This past Saturday, February 23, 2013 marked a little known anniversary in the life of the television series, Hee Haw. It was on a Saturday back on February 23, 1991...22 years ago to the day...that the series aired it's final first-run episode with it's rural decor. This was also, perhaps, the final time a lot of viewers seen the program as affiliate stations had been dropping the show during the previous couple of seasons and would continue to drop the program throughout the season. In a previous blog entry I remarked that I'd read where the show had reached a peak of affiliate stations during the mid 1980's (in the range of 220) but by the early 1990's the number of television stations airing the show had fell to a little more than 170...a drop of at least 50 stations within a 5 to 6 year time frame. A lot of factors played into that...there were more first-run syndicated programming hitting the air than in times past and some local stations were even creating their own programming rather than pay for outside shows to fill the local access time slots. There was a time when syndicated programs were considered inferior because they weren't a product of a network but my how times have changed. Since there have been many examples of successful syndicated programs lasting much longer than network programs there shouldn't be any inferiority directed toward syndicated programs.
In the meantime, after Hee Haw went out of production in February 1991 it didn't return with new episodes until January 1992 and it was this series of programs that ultimately led to it's cancellation. Technically, the new look had been unveiled in the late fall of 1991 during a press release but the new episodes didn't hit the air for another few months. The 1992 episodes marked the program's 24th season.
The rural look and country fashions, which had been a staple of the show since it's 1969 debut, was gone, and it had been replaced with an urban look and uptown fashions. Also, in 1991, almost all of the cast-members and back-up singers who had been part of the show for more than 10 years, in some cases 20, were let go in favor of newcomers. There were only a handful of longtime cast-members who survived the fall 1991 make-over. The urban version of Hee Haw lasted until May 1992. In the fall Hee Haw Silver debuted, a retrospective series celebrating the program's 25th season. Roy Clark hosted this series and Cathy Baker provided the sign-off remarks. This retrospective was on the air from the fall of 1992 through the fall of 1993. As mentioned in previous blog entries Hee Haw left the syndicated television market in the fall of 1993 and jumped to cable (The Nashville Network) several weeks later for a highly successful three and a half year stay. Reruns of Hee Haw usually aired at 10pm Eastern on Saturday nights following the The Statler Brothers Show. Later in it's run TNN moved the show from 10pm to 7pm Eastern, the show's time slot for decades when syndicated. Repeats of the series left the TNN airwaves in 1997 for a brief run on CMT and then it vanished from cable television not long afterward.
Time Life, the famed mail order company, began releasing DVD's of the program in 2004 to retail outlets after having first sold episodes on DVD via infomercials. The DVD's, typically featuring episodes from the mid '70s, would ultimately go on to collectively sell more than 1,000,000 copies by March 2006. That July, CMT aired the series for the first time in more than 9 years when it aired a weekend marathon of episodes during July 29th through the 30th. The series was handed a TV Land award in April of 2007. It was one of the programs honored during the telecast...sharing the spotlight with Hee Haw that night were tributes to Lucille Ball, Taxi, The Brady Bunch, and the mini-series, Roots. Given the sales successes of the Time Life DVD's and the success of the CMT weekend marathon in 2006...plus the TV Land award in the spring of 2007...it shouldn't have come as no surprise that the program remained just as popular as ever. As I pointed out in earlier blog entries I've written, the only reason that I feel that Hee Haw's "ratings went down" in the early '90s is because the program was losing affiliates...the program was not necessarily losing it's viewers voluntarily (television markets were taking the show away from it's longtime viewers).
If a syndicated program isn't being shown in as many television markets as before it's pretty much common sense that this turn of events will have an impact on the ratings.
The ratings successes on TNN and CMT during the early to late '90s and the sales successes of the Time Life DVD's in the middle part of the 2000's specifically demonstrate that the program had held on to it's fan base and possibly acquired newer fans during it's rerun cycle on TNN and the exposure that the program received in the DVD marketplace. The following year, news surfaced that Hee Haw would become part of the RFD-TV line-up. Reruns of the show hit the airwaves on Sunday night at 8pm Eastern in the fall of 2008, with an encore the following Monday at 10am Eastern, and they have aired in those two time-slots ever since.
RFD-TV debuted in 2000 as a satellite channel. Years later it spread it's availability to cable television and is part of many cable outlets across the country. In my area we finally started receiving RFD-TV on our cable line-up in 2010 during the channel's 10th anniversary...meaning that I had missed the episodes of Hee Haw that were airing during 2008-2009 (episodes originally broadcast on CBS during the summer of 1969, episodes that aired on CBS during the 1969-1970 season when it was added to the schedule as a mid-season replacement series, and finally the episodes that aired during it's one full season on CBS during the 1970-1971 season).
As was the case with TNN, CMT, and the DVD sales for Time Life, the show's become wildly popular all over again on RFD-TV. The channel airs the program in chronological order. Once a season of reruns has aired on the channel it re-airs those reruns to fill the summer gap and in the fall a new season of reruns hits the air. The channel is in it's fifth season of Hee Haw reruns and since it airs the reruns in chronological order they're into season five of the series (1973-1974). In January of 2012 a special program saluting the show aired on RFD-TV. It was titled Salute to the Kornfield. The continued popularity of the show, some 40+ years after it's debut, no doubt helped inspire the salute. Social media also played a part...clips of the show on You Tube have collectively been watched by hundreds of thousands of people. Those clips are no doubt being seen by a majority of people who weren't even born when the show was a weekly television program and some probably have only heard of the show in passing...others remark that the program was watched religiously by their parents, grandparents, or great grandparents.
Never a favorite among so-called 'hip' television critics and those who see themselves as urbane and sophisticated, Hee Haw nevertheless has kept a fiercely loyal fan base and it's continued airing on RFD-TV and it's exposure on You Tube and other social media outlets suggests that there will still be an audience for Hee Haw for generations to come and that's something everyone should be grinning about.