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Hee Haw is an American television variety show featuring country music and humor with the fictional rural "Kornfield Kounty" as the backdrop. It aired first-run on CBS from 1969 to 1971, in syndication from 1971 to 1993, and on TNN from 1996 to 1997. Reruns of the series currently run on RFD-TV (which began in 2008) and Circle (which began in 2020).
The show was inspired by Rowan & Martin's Laugh-In, with the major differences being that Hee Haw was centered on country music and rural rather than pop culture, and was far less topical. Hosted by country music artists Buck Owens and Roy Clark for most of its run, the show was equally well known for its corn pone humor as for its voluptuous, scantily clad women (called the Hee Haw Honeys) in stereotypical farmer's daughter outfits.
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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 were taped in two separate week-long sessions, then individual shows were assembled from edited sections. Only musical performances were taped with a live audience, while a laugh track was added to all other segments.
The series was taped for the CBS Television Network at its station affiliate WLAC-TV (now WTVF) in downtown Nashville, Tennessee, and later at Opryland USA in the city's Donelson area. 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, derived from a common English onomatopoeia used to describe a donkey's braying, was coined by show business talent manager and producer Bernie Brillstein. After 25 seasons, the series initially ended its run in June 1993, where it was soon picked up by TNN for reruns. TNN eventually ordered an additional season of first-run episodes, beginning November 23, 1996. The show ultimately ended on December 27, 1997.
Hee Haw's creators, Frank Peppiatt and John Aylesworth, were both Canadian-born writers who had extensive experience in writing for variety shows. Inspired by the enormous prior success of rural sitcoms of the 1960s, especially on CBS, which included the small town sympathetic The Andy Griffith Show, followed by the country parodying Beverly Hillbillies and spinoffs Petticoat Junction and Green Acres, Peppiatt and Aylesworth sought to create a variety show catering to the same audience. This was despite neither one having a firm grasp on rural comedy.
The producers selected a pair of hosts who represented each side in a divide in country/western music at the time: Buck Owens was a prominent architect of the California-based Bakersfield sound and one of the biggest country hitmakers of the 1960s. Roy Clark, who had worked in Washington, D.C. and Las Vegas, was a stalwart of Nashville's Music Row known for his skill at mixing music and comedy onstage. Both Clark and Owens had been regular guests on The Jimmy Dean Show during Peppiatt and Aylesworth's time writing for that series. Peppiatt and Aylesworth brought on two fellow Canadian writers with more experience in rural humor, Gordie Tapp and Don Harron; Harron would appear in the recurring role of "Charlie Farquharson," the rural anchorman for station KORN. The producers also scored a country comedy expert familiar to rural audiences in Archie Campbell, who co-starred and wrote many of the jokes and sketches, along with Tapp, George Yanok and comedian Jack Burns (a former cast member of the rural comedy The Andy Griffith Show) in the first season.
Hee Haw premiered on CBS in 1969 as a summer series. The network picked it up as a last-minute replacement for The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour, a popular but controversial variety show that had been canceled amid feuds between the Smothers Brothers and network censors over the show's topical humor. 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 so-called "Rural Purge" that abruptly cancelled all of the network's country-themed shows, including those with still respectable ratings.
The success of shows like Hee Haw was the source of a heated dispute in CBS's corporate offices: Vice President of network programming Michael Dann, although he personally disliked the shows, argued in favor of ratings (reflecting audience size), while his subordinate, Fred Silverman, head of daytime programming, held that certain demographics within total television viewership - in which Hee Haw and the others performed poorly - could draw more advertising dollars. Silverman's view won out, Dann was fired, Silverman promoted, and CBS canceled its rural shows in the summer of 1971.
Undaunted, Hee Haw's producers put together a syndication deal for the show, which continued in roughly the same format for the rest of its run. Peppiatt and Aylesworth's company, Yongestreet Productions (named for Yonge Street, a prominent thoroughfare in their home city of Toronto) maintained ownership of the series.
During the show's peak in popularity, Hee Haw often competed in syndication against The Lawrence Welk Show, a long-running ABC program which had likewise been canceled in 1971, in its case in a purge of the networks' older demographic-leaning programs. Like Hee Haw, Lawrence Welk was picked up for syndication in the fall of 1971, in some markets by the same stations. The success of the two shows in syndication, and the network decisions that led to their respective cancellations, were the inspiration for a novelty song, "The Lawrence Welk-Hee Haw CounterRevolution Polka," performed by Clark; it rose to become 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. Originally a local program based in Chicago, the black-oriented program also went on to a very long run in syndication; unlike either program, Soul Train entered the market after achieving success at the local scale. In 1981, Yongestreet was acquired by Gaylord Entertainment (best known for the Grand Ole Opry and its related businesses).
