixon, who had taken office three months earlier after defeating Vice President Hubert H. Humphrey, had pressured CBS to she cancels the show.

“When Nixon said, ‘I want these guys gone,’ they were turned off,” he told “Speaking Freely,” a television show produced by the First Amendment Center, in 2001. “If Had Humphrey been elected, we would have been sure.”

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