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See All Customer Reviews. Shop Books. Read an excerpt of this book! Add to Wishlist. USD Sign in to Purchase Instantly. They were request ed as a pre-condition for planning by Somerset CountyCouncil as it was considered imperative to document the history of the site, the development of which offered a unique opportunity prior to the commencement of the building works. This is a Grade 2 listed building positioned in the centre of a conservation area in the heart of Glastonbury adjacent to the Tri - bunal, a Grade 1 Listed building and as such is considered to be of great importance.
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Carson asked about the guest hosts Saturday Night would have. Our biggest problem is going to be people, he said. He was concerned that Ebersol and Michaels were going to be using some of the stand-up comedians that the Tonight Show had spent years nurturing. The conversation started over from the beginning for his benefit, coming back to the question about the guest hosts.
Michaels explained that Albert Brooks would only be doing films for their show, not stand-up routines. Well, I guess that will work for us, Carson said. Fred, is there anything else to say to the boys? DeCordova wanted to know what sorts of musical acts Saturday Night would have. Again Ebersol assured him there would be no conflict, since their show would feature only rock groups. There were handshakes all around, and as Ebersol and Michaels were on their way out, Carson again smiled and said, Just one night a week?
They liked you, Tebet told him. They thought you were fine boys. It would not be long before Johnny Carson would decide this initial assessment had been incorrect. He gave Ebersol a call, thinking at first of putting him in touch with another client. But Ebersol said he wanted to produce something out of the ordinary, a show that combined comedy and rock music, appealed to young audiences, and took some chances. Wernick thought immediately of Lorne Michaels, who had been talking of producing just such a show for years.
Bob Finkel, a longtime variety producer and early champion of Michaels, came along to lend moral support. He thought one of them should be a comedy show for young people that was irreverent and outspoken—which was all Michaels needed to hear. He started talking, which by all accounts was one of the things Lorne Michaels did best. Among his friends Lorne was known as a man from whom words gushed; sometimes people found it nice just to sit back and listen while Lorne rambled musically on.
He spoke at length that afternoon of a show that would have a repertory company of young comedians from improvisational theater groups like Second City, young writers with fresh points of view, parody commercials, short films, and rock music. All the elements, in other words, that would later end up in Saturday Night. I want, he concluded, to do a show for the generation that grew up on television. This was not, for Lorne, a new pitch. He was talking about a show he believed should have been on the air in , a show he had, in fact, unsuccessfully proposed to NBC two years before.
In Dick Ebersol, Lorne finally found a receptive network ear. Ebersol himself felt an immediate bonding between them.
We spoke the same language, he said. Lorne in truth was more wary of Ebersol than Ebersol was of him, but he was able to avoid giving that impression when it suited him. When they parted, Michaels had a verbal commitment to produce a one-hour comedy-variety pilot for NBC. I thought I was on my way to Nirvana, but all I got was recurrent flashbacks of the original Mouseketeers.
Television and the television generation had drifted so far apart during the s that they hardly communicated at all, an ironic disaffection considering that this was the first generation in history to have grown up taking television for granted as an everyday, ubiquitous fact of life. Lorne Michaels liked to say that his generation was as familiar with TV as French kids were with wine.
More than a wasteland, TV was the idiot engine of the Establishment, electronic opiate of the consumerist masses, and thus a favorite object of ridicule and contempt. But Laugh-In was a revolution of form, not of content: It was the first show consisting largely of rhythmically edited snippets of videotape. For the youth of America, no booking could have been more appropriate: One of the few things that exceeded their contempt for television was their loathing of Richard Nixon.
The only network show to reflect directly and aggressively the subversive attitudes of the sixties was the Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour. The network expected a standard variety show, but like most of their peers, the Smothers Brothers, especially Tommy, had been going through some changes, and they had other ideas.
They were canceled for their efforts. There was a void as far as a certain kind of element. Tommy had done [a sitcom for CBS] and had gotten burned on that; it was one of those deals where you go out and people laugh at what you do no matter what, blowing smoke up your ass. He felt betrayed by that whole system. The entree was that the network surely thought the Smothers Brothers were going to be some cutesy-pie college boys, like the Brothers Four. They had no idea that Tommy was waking up, curious about what was really going on around him.