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 around 1986. That year, Owens departed as host, leaving Clark to continue with a celebrity guest host each week. The ratings decline continued into the early 1990s. In the fall of 1991, in an attempt to win back viewers, attract a younger audience, and keep pace with sweeping changes in the country music industry of the era, the show's format and setting underwent a dramatic overhaul. The changes included a new title (The Hee Haw Show), more poporiented country music, and the barnyard-cornfield setting replaced by a city street and shopping mall set. The first of the new episodes aired in January 1992. The changes alienated many of the show's 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. Hee Haw Silver episodes also aired a series of retrospective looks at performers who had died since performing in highlighted content, 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 throughout the 1990s and later during the following decade, in a series of successful DVD releases from Time Life.
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, during its latter years, tied with Soul Train with the record for the longest-running U.S. syndicated TV program (Soul Train continued until 2006); Hee Haw, as of 2019, ranks the sixth longest-running syndicated American TV program and the longest-running of its genre. (The current record is Entertainment Tonight, which has been on the air for 39 years; aside from that and Soul Train, Wheel of Fortune, Jeopardy! and Inside Edition rank ahead of it, with Judge Judy surpassing Hee Haw in September 2019.)
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 (photo), 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; those episodes were cut down to comply with the 44-minute minimum. In 2011, the network began re-airing the earliest episodes from 1969-70 on Thursday evenings.
That summer, many of the surviving cast members, along with a number of country artists who were guest stars on the show, 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.
In 2020, the show began running on the Grand Ole Opry operated Circle network. 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.
Hee Haw featured a premiere showcase on commercial television throughout its run for country, bluegrass, gospel, and other styles of American traditional music, featuring hundreds of elite musical performances that were paramount to the success, popularity and legacy of the series for a broad audience of Southern, rural and purely music fans alike. Although country music was the primary genre of music featured on the show, guest stars and cast members alike also performed music from other genres, such as oldies, big band, and pop standards.
Hee Haw featured at least two, and sometimes three or four, guest celebrities each week. While most of the guest stars were country music artists, a wide range of other famous luminaries were featured from actors and actresses to sports stars to politicians.
Sheb Wooley, one of the original cast members, wrote the show's theme song. After filming the initial 13 episodes, other professional demands caused him to leave the show, but he returned from time to time as a guest.
Loretta Lynn was the first guest star of Hee Haw and made more guest appearances than any other artist. She also co-hosted the show more than any other guest co-host and therefore appears on more of the DVD releases for retail sale than any other guest star. Tammy Wynette was second with 21 guest appearances.Tammy Wynette married George Richey (the musical director for Hee Haw from 1970 to 1977) in 1978.
From 1990-92, country megastar Garth Brooks appeared on the show four times. In 1992, producer Sam Lovullo tried unsuccessfully to contact Brooks because he wanted him for the final show. Brooks then surprised Lovullo by showing up at the last minute, ready to don his overalls and perform for the final episode.
(Loretty Lynn & Conway Twitty)
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 (This section does not cite any sources)
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 Honeys (spinoff series)
Hee Haw produced a short-lived spin-off series, Hee Haw Honeys (not to be confused with Hee Haw's female cast members), for the 1978-79 television seasons.
This musical sitcom starred Kathie Lee Johnson (Gifford) along with Hee Haw regulars Misty Rowe, Gailard Sartain, Lulu Roman, and Kenny Price as a family who owned a truck stop restaurant (likely inspired by the "Lulu's Truck Stop" sketch on Hee Haw).
Their restaurant included a bandstand, where guest country artists would perform a couple of their hits of the day, sometimes asking the cast to join them. Cast members would also perform songs occasionally; and the Nashville Edition, Hee Haw's backup singing group, frequently appeared on the show, portraying regular patrons of the restaurant.
Notable guest stars on Honeys included, but were not limited to: Loretta Lynn, The Oak Ridge Boys, Larry Gatlin, Dave & Sugar, and the Kendalls.
Some stations that carried Hee Haw would air n episode of Honeys prior to Hee Haw.
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.
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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Wikipedia: This page was last edited on 2 April 2020, at 05:02 (UTC).