Hee Haw


Hee Haw was an American television variety show featuring country music and humor with fictional rural "Kornfield Kounty" as a backdrop. It aired on CBS from 1969-1971 followed by a 21-year run in local syndication. The show was inspired by Rowan & Martin's Laugh-In, the major difference being that Hee Haw was far less topical, and was centered on country music and rural culture. Hosted by country artists Buck Owens and Roy Clark for most of the series' run, the show was equally well known for its voluptuous, scantily clad women in stereotypical farmer's daughter outfits and country-style minidresses (a group that came to be known as the "Hee Haw Honeys"), and its corn pone humor.

Hee Haw's appeal, however, was not limited to a rural audience. It was successful in all of the major markets, including New York, Los Angeles, Boston, and Chicago. Other niche programs such as The Lawrence Welk Show (which targeted older audiences) and Soul Train (which targeted black audiences) also rose to prominence in syndication during the era. 

Like Laugh-In, the show minimized production costs by taping all of the recurring sketches for a season in batches, setting up for the Cornfield one day, the Joke Fence on another day, etc. At the height of its popularity, an entire season's worth of shows would be taped in two separate week-long sessions, then individual shows were assembled from edited sections. Only musical performances were taped with a live audience; a laugh track was added to all other segments.

The series was taped for CBS at its network affiliate WLAC-TV (now WTVF) in downtown Nashville, and later at Opryland USA in the Donelson area of Nashville. The show was produced by Yongestreet Productions through the mid-1980s; it was later produced by Gaylord Entertainment, which distributed the show in syndication. The show's name was coined by show business talent manager and producer Bernie Brillstein and derives from a common English onomatopoeia used to describe the braying sound that a donkey makes.

 

After 25 seasons, the series initially ended its run in June 1993, where it was soon picked up by TNN for reruns. TNN would eventually order an additional season of first-run episodes, beginning November 2.


Background information From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia


Creation and syndication

Much of Hee Haw's origin was Canadian. The series' creators, comedy writers Frank Peppiatt and John Aylesworth, were from Canada. From 1969 until the late 1980s, Hee Haw was produced by Yongestreet Productions, named after Yonge Street, a major thoroughfare in Toronto. Gordie Tapp and Don Harron, both writer/performers on the show, were also Canadian. Its two hosts represented both sides in a divide in country/western music at the time: Buck Owens was the prominent architect of the California-based Bakersfield sound, while Roy Clark was a stalwart of Tennessee's Music Row.

 

Hee Haw premiered on CBS as a summer 1969 replacement for The Smothers Brothers (image) Comedy Hour. Though the show had respectable ratings (it sat at #16 for the 1970-71 season), it was dropped in July 1971 by CBS as part of the socalled "Rural Purge" (along with fellow country-themed shows The Beverly Hillbillies, Mayberry R.F.D., and Green Acres). The success of Hee Haw and other country-themed shows was the source of a heated dispute in CBS's corporate offices; Michael Dann, although he personally disliked the shows, considered total viewership the benchmark of success and encouraged the shows to stay on the air, while Fred Silverman believed certain demographics - the ones in which Hee Haw and the others performed poorly - could draw more advertising dollars. Silverman's view won out, and CBS canceled the rural shows in summer 1971.

Undaunted, the producers put together a syndication deal for the show, which continued in roughly the same format for 20 more years (though Owens departed in 1986). After Owens left, Clark was assisted each week by a country music celebrity co-host.

 

During the show's peak in popularity, Hee Haw often competed in syndication against The Lawrence Welk Show (image, 1969) , a long-running ABC program which had also been canceled in 1971, also in an attempt to purge the networks of older demographic-leaning programs. Like Hee Haw, Lawrence Welk was picked up for syndication in the fall of 1971, and there were some markets where the same station aired both programs. (The success of Hee Haw and Lawrence Welk in syndication, and the network decisions that led to their respective cancellations, were the inspiration for a novelty song called "The Lawrence Welk-Hee Haw Counter-Revolution Polka," performed by Clark; the song became a top 10 hit on the Billboard Hot Country Singles chart in the fall of 1972.) Welk and Hee Haw also competed against another music-oriented niche program that moved to syndication in 1971: Soul Train, a black-oriented program (originally a local program based in Chicago) that also went on to a very long run in syndication.

Mirroring the long downward trend in the popularity of variety shows in general that had taken place in the 1970s, ratings began to decline for Hee Haw by the mid-1980s, a trend that continued into the early 1990s. In the fall of 1991, in an attempt to win back viewers and attract a younger audience, the show's format and setting underwent a dramatic overhaul. The changes included a new title (The Hee Haw Show), more pop-oriented country music, and the barnyardcornfield setting replaced by a city street and shopping mall set. The first of the new shows aired in January 1992.

 

Despite the attempt to keep the show fresh, the changes alienated many of its longtime viewers while failing to gain the hoped-for younger viewers, and the ratings continued their decline.

During the summer of 1992, a decision was made to end first-run production, and instead air highlights of the show's earlier years in a revamped program called Hee Haw Silver (as part of celebrating the show's 25th season). Under the new format, Clark hosted a mixture of classic clips and new footage.

The Hee Haw Silver episodes spotlighted many of their classic sketches and musical performances from the show, with a series of retrospective looks at performers who had since died, such as David "Stringbean" Akeman, Archie Campbell, Junior Samples, and Kenny Price. According to the show's producer, Sam Lovullo, the ratings showed improvement with these classic reruns; however, the series was finally canceled in June 1993 at the conclusion of its 25th season. Hee Haw continued to pop up in reruns (see below for details) throughout the 1990s and later during the following decade, in a series of successful DVD releases from Time Life.

Reruns

After the show's syndication run ended, reruns aired on The Nashville Network from 1993 until 1996. Upon the cancellation of reruns in 1996 the program resurfaced, for another first-run season, ultimately concluding the series in 1997. Its 22 years in TV syndication (1971–93) was the record for the longest-running U.S. syndicated TV program, until Soul Train surpassed it in 1993; Hee Haw remains the fifth longest-running syndicated American TV program, though the longest-running of its genre.

 

During the 2006–07 season CMT aired a series of reruns and TV Land also recognized the series with an award presented by k.d. lang; in attendance were Roy Clark, Gunilla Hutton, Barbi Benton, the Hager twins, Linda Thompson, Misty Rowe, and others. It was during this point, roughly between the years of 2004 and 2007, that Time Life began selling selected episodes of the show on DVD. Among the DVD content offered was the 1978 10th anniversary special that hadn't been seen since its original airing. CMT sporadically aired the series, usually in graveyard slots, and primarily held the rights in order to be able to air the musical performances as part of their music video library (such as during the "Pure Vintage" block on CMT Pure Country).

 

Reruns of Hee Haw began airing on RFD-TV in September 2008, where it currently remains, anchoring the network's Sunday night lineup, although beginning in January 2014 an episode airs on Saturday afternoon and the same episode is rerun the following Sunday night. In 2011, the network began re-airing the earliest episodes from 1969–70 on Thursday evenings. That summer, many of the surviving cast members and an ensemble of country artists taped a Country's Family Reunion special, entitled Salute to  the Kornfield, which aired on RFD-TV in January 2012. The special is also part of Country's Family Reunion's DVD series. Concurrent with the special was the unveiling of a Hee Haw exhibit, titled Pickin' and Grinnin', at the Oklahoma History Center in Oklahoma City.

As part of the promotions for its DVD products, Time-Life also compiles and syndicates a half-hour clip show series, The Hee Haw Collection.

Stage settings

A barn interior set was used as the main stage for most of the musical performances from the show's premiere until the debut of the "Hee Haw Honky Tonk" sketch in the early 1980s. Afterwards, the "Hee Haw Honky Tonk" set would serve as the main stage for the remainder of the series' run. Buck Owens then began using the barn interior set for his performances after it was replaced by the "Hee Haw Honky Tonk" set and was named "Buck's Place" (as a nod to one of Owens' hits, "Sam's Place"). Other settings for the musical performances throughout the series' run included a haystack (where the entire cast performed songs), the living room of a Victorian house, the front porch and lawn of the Samuel B. Sternwheeler home, a grist mill (where Roy Clark performed many of his songs in earlier seasons), and a railroad depot, where Buck Owens performed his songs before acquiring "Buck's Place."

Elvis connection

Elvis Presley was a fan of Hee Haw and wanted to appear as a guest on the program, but Presley was afraid that his manager, Colonel Tom Parker, would not allow him to do so. Two of the Hee Haw Honeys dated Presley long before they joined the cast, Linda Thompson in the mid-1970s, whom Presley had a long-term relationship with after his divorce from Priscilla; and Diana Goodman shortly afterwards. Shortly after Presley's death, his father, Vernon Presley, made a cameo appearance on the show, alongside Thompson and Buck Owens, and paid tribute to his late son, noting how much Elvis enjoyed watching the show, and introduced one of his favorite gospel songs, as performed by the Hee Haw Gospel Quartet.

Hee Haw Theater

The Hee Haw Theater opened in Branson, Missouri, in 1981 and operated through 1983. It featured live shows using the cast of the television series, as well as guests and other talent. The format was similar with a country variety showtype family theme. 

Legacy

Hee Haw continues to remain popular with its long-time fans and those who have discovered the program through DVD releases or its reruns on RFD-TV. In spite of the loving of the series by its fans, the program has never been a favorite of television critics or reviewers; the Hee Haw Honeys spin-off, in particular, was cited in a 2002 TV Guide article as one of the ten worst television series ever.

 

On at least four episodes of the animated Fox series Family Guy, when the storyline hits a dead-end, a cutaway to Conway Twitty performing a song is inserted. The handoff is done in Hee Haw style, and often uses actual footage of Twitty performing on the show.

 

Lulu Roman released a new album titled "At Last" on January 15, 2013. The album features Lulu's versions of 12 classics and standards including guest appearances by Dolly Parton, T. Graham Brown, Linda Davis, and Georgette Jones (daughter of George Jones and Tammy Wynette). 

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*Immanuel Kant