"The action I am taking is no more than a radical measure to hasten the explosion of truth and justice. I have but one passion: to enlighten those who have been kept in the dark, in the name of humanity which has suffered so much and is entitled to happiness. My fiery protest is simply the cry of my very soul. Let them dare, then, to bring me before a court of law and let the enquiry take place in broad daylight!" - Emile Zola, J'accuse! (1898) -

Monday, September 22, 2008

The Impossibility of Avoiding Politics at the Emmys
40 Years After The Fact -
Tommy Smothers
Wins His Emmy!

Last night as I was working away at the machine and intermittently answering phone calls, (there is no rest for those deemed “the wicked”); the TV in this room was droning away with my subversive cat laying on top for the warmth, usually it’s most constructive attribute and service, and ABC and The Emmy Awards popped up.

I wasn’t motivated to change the channel as the boob tube was only providing some white noise in the room.

Every so often I paid some minimalist attention while lighting a fresh cigarette or refilling my coffee cup and as a matter of pure joyous serendipity I heard the name Tommy Smothers and my ears perked up like the cat’s every time the phone rings or my Gmail notifier chimes. One of these days she is likely to claw the hell out of this thing to shut off the noise. She does not appreciate it.

Given the events surrounding the Tommy Smothers award; I have decided to approach the first post this day a bit differently, with, shall we say…a different perspective or vantage point.

First the Emmy’s are a bore and as impossible as it might seem; they get worse each year. One of these they might even cancel them. Ha! Fat chance. I’m glad that I only paid intermittent attention and scribbled down a few notes on the ever present spiral binder note pad to the right of my mouse pad.

In general; most of the ceremony was embarrassing, terrible or both. It had to be one of the worst nights in television history. Todays on air reviews confirmed my impression.

Stephen Colbert says ABC asked him not to do any political stuff when he went up to present with Jon Stewart at the Emmys Sunday.

Television's most popular reality show — the 2008 presidential election — won no awards but was still a major supporting player at Sunday's Emmy ceremony.

It was fodder for jokes, some occasional grandstanding and a turn-back-the-clocks performance by Tommy Smothers, whose groundbreaking variety show 40 years ago was canceled for being too political.

The absolute high point of the evening, and this is not just my personal opinion born of great affection for the Smothers Brothers, was the 40 year delayed award to Tommy Smothers.

That high point of the otherwise colorless opening hour came when Steve Martin presented the commemorative Emmy to Tommy Smothers of the Smothers Brothers.

Steve Martin’s presentation was to say the least labored, bereft of his true comedic talents.

I don’t know whether it was a matter of trying to act within the prescribed restraints desired by ABC, or whether he was so turned inward suppressing the many things he could have and probably desired to say. Let it suffice to say his work last night was vanilla and not the habanera pepper sauce he could have poured on a welcoming audience, live and at home.

When Tommy Smothers received his commemorative writing achievement award for his work on the cutting-edge "The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour" from the late '60s — things turned serious, and everyone save ABC execs was appreciative.

Tommy Smothers was there, stirring up feelings for the outspoken 60s when the Smothers Brothers provided entertainment for the event, my 60s, my event.

"Tommy Smothers is a man who has given me so much," said Martin, a former writer for the "Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour." "Nothing I wanted. Mostly corporate gifts."

Martin pointed out that in 1968, when the rest of the "Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour" writing staff won Emmys, Smothers didn't get a statue.

He had taken his name off the list, thinking that it was too controversial and would ruin the show's chances of winning.

The television academy, "in an effort to fill time," Martin joked, had decided to right that wrong and give Smothers his statue 40 years later.

"It's hard for me to stay silent when I keep hearing that peace is only attainable through war. There's nothing more scary than watching ignorance in action," Smothers said in his acceptance speech.

"I dedicate this Emmy to all people who feel compelled to speak out and not afraid to speak to power and won't shut up and refuse to be silenced."

Forty years I kept saying to myself, and lordy we’re in the same Shit Pile again and so much deeper this time, and even these liberal actor types are waltzing around like the stage was made of eggs.

But Tommy Smothers, of all people, rose from the audience to accept a long lost Emmy from 1967 (Ricky Gervais only had to go into the audience to pluck out an Emmy from last year).

Things were about to change a bit, and I think the audience knew that Tommy Smothers bows to no politician who is doing this nation and its people wrong. He always did have more balls than the rest of the entertainment world.

He didn’t save it up for Award shows; he dumped on them every week!

People gave Smothers a standing ovation (because his topical humor made his "The Daily Show" of its day - more so than, say, "Laugh-in," who Jon Stewart said inspired him more as a courtesy after their flat "revival" performance).

And after a semi-funny introduction from Steve Martin (that made you wish he had been the host instead of the reality host clowns), because sooner or later he would have come unglued and really let loose.

Smothers rose to the occasion and in declaring:

“It's hard for me to stay silent when I keep hearing peace is only obtainable through war. There's nothing more scary than watching ignorance in action. So I dedicate this Emmy to all the people who feel compelled to speak out and not afraid to speak to power and won't shut up and refuse to be silenced”; he kind of open the door for the rest of the night. At least the remainder of the night was not a wake.

