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Hee Haw Genre: Comedy
Created by: Frank Peppiatt, John Aylesworth, Bernie Brillstein
Presented by: Buck Owens, Roy Clark
Country of origin: United States
Location(s): Nashville, TN
Running time: 60 minutes
Original channel: CBS; syndicated
Original run: June 15, 1969 – September 4, 1993
Hee Haw was a television variety show co-hosted by musicians Buck Owens and Roy Clark and featuring country music and humor with rural "Kornfield Kounty" as a backdrop. It was taped at WLAC-TV (now WTVF) and Opryland USA in Nashville . The show was produced by Yongestreet Productions through the mid-1980s; it was later produced by Gaylord Entertainment, who distributed the show in syndication. The show's name was derived from the sound a mule makes when it brays.
The show was inspired by Rowan & Martin's Laugh-In, the major difference being that Hee Haw was far less topical, and was centered around country music. The show was equally well-known for its voluptuous, scantily clad women in stereotypical farmer's daughter outfits, male stars Jim and Jon Hager Hager Twins and its cornpone humor. Hee Haw was a quintessentially American show; and although its appeal was not limited to a rural audience (indeed, it was widely watched in all large markets, including New York, Los Angeles, Dallas and Chicago), it is virtually unknown outside North America.
Its success in the 1970s alerted local stations to the wisdom of scheduling niche programs, those appealing to older or ethnic audiences, in less-prominent time slots. Indeed, other niche programs such as The Lawrence Welk Show (which targeted older audiences) and Soul Train (a black-oriented program) also rose to prominence in syndication during this 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 another, etc. At the height of its popularity, an entire year's worth of shows would be taped in two separate week-long sessions.
Creation and Syndication
Much of Hee Haw's origin was Canadian. Two of the series three creators, comedy writers Frank Peppiatt and John Aylesworth, were from Canada. Bernie Brillstein, the third, was from New York. From 1969 until the late 1980s, Hee Haw was produced by Yongestreet Productions, named after Yonge Street, the major thoroughfare in Toronto, Ontario. The production company's name was a testament to Hee Haw's Canadian roots.
Hee Haw started on CBS as a summer 1969 replacement for The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour. Though the show had respectable ratings, it was dropped by CBS as part of the so-called Rural Purge in 1971, along with fellow country shows The Beverly Hillbillies, Mayberry R.F.D. and Green Acres, due to network executives' feeling that its viewers reflected the wrong demographics (e.g. rural, somewhat older, and less affluent). Undaunted, the producers put together a syndication deal for the show, which continued in basically the same format for 20 more years (though Owens departed in 1986). In many markets, it competed in syndication (usually on early Saturday evenings) against The Lawrence Welk Show, which, for some of the same reasons, was also cancelled and resurrected in syndication in 1971. (In a few areas, Hee Haw and Welk were shown back-to-back.)
By 1991, a continued decline in its audience, led to a dramatic change with more pop-oriented country music, in an ill-fated attempt to gain younger viewers. The new format (entitled The Hee Haw Show) lasted a single season, during which the show alienated many of its longtime viewers. In its final 1992 season, the now renamed Hee Haw Silver featured Clark hosting a mixture of classic clips and new footage.
After the show's syndication run ended, reruns aired on The Nashville Network until 1997. Its 21 years in TV syndication was the record for a U.S. program, until Soul Train surpassed it in 1993. Wheel of Fortune surpassed it in 2005. In 2006, Jeopardy! surpassed it also, making Hee Haw currently the fourth-longest-running off-network American TV program.
On July 17, 2006 CMT announced that it would begin rerunning the series starting July 29, and reruns began in late September. The channel hosted a marathon of episodes on January 1, 2007 but the show has only aired sporadically since, with only three episodes airing from that time (March 13, July 7 and July 8) to the present. The show is no longer broadcast by CMT.
In April 2007, the "TV Land" network recognized the long running 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.
On August 12, 2008, RFD-TV Announced that "Hee Haw" will return to a regular weekly TV slot premiering on RFD-TV Sept. 7, 2008. "Hee Haw" episodes will anchor RFD-TV's new Sunday night lineup, at 8PM Eastern. RFD-TV will air "Hee Haw" episodes in the same order they were originally televised.
