Season: 4 (The Sonny & Cher Comedy Hour)
Episode: 44 (Season Four Premiere)
Guest(s): Howard Cosell, Chuck Connors, Miss Universe & Mis U.S.A., Ed McMahon
CBS air date: Date: September 12, 1973
Also aired: TV Land, GetTV, DVD Collection
Subway Intro: This is when the show started adding in shake things up, either from boredom in the writing room or filling in around the "Bickering Bonos." Although the new opening cartoon is cute by incorporating Chastity as a little painter creating a yellow 1970s wonderland, I don’t love these openings with the guest stars and the regulars telling short jokes while riding the subway.
Here is a breakdown of the differences in the openings. In season 1-3, Sonny & Cher fight over the sun. Eventually Sonny dribbles it like a basketball. The animation goes funky, 1970s-style:
Some episodes in some locations were called The Sonny & Cher Show and in some places The Sonny & Cher Comedy Hour:
Season 4 incorporated a brand-new animation:
Opening Song: “Games People Play” (Video)
Cover of Joe South (1968)
They also sang this song in episodes 4 and 10. Sonny wears an orange shirt and white jacket. His shirt looks like it has an Egyptian guy pouring water on it. Cher is very tan, wearing an orange dress with a cow’s head on it. The stage is now much wider and they've gotten rid of the little lip of stage jutting out toward the audience. Lots of whoops and Cher's hips swinging. Cher is singing with so much more confidence and bravado. Her hair is all of one length now too.
The season has also stared by interrupting the opening song with a breakout skit. Ugh. I so hate these breakout skits for 1) interrupting the lovely duets and 2) cluttering up the opening segment overall. In one breakout Sonny & Cher are on a date in the 1950s playing Don an Dorothy characters. The joke is they’re really married. There’s another breakout where Sonny’s at a bus stop and runs into Miss U.S.A. and a Polynesian Miss Universe. They think he’s Mickey the Mouse. After the breakouts (and in-between them), Sonny and Cher continue and finish out the song. Cher really belts it at the end.
Banter: Sonny says, “We’re back, America! The Flying Bonos ride again!” He calls Cher “the little lady.” Over the summer, Sonny says he performed solo for President Nixon. Cher quips that these are the tapes the White House won’t release. Yes, we’re deep in Watergate now. Sonny talks about his modular trained voice and great pitch and volume. He says he’s also guest starred on Marcus Welby M.D. He plays Rico Renati on the October 1973 “Blood Kin” episode. He jokes that Cher was offered a part in in Bob Fosse's 1972 musical Cabaret but they gave the part to Joey Grey instead. (That must be a flat chest joke). A braided rope falls down from somewhere and Cher retaliates by pulling it. A trap door opens and Sonny falls through. He finishes the song from the pit of the trap door.
Lady Luck: So the writers are bored with the Vamp sketches and have refashioned something far less interesting called Lady Luck. The sketches will not captivate the imagination like the Vamp segments did. Cher stands in front of a roulette wheel in a green dress with a turban looking like a wealthy Mediterranean gambler, while singing a new them song with “yeahs” that seem too low for her voice. For some reason too the transitions seem more stilted with this song.
- Cher (in a conservative wig and green suit) and Chuck Connors meet in a secluded place as lovers but also insurance salespeople. Cher fires him. I’ve starred this one.
- Cher and Chuck Connors again are having an adulterous affair and Cosell is blackmailing them. Sonny plays the constable. Teri Garr is in it. Something is happening with rhyming. My notes made no sense.
- Ed McMahon plays a bartender singing “The Beat Goes On.” Sonny is at the bar telling him about all the accidents that surround him and how he’s bad luck. Cher comes in wearing a black dress. Not sure how this is resolved.
The end has cartoons of slot machines bugging out while the characters gather together much the same way they did at the end of Vamp segments. In this particular ending we see characters that weren’t aired in the skits (at least in the airing of the show I saw).
At the Launderette: This is the first Laverne skit on the show, which is surprising because we’re in the last season already. What a late arrival for something so infamous. The character is described as the “obnoxious housewife Laverne” who “airs her dirty laundry.” That pretty much sums it up right there. Olivia (played by Teri Garr) is always at the laundromat first doing her laundry and she wears her hair up in big rollers. Laverne arrives and says, “I don’t mean to be catty but you look terrible!” Olivia is always good-natured about these slights and all of Laverne’s self-involved monologues. Laverne recommends gold-fish lifts (oh, the 1970s). Laverne references her own “co-ordinated ensemble” in a bad French accent. She introduces references her bum of a husband Harry who sleeps a lot, a fact Laverne is not happy about. She calls theirs “a marriage made in Japan” which back in the 1970s meant cheaply-made. She talks about male menopause and needing to leave to get her roots done (she rarely does more than fold clothes in these skits). She advises Olivia “don’t take any wooden soap suds,” a reference to "Don’t take any wooden nickels" which my grandfather used to confuse me by saying all the time.
Cartoon: John Wilson’s “Bad Bad Leroy Brown” (Video)
Cover of Jim Croce (1973)
They sang “Don’t Mess Around with Jim” in episode #25. This is one of the best cartoons they did, mostly because the song suits them. But the cartoon also illustrates the ethnic "otherness" of Leroy (he's indeterminately darker than the other characters), especially depicted as King Kong and also reinforces the Stagolee myth. The animation is mixed with live coverage of Sonny & Cher singing from behind the bar as bartender and waitress.
Window on the World (Video)
This is the country-store version of Headlines in the Papers, the skit of jokes and occasional breakout segments. We started seeing some of these at the end of the third season. It’s a bit better than Headlines in the Papers. It’s got its own song, too. Instead of sitting in a wealthy drawing room, the cast are sitting around in a country store. Topics covered: the gas shortage, pollution in the Hudson River, the 1976 Olympics (Barbara Nauseous interviews), Billy Van plays a Japanese space scientist (his accent does not age well), the beef shortage, There's a cute part where Chastity says by eating all her vegetables she can grow "big and tall like my Daddy." Cher asks, "Is he tall?" Chastity says "no" perfectly. Cosell and Connors trade barbs about Connors' bad baseball playing and Cosell's caustic irritatingness, Connors mimes a toupee joke behind Cosell’s back, there's a skit about the oldest living football player in the world (Ted Zeigler) and the coinage of pigskin (this skit actually makes me laugh), a Red Skins joke, Norman Lear’s new show about a Jewish man married to a Cowgirl called “Shaloam on the Range.” Characters often laugh obnoxiously at the bad jokes to get their joke tellers to laugh. Or someone will tell a joke and surrounding cast will laugh at first and then make sour faces. This skit is much more casual and prankstery. There’s a great breakout satire of Watergate. Bob Einstein (doing his great deadpan shtick) plays the White House ice cream men being grilled before a congressional hearing. Sonny plays his lawyer. The cast behind them make the funny congressional hearing faces typical of those sitting one row behind.
Guest Spot (Video)
Howard Cosell plays the caretaker of a museum where the statues (Sonny and the cast, come to life and sing "Little Darling"). All this before Night at the Museum movies. Sonny shirtless alert. Cosell does a Cosell performance on the lyrics.
Concert: “Long Train Running” (Video)
Cover of The Doobie Brothers (1973)
Cher is wearing a very involved African-inspired hairpiece and very shiny gold halter and skirt. Sonny's black suit jacket is sparkly. Lots of African American cultural appropriation. Lots of whoops and hanging hand. Sonny seems out of breath trying to dance to keep up with Cher and wears an unloosened tie. There's a huge bank of overhead lights now and white risers to the side. Cher belts it out. Cher keeps up with this song.
Solo: "Half Breed" (Video)
This is the first airing of Cher singing “Half Breed” in the Bob Mackie Plains Indian male chief dress. It took me years to realize the foregrounded fire was fake. You feel for that palomino horse under those hot lights. Cher pats him at the end. She’s barefoot and the dress is hardly there. She was worried Sonny would lose it but he didn’t seem to notice. The totem pole and the headdress don’t match cultures. She lip syncs the song.
IGUB: Sonny & Cher explain the trap door to Chasitity, that in the opening bit Sonny fell down onto a mattress below the stage. This is uber cute right here. They give Chastity the rope and Sonny says she can be a “good little girl” or a “naughty little angel.” Chastity quickly says, “I want to be a naughty devil.” They laugh and she pulls the rope and Sonny falls.
Highlights: A show of firsts: the inaugural Laverne skit, the first Lady Luck sequence, first Window on the World, the first Subway opening, the first introduction of blackouts during the opening duet. Cher sings “Half Breed” in the famous Bob Mackie dress. The show’s first references to Watergate. There's both African American and Native American cultural appropriation in one show. Bob Einstein and Sonny’s great Watergate/ice cream man sketch. New larger stage for opening and closing number. New design for the Concert segments.