As I have already pointed out; Stephen Colbert says ABC asked him not to do any political stuff when he went up to present with Jon Stewart at the Emmys Sunday.

It was a tough request.

It was a dumb request.

Maybe ABC just can’t recover from their primary season blunders and the totally miserable Palin Gibson interview.

They are not having a good time of it!

But the current campaign between John McCain and Barack Obama was never far from anyone's mind, since it's getting ratings most entertainment shows can only be envious of.

Convention speeches by McCain, Obama and Sarah Palin each had bigger audiences than the finale of last year's most popular series, "American Idol."

Two HBO series honored as best in their class Sunday, the TV movie "Recount" and miniseries "John Adams," both concerned past elections in American history.

"The election between Jefferson and Adams was filled with innuendo, lies, a bitter partisan press and disinformation," said Tom Hanks, a "John Adams" producer. "How great we've come so far since then."

(Yeah, Right my good man!)

A writer on the miniseries, Kirk Ellis, was abruptly cut off by ABC when he began to use his acceptance speech to draw an unflattering comparison between political dialogue in the nation's formative years and today.

(Wow! On Air Censorship! Touchy aren’t we?)

Martin Sheen, who played a president on "The West Wing," lauded television for giving America a front-row seat to real presidential campaigns. Then he urged viewers to vote for "the candidate of your choice, at least once."

Stewart and Colbert presented an award while Colbert ate from a bag of prunes, which he used as a metaphor for the race.

"America needs prunes."

"It may not be a young, sexy plum."

"Granted, it's shriveled and at times hard to swallow. But this dried-up old prune has the experience we need," Colbert said.

And it was a Mandel political joke that drew a knowing laugh — really, the only laugh — in a brutal opening segment by the reality show hosts.

Intentional or not, the segment left viewers wishing writers had helped them out, and was mocked on the air within an hour by Emmy winners Jeremy Piven and Jean Smart.

First he plays a political commentator on "The Colbert Report," whose writing staff won the comedy variety category.

And we're deep in an intense election year.

The big Emmy winner of the night was a miniseries about a hothead American president, who shut down dissent during his administration.

The comedy winner was a woman who got a lot of attention a week earlier for her defining portrayal of the Republican vice presidential candidate.

And the best movie Emmy winner was about the contentious 2000 election that first put George Bush in office.

How could things not be political?

Colbert, for his part, didn't do anything more than eat prunes, saying it was reliable despite being wrinkly, a kind of distant McCain metaphor.

Stewart asked him if he didn't think eight years or prunes was enough, but the bit was over soon after that.

Sweet Laura Linney may have started things when she said that "John Adams" reminded her what good was being done by "community organizers" after such a group was denounced at the Republican convention.

The writer of the miniseries said he liked writing about leaders who spoke in whole sentences - before the director of the show cut him off in the middle of one, an example of curtailing freedom of speech that would have appalled Jefferson.

Paul Giamatti, who played Adams, said it was true "anyone could be president." And producer Tom Hanks wryly noted things hadn't much progressed since the lies and mistruths of the old campaigns.

Jay Roach, the Emmy winning director of "Recount," urged people to get involved. "It's going to be close again this election. Keep your local officials honest, and please go vote."

And even President Bartlet, in the form of Martin Sheen (if not the words of Aaron Sorkin who otherwise wrote Maureen Dowd's best column ever Sunday in the voice of Bartlet), showed up to urge people to vote in as nonpartisan a way as he could.

All that was missing were the reality show hosts, and they weren't missed at all.

For those of you who were not even alive in 1967 when the show premiered this might not seem like a big deal.

But to those of us who were faithful fans of The Smothers Brothers (The Smo Bros as we affectionately refer to them) this was a wonderful sight to behold.

You see we the fans, and the Smothers Brothers, were cheated out of a lot of comedy and a lot of political insight when the show was canceled by CBS in April of 1969. I won’t go into the whole megillah here - you can read about it on Wikipedia and other sources on the internet.

True to the wit that was at the heart of the cancellation of their show nearly forty years ago, Tommy accepted the award with his typically confused and innocent act that always hid the sharp sword of truth.

And I repeat of exit the only lasting words of last night: Tommy Smothers:

These few words from his acceptance speech should you an idea of the intelligence that drove the humor of The Smothers Brothers:

“There’s nothing more scary than watching ignorance in action.”

“Just one last thought, there’s one word that exists in every language on the face of the Earth, in every society from the time man began to speak and the word is “truth”. It exists in every language and it means exactly the same thing . . . . Truth - truth is what you get other people to believe.”

Tommy I hope you enjoy your “shiny, brand new 1968 Emmy” as much as I enjoyed seeing you get it!

And That Is The Truth, so believe it!

See, Mom did always like you best!


The Reviewers agree; The 60th annual Prime time Emmy Awards show gave out a lot of prizes on Sunday night, but one was overlooked.

That would be the one the broadcast won for Worst Awards Show… Ever…Except for one award!

Never say never gang:

Last Night Tommy Smothers of The Smothers Brothers Integrity Intact, finally got an Emmy for The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour nearly 40 years after the fact.

And Now Even More Good News Joan Baez has a new album and she will be here in Alexandria the day after the election until the day before my Birthday! Does anyone want to guess where I will be celebrating my Birthday?