Two rural-style comedians, already well known in their native Canada, gained their first major U.S. exposure—Gordie Tapp and Don Harron (whose KORN Radio character, newscaster Charlie Farquharson, later appeared on The Red Green Show).
Other cast members over the years included: Roy Acuff (the King of Country Music), Barbi Benton, Cathy Baker, Archie Campbell, the Hager Twins (Jim and John), Gunilla Hutton (as "Nurse Goodbody"), Grandpa Jones, Susan Raye, The Buckaroos (Don Rich, Jim Shaw, Jerry Brightman, Jerry Wiggins, Doyle Singer, Ronnie Jackson, Terry Christoffersen, Doyle Holly), George Lindsey (reprising his "Goober" character from The Andy Griffith Show), Minnie Pearl, Linda Thompson, Kenny Price, Lulu Roman, Misty Rowe, Junior Samples, Rev. Grady Nutt, John Henry Faulk, Gailard Sartain, Roni Stoneman, and the team of Jimmie Riddle and Jackie Phelps, among many others. Original cast member David "Stringbean" Akeman was murdered, along with his wife, in November 1973 during a robbery at his home.
Recurring Skits & Segments
Some of the most beloved sketches and segments on Hee Haw included, but were by no means limited to:
"PFFT! You Was Gone!", a funny duet featured on the premiere episode and holds firm as one of the series' most endearing sketches. In early seasons, the song was performed by Campbell and Tapp (both with solemn looks on their faces), in the vein of folk songs like "Oh! Susanna" and "Old Dan Tucker." In later seasons, Tapp would be increasingly replaced by that episode's guest singer, or another surprise celebrity (normally if it were a guest, their name would be included in the lyrics of the song before they would sing the refrain). Tapp, or whoever it was, would often stand with their back to the viewer while Campbell sang the new, humorous verse solo, holding a scythe. At the end of the verse, Campbell would elbow Tapp or the guest (as a comedic visual cue), who would then spin around (Tapp would react as if awoken by the elbow) to join him on the chorus: "Where, oh where, are you tonight?
Why did you leave me here all alone?
I searched the world over, and I thought I'd found true love,
Then you met another, and PFFT! You was gone!"
The "PFFT" would be done as a spitting "Bronx cheer", and occasionally, they would break up into laughter after the "PFFT", unable to finish the song (Who got spat upon during the "PFFT" would change each show.) Following Campbell's death, whole groups and even females would be part of the refrain, with future regular George Lindsay often singing the first verse. In some episodes, which had several major guest stars, the routine appeared several times in the show so that each guest would have the chance to be part of this tradition.
"Hee Haw" magazine (Vol. 1, No. 2, July 1970, A Charlton Publication) attributes this song to Susan Heather, (c) 1952, 1965 by Mamy Music Corp out of Paoli, Pa. Later references show copyrights held by Gaylord Program Services, Inc. out of Nashville, TN, but this may be because Gaylord holds the copyrights for "Hee Haw." It appears that this song, as written by Ms. Heather, was originally written as a Gospel Song. Bob Newman sang this song on his "The Kentucky Colonel" album in 1959. Mr. Newman is listed as a comedian, so it is probable that this version was the first parody of the original Gospel song. Later artists performing comical versions of this song included Archie Campbell on his "Have A Laugh On Me" album in 1966, and Buck Owens on his "Too Old To Cut The Mustard" album in 1972.
Pickin' and Grinnin' with Owens (on guitar) and Clark (on banjo) and the entire cast. (Owens: "I'm a-Pickin!" Clark: "And I'm a-Grinnin'!"), with the duo (and sometimes a guest star sitting between Buck & Roy) 'dueling' by playing guitar and banjo, telling jokes and reciting one-liners. The sketch always ended with Roy's banjo solo, each time ending a different comical way.