By the fall it was pretty full. When we started we just played their game…but after about ten shows we started to try to find what was happening on the streets. Suddenly the Smotherses were doing jokes about politics, sex, religion, and drugs. The Vietnam War and Lyndon Johnson were favorite targets. One sketch that several CBS affiliates in Texas refused to air pictured Johnson moving his ranch to Washington, complete with barbecues and ten-gallon hats. That approach pleased young viewers—miraculously the Smothers Brothers attracted high ratings despite the competition from Bonanza —but it made CBS extremely nervous.
Topical satire with bite was all but unheard-of on television in , and there were constant, vicious battles over what the Smotherses could and could not say. With success the Smotherses grew even bolder, hiring young, inexperienced writers like Steve Martin and Rob Reiner and eventually taking over production of the show themselves. The controversy they provoked increased, as did the resistance from CBS.
For Tommy Smothers, the battles became a cause and an obsession.
I was all passion and youth and belief, he said later. There was no room for softness at that time—you were either a short-hair or a long-hair. He traveled to Washington and sought the support of Nicholas Johnson, a young, maverick member of the Federal Communications Commission who had become similarly embattled applying his own brand of activism to the regulation of the television industry.
Paranoia was fashionable then, and not always unjustified. The reason the network gave was that one of their shows had been turned in after the deadline stipulated in their contract, but Tommy Smothers, Mason Williams, Rob Reiner, and Steve Martin believe to this day the cancellation was politically motivated.
Nixon came in and we were off, Smothers said. We were thrown off the air because of our viewpoint on Vietnam. They were also thrown off, Smothers adds, because we had no ally in high places at CBS. That was a key mistake that Lorne Michaels, six years later, would not repeat. West believed a revolution really might be happening in the streets, and he became impassioned with the idea that by giving young people an honest forum to express their views television could help bridge the generation gap.
For several months the Videofreex traveled around the country taping segments that featured a free school near San Francisco, Yippie leader Abbie Hoffman, Black Panther Fred Hampton, and other stalwarts of the radical left. Don West and the Videofreex had insisted that Dann see the show on their turf, which turned out to be a run-down loft in SoHo.
Dann, accompanied by several other CBS program executives, including daytime programming vice-president Fred Silverman, arrived at the loft by limousine. CBS would see the raw truth from the streets, undiluted. A sizable contingent of the freaks and their friends filled the screening room, smoking grass, drinking wine, and waiting to see how Dann and his companions liked it. The raw truth was raw indeed. Shot in the crudest of cinema write styles, it included heavy doses of radical proselytizing laced with uncut streams of profanity. Dann stuck with another program the network had developed to replace the Smothers Brothers.
It was a series conceived by a Hollywood packager named Bernie Brillstein, who a few years later would coincidentally begin managing a young writer-producer named Lorne Michaels. Spotting Mike Dann and his aide Perry Lafferty eating at a table nearby, Peppiatt and Aylesworth walked across the room and pitched the concept to them. By the end of the day they had a commitment from CBS. The series was called Hee Haw. A generation of young comedians came of age and developed their craft in the comedy underground during those years. In some respects they were no different from any other generation of show biz hopefuls banging at the door: They had the dedication of the young to their art, but they were also more ambitious than most of them probably cared to admit.
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Nonetheless, they were distinguished by their numbers—this was, after all, the largest generation in American history—and by a sense of community and purpose that, as quickly as it might evaporate and as hard as it would subsequently be to remember, united them in a spirit of grand adventure with their peers. The comedy underground very much reflected that spirit, even though the young comedians often ridiculed the counterculture as ruthlessly as they did everything else. There was what Lorne Michaels called a code to comedy then, a code that included knowing drug references, casual profanity, a permissive attitude toward sex, a deep disdain for show business convention, blistering political satire, and bitter distrust of corporate power.
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It articulated a sensibility that challenged and mocked most of what the Establishment stood for. There were writers and producers who were growing their hair long, smoking joints, and living in trailers in Laurel Canyon, but they worked on such series as The Partridge Family and The Brady Bunch. Neither were the underground comedians overwhelmed with popular success among their peers.
Rock and roll was the art form of the day; no accident that perhaps the best-known hip comedy group of the sixties, The Firesign Theatre, appeared on record albums, not live. Comedians who opened concerts for rock bands were not infrequently booed offstage. So the hip comedy scene simmered, mostly beneath the surface.
There was a tremendous amount of cross-pollination within it, and the breadth and quality of the talent there, once it did break out, would help define movies as well as television for the next decade and beyond. In comedy clubs around the country, young comedians like Andy Kaufman, Steve Martin, and Martin Mull were doing strange routines quite unlike the stand-up comedy of the past.
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