When CBS launched the Rural Purge around 1971, it axed numerous shows that were coming down from their best seasons including The Beverly Hillbillies, Petticoat Junction, Green Acres, Mayberry RFD and Lassie. The only show that got kicked off the line up that was a mistake was Hee Haw. The Top 20 series had only aired for two seasons. But the network wanted to upscale its audience so the country music focused show got the boot. This is was probably the best thing that could have happened to the series. When the producers smartly went to syndication, they established a long running goldmine. People wanted to more of Buck Owens, Roy Clark and the Hee Haw Honeys. The series became a massive hit often running Saturdays at 7 p.m. on CBS stations. It wasn’t like they left. The syndicated version ran until 1992. Hee Haw: The Collector’s Edition contains 23 shows from the late ‘60s to the mid-70s. These were the glory years.
Most variety show are noted for having the musical guests perform in awkward long comedy sketches between performing their latest hits. Hee Haw changed the rules by having the performers not interact with the hosts or the regular cast members. This it was done by the nature of the production. The comedy elements were shot a few times over the season. Each episode had the ongoing PFFT! You Was Gone!, KORN News, The Haystack, The Moonshiners, The Culhanes, Pickin’ and Grinnin, Gloom, Despair and Agony On Me. The Joke Fence, Archie’s Barber Shop and Doc Campbell. New ones weren’t shot each week. The producers had the set constructed and the performers would deliver a dozen or more jokes. It allowed short segments to be made and spread over half a season. Critics like to complain that MTV lowered the TV audience’s attention spans, but Hee Haw’s quickie sketches didn’t require much brain activity to absorb the action. This was the American equivalent of The Benny Hill Show.
Hee Haw represented a complete escape for viewers. American audiences were learning more about the truth about Vietnam and the Nixon White House. Other Variety shows that mixed comedy and music such as Rowan & Martin’s Laugh-In and The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour commented on the current events. The jokes on Hee Haw made no references to any recent headlines. The jokes were old enough to be used in Abbott and Costello movies. This also played into how the show could do all the comedy segments at once and insert them in shows later. Nothing was topical. The jokes weren’t going to expire while setting on the shelf waiting to be spliced into an episode. This is also the reason why you can watch reruns of Hee Hawwithout immediately looking up historical events on Wikipedia. These corny routines are probably being repeated on multiple stages in Branson, Missouri this evening.
The cream of country music did make appearances on the series since this was a time before CMT. Hee Haw was the best way for a country artist to reach a national audience and crossover to pop radio. The series was produced in Nashville so the performers weren’t having to go Hollywood to present themselves. Among the singers featured on these episodes are Johnny Cash, Tammy Wynette, Dolly Parton, Kenny Rogers, Loretta Lynn, Ray Charles, Charlie Rich, Roy Rogers, Waylon Jennings, Roger Miller, Conway Twitty, Freddy Fender, Merle Haggard. Most of them lip synced while standing around a living room set. Buck Owens and Roy Clark appear to have performed live during their musical moments. The duo were a bit of a power house as they brought together the sounds of Nashville and Bakersfield. They made pickin’ and grinnin’ fun with their guitar and banjo work busting up more jokes. Grandpa Jones and the Hager Brothers give reliable regular music performances to show they weren’t just comic relief.
There is a comfort in watching Hee Haw since it’s really their own little universe with ageless jokes and timeless performances. There’s a safety to what appears on screen since nobody on the show is out to push the boundaries. Although quite a few of the Hee Haw Honeys were revealing tops, short skirts and cutoff jeans that would have been sinful except for the innocent nature of their jokes. Hee Haw was a simple time that remained a fixture for two decades after the ax came down.
If you want a smaller sampler, Hee Haw: Salute contains six episodes from the larger collection. These episodes include musical guests Johnny Cash, Loretta Lynn, George Jones, Tammy Wynette and Conway Twitty.
The videos is 1.33:1 full frame. The show was recorded on standard definition video so the resolution is a touch fuzzy. The audio is Dolby Digital mono. The sound is fine. The major stars lip sync so levels are fine.
Hee Haw Laffs! (29:25) is an early release that just had the comedy segments.
Bonus Interview (79:24) has vintage chats with Roy Clark, Roni Stoneman, George Yanok, Jim and John Hager, Lulu Roman, George Lindsey and Charlie McCoy. They discuss how they got on the show. Roy Clark said yes to the show that promised great country music and corny jokes.
Time-Life presents Hee Haw: The Collector’s Edition. Starring: Buck Owens, Roy Clark, Archie Campbell, Gordie Tapp, Grandpa Jones, Junior Samples, Lulu Roman and Minnie Pearl. Boxset Contents: 23 episodes on 14 DVDs. Release date: August 30, 2016.
Time-Life presents Hee Haw: Salute. Starring: Buck Owens, Roy Clark, Archie Campbell, Gordie Tapp, Grandpa Jones, Junior Samples, Lulu Roman and Minnie Pearl. Boxset Contents: 6 episodes on 3 DVDs. Release date: October 4, 2016.
Tags: Hee Haw, Johnny Cash