Recurring Skits & Segments continued
Samples Sales, in which Junior Samples, as a used car salesman, would try to pawn off a major 'clunker' and then hold up a sign to remind viewers that his phone number was "BR-549." (At that time, local phone calls in virtually all of the US required dialing seven-digit numbers.) (Hee Haw tapes were later sold using the "800" number 1-800-BR54949; also, the country music group BR5-49 adopted the number as the name of their band.)
"Gloom, Despair and Agony On Me", Another beloved sketch usually performed by four male cast members sitting around in hillbilly garb surrounded by moonshine jugs and looking overtly miserable. They song began with the chorus, which all of them sang with each one alternating (in lip-synch) a mournful howl after each of the first three lines. The chorus went: "Gloom, despair and agony on me-e!
Deep dark depression, excessive misery-y!
If it weren't for bad luck I'd have no luck at all!
Gloom, despair and agony on me-e-e!"
Each of the quartet would sing one line of the verse- a different one for each performance. (In later seasons the female cast got their own version of the song, first just lip-synching the male vocals, but later getting their own woman-ized version complete with female howls of mourning.)
Recurring Skits & Segments continued
The Gossip Girls, featuring various female members of the cast surrounding a washtub and clothes wringer singing: "Now, we're not ones to go 'round spreadin' rumors,
Why, really we're just not the gossipy kind,
No, you'll never hear one of us repeating gossip,
So you'd better be sure and listen close the first time!"
The song featured a new verse every episode. In later years, the guys, in drag, would sometimes replace the girls in the skit, in return for the girls singing "Gloom, Despair..."
(In earlier seasons, the "Gossip Girls" and "Gloom, Despair.." sketches would both end with a repeat of the song's chorus, but in later years that practice was eliminated.)
"Hee Haw Salutes...". Two or three times in each episode, Hee Haw would salute a selected town (or a guest star's hometown) and announce its population, which was sometimes altered for levity, at which point the entire cast would then 'pop up' from the cornfield, shouting "SAA-LUTE!!" (sometimes after the salute, Archie Campbell would pronounce the saluted town spelled backwards.)
The Fence, Two or three times during each show a cast member, standing in front of a high wooden fence, would tell a one liner joke. (Example: "I crossed an elephant with a gopher." Everybody in unison: "What'ja get?" "Some awfully big holes in the backyard.") After the punchline, a portion of the fence would swing up and hit the joketeller on the rear end-- regardless of their gender.
Archie's Barber Shop, with Archie Campbell, regular customer Roy Clark, and two or three other regulars sitting in the "waiting chairs" (on lesser occasions Junior Samples would be the one going into the barber's chair). Campbell would share comic dialogue with Clark (Campbell's legendary "That's Good, That's Bad" routine immediately comes to mind) or tell one of his "backwards fairy tales" such as "Rindercella".
Recurring Skits & Segments continued
"Hee-Haw's All-Jug Band" A musical segment, featuring most of the female cast members, singing a comical song, in which the punchline differed each week. Regular Lulu Roman "played" moonshine jugs (by which, she would blow air over the spout, creating a "humming sound"), which partially explains the segment's title (as well as the fact that "jugs" is off-color euphemism for breasts). Minnie Pearl introduced the segment each week, loudly announcing, "We're gonna play now!"; at the end of the song, she would similarly conclude "We're through playin' now!"
"Hey Grandpa! What's for supper?" Grandpa Jones is cleaning a window pane (with no glass in it) and recites a dinner menu in poetic verse. Often, he would describe a delicious, country-style meal (e.g., chicken and biscuits smothered in rich gravy, and collard greens), and the audience would reply approvingly, "yum-m yum-m!"; although sometimes he would serve a less-than spectacular meal (thawed out TV dinners), to which the cast would reply, "yuck!" One notable run-through of the routine had Grandpa saying "Ah ain't got nuthin!", which would be the only time he ever got booed during this routine.
The Cornfield, patterned after Laugh-In's "Joke Wall," with cast members and guest stars 'popping up' to tell jokes and one-liners. Until his death, "Stringbean" played the field's 'scarecrow,' delivering one-liners before being shouted down by the 'crow' on his shoulder; after his 1973 murder, he was not replaced, and the 'scarecrow' simply was seen in the field as a memorial. On occasion, personalities from TV stations that carried Hee Haw would appear in this segment with Owens or Clark.
