Monday, June 12, 2017
Born on September 30, 1928 Sam Lovullo became identified for most of his adult life as the driving force behind Hee Haw and as a result of being such a driving force it caused me to appreciate him even more. He didn't come off as a cynic or the kind of producer that distanced himself from the program's that carried his name. In Sam Lovullo I saw a television producer who was just as enthusiastic and a fan of the program as the viewers happened to be. In other words he wasn't a turn-off. Lovullo wrote about his professional career (with some backstage offerings added in) with the help of another author, Marc Eliot, in a book published in 1996 titled Life in the Kornfield: My 25 Years at Hee Haw.
The career of Sam Lovullo is often traced back to the CBS variety series, The Jonathan Winters Show, which aired for 2 seasons, 1967-1969. Several key people associated with Hee Haw were also involved in Jonathan Winter's program. Key people? None other than Hee Haw creators John Aylesworth and Frank Peppiatt. Lovullo happened to be an associate producer of Jonathan's program. In interviews and in the 1996 book, Lovullo stated that the ratings in the Southern states spiked whenever country music artists appeared on Jonathan's program and eventually this rating fact and the popularity of Laugh-In inspired the creation of Hee Haw in 1969. It hit the air this week on CBS in 1969 (actual debut being June 15, 1969). Sam Lovullo was not only the producer but he was also the casting director. This assignment gave him an even more hands-on approach to the show as it was Lovullo in charge of picking and choosing who was going to be part of the show's main cast (including the co-hosts, