Monday, January 17, 2011

Hee-Haw: 1969-1992, Part Seven...

Sunday night's episode of Hee-Haw on RFD-TV featured Waylon Jennings, Jessi Colter, and Cincinnati Reds catcher, Johnny Bench. This particular episode was among those issued on DVD from Time Life back in 2005. Waylon performed "Good Hearted Woman", "Me and Bobby McGee", and with Jessie he sang "I Ain't the One". Jessi performed "I'm Not Lisa". There were several performances from Roy Clark as well as Buck Owens...in addition to The Hagers. Lisa Todd even performed a song in this episode. Johnny Bench would pop-up in various, quick comedy exchanges with individual cast-members. As is the custom when athlete's show up the punchlines that they deliver or the jokes that they set up are typically sports oriented. Bench appeared on Hee-Haw several times.

In this seventh installment of the Hee-Haw retrospective I felt it a change of pace to ponder a question that's been on the minds of a lot of fans for years: Could Hee-Haw ever make it if brought back in first-run syndication? I don't necessarily have a definitive answer for that question but I'd guess and say there's plenty of people who would automatically say 'yes' and some that would quickly answer 'no'. Television syndication is an incredibly competitive business nowadays. It's actually been highly competitive since the dawn of the 1990's but with so many cable-TV channels and many productions working on off-network programs and the seemingly dominate grip on the 7-8pm time-slot by local stations through the week it leads to an ever increasing diagnosis of doom when it comes to trying to make it in television syndication in 2011 as opposed to 1991.

It's been almost 20 years since the Hee-Haw we all recognize went off the air. The final rural version of the program aired on February 23, 1991 and the guest stars on that last program were Tammy Wynette and Steve Wariner. The show went into a prolonged rerun period which lasted through the rest of 1991. It was also during this rerun cycle that the local TV station in my area stopped carrying the show altogether and as I've mentioned before I was never able to watch the 1992 episodes.

Anyway, the new version of Hee-Haw hit the air on January 4, 1992. Barbara Mandrell, Vern Gosdin, and Joe Diffie were the first guests of 1992.

This urbanized twist of the show went off the air in May 1992 and since that point in time there's never been any newly produced episodes of the program to see the light of day. The question of would a show like Hee-Haw work in 2011 remains up in the air for a lot of people. We all like to think the show, if brought back with new episodes in the rural version we all love, would be able to attract an audience of some kind and be successful.

The success of the Time Life DVD's, in addition to all the ratings successes that the reruns have enjoyed every time a channel airs them, is proof enough that the show is remarkably popular after all this time. Attempting to revive the show would be an undertaking to put it mildly.

I kind of get the sense that every so often talk starts up about a possible revival of the show in some form or another and this causes nostalgic feelings for the show to surface...eventually leading to nostalgic and emotional remembrances about the cast-members of the program, etc. etc.

In the most ironic of circumstances plans of reviving the show almost always get pushed onto the back burner because of the idea of reviving a program that's so beloved by it's fans that one false move in the production or casting can lead to severe backlash. Hee-Haw ended on a controversial note, after all. It's long-time fans were not pleased with the new look in the 1992 episodes. The main set, a cornfield, was replaced according to things I've read by a city street. Oh, in the course of the last 18 and a half years since the program's final episode in 1992 it's become even more of a treasured program in the eye's of it's fans...so the controversy over the 1992 episodes didn't necessarily damage the feelings for the show as a whole. This is why I feel if new episodes were to ever be made that the smartest move to make is to have the scenery rural...bringing back the cornfield and other elements of the show. If the program were ever revived it would clearly need to remain purposely corny and showcase a lot of music, too. I guess what I'm saying is a revival of the show would need to have the spirit of the classic Hee-Haw...not necessarily the same exact sketches or cast-members...but if it were done in a faithful way it could work.

Earlier I remarked that reviving the show would be an undertaking...and I assume it would be...but once a revival becomes officially cast, and the scenery and writing becomes intentionally reminiscent of it's early years, and the rapid editing style and showing of bloopers is inserted I think long-time fans of the show would absolutely love a revival of Hee-Haw.

In all my talks about the show I seldom mention the absolute fact that it wasn't the fans of the show that caused it to go out of production in 1992. Affiliate television stations by 1990/1991 were dropping the show...and obviously this will lead to a decline in audience. Well, due to television programmers dropping the show it caused a lot of fans to innocently assume the show was no longer on the air. I'll bet millions of people didn't see the 1990-1992 episodes due to the syndication practices of the era. In 1992 the show went out of production amidst the controversy of the urban Hee-Haw.

I find it ironic, though, that a year and a half after the show ended production in May of 1992 that it became one of the highest rated programs on The Nashville Network beginning in early 1994 when the reruns started airing on Saturday nights. Reruns of the show remained on TNN on a fairly consistent basis through 1997 but the time-slot was often being played around with. For the most part the reruns aired on Saturday nights at 10pm and would re-air at 1am. Later on the reruns were pushed back to 7pm and they'd re-air again at 10pm. TNN's prime-time line-up would always repeat itself for those who didn't catch the early airings. The reruns on TNN were publicized in a couple issues of Country Weekly magazine in 1994 and revitalized interest led to an outdoor stage show, Hee-Haw Live, at the Opryland complex.

The reruns eventually stopped airing on TNN and then came an ill-fated association with CMT who aired reruns of the show inconsistently. CMT apparently didn't want the ratings that Hee-Haw could bring in and so they eventually stopped airing the show altogether...the CMT era was launched on July 29, 2006 when the channel aired a marathon of episodes with the promise that reruns would air on a weekly basis...but this didn't pan out.

Around this same time, the mid 2000's, reruns of the show began appearing on DVD from the Time Life company. No doubt the success of those DVD's increased the belief that the show had remained popular after all these years...and now the reruns are airing on RFD-TV in a much more faithful way. In fact, they're airing in chronological order. Enjoy this beloved program as it airs each Sunday at 8pm Eastern.

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