The Naggers, with Gordie Tapp and Roni Stoneman as LaVern & Ida Lee, a backwoods bickering couple, inspired in part by the radio comedy The Bickersons. Kenny Price made occasional appearances (starting in 1974) as their son Elrod.
The Million Dollar Band: This was a jam-session segment, airing from 1980 through 1988, comprised of the following all-star musicians: Chet Atkins, Boots Randolph, Roy Clark, Floyd Cramer, Charlie McCoy, Danny Davis, Jethro Burns, and Johnny Gimble.
Recurring Skits & Segments continued
The Hee Haw Gospel Quartet: This was one of the few serious segments of the show, and always featured near the show's end. Clark, Owens, Grandpa Jones and Kenny Price would sing a gospel hymn. Several of their performances were released as recordings. At the end of the show hosts Clark and Owens, backed by the entire cast, sang the song:
"We loved the time we spent with you,
To share a song and a laugh or two,
May your pleasures be many, your troubles be few...
And ending with Owens and Clark saying "So long everybody! We'll see you next week on...HEE-HAW!!!" (The closing song would be replaced in the early-1980s)
The closing song was changed to this: "So long we sure had a good time! So long, gee, the company was fine! Singin' and a dancin', Laughin' and a prancin', Adios, farewell, goodbye, good luck, so long...HEE HAW!!" And after the closing credits, cast member Cathy Baker would say, "THAT'S all!" (preceded from the mid-1980s to 1992 by "This has been a Gaylord Production from Opryland Studios!"
The show's additional legacy—probably its main one to most of the Southern and rural viewers in particular—was the hundreds of performances of country music, bluegrass, gospel music, and other traditional styles, that were featured on it during its run. During the 1970s and early 1980s, the show was probably the best-known showcase for country on commercial television, aside from other half-hour performer-hosted syndicated shows (most notably The Porter Wagoner Show, which is perhaps the only other weekly country music show of this era to approach Hee-Haw's longevity.) produced by packagers like Nashville's Show Biz, Inc.
In addition to the regular performances by the hosts and cast members, guest artists performing on the show appeared on a weekly basis. While mostly focused on the country genre, a wide range of artists were featured; these include— Alabama, Atlanta, Roy Acuff, Chet Atkins, Lynn Anderson, Suzy Bogguss, Garth Brooks, Bellamy Brothers, The Buckaroos, Robert Byrd, Glen Campbell, Johnny Cash, Ray Charles, Jessi Colter, David L Cook, Sammy Davis, Jr., Crystal Gayle, Lee Greenwood, Merle Haggard, Doyle Holly, Janis Ian, Alan Jackson, Wanda Jackson, Sonny James, Waylon Jennings, George Jones, Jerry Lee Lewis, Lyle Lovett, Loretta Lynn, Barbara Mandrell, Roger Miller, Willie Nelson, Dolly Parton, Ray Price, Charley Pride, Charlie Rich, Riders in the Sky, Eddie Rabbitt, Jerry Reed, Linda Ronstadt, Kenny Rogers, Roy Rogers, The Statler Brothers, Ray Stevens, George Strait, The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, B.J. Thomas, Mel Tillis, Pam Tillis, Randy Travis, Travis Tritt, Ernest Tubb, Conway Twitty, Eddie Van Halen, Dottie West, Boxcar Willie, Tammy Wynette, Don Williams, Hank Williams Jr., and Faron Young, among others. Elvis Presley was a big fan of Hee Haw and wanted to appear on the program in the '70s. But his manager, Colonel Tom Parker, wouldn't allow him to do so. A similar situation occurred when his friend Johnny Cash asked Elvis to appear on his show.
Hee Haw had a short lived spin-off series, Hee Haw Honeys, for the 1978-79 television season. The sitcom starred Kathie Lee Johnson (Gifford), Misty Rowe, Gailard Sartain, Lulu Roman, and Kenny Price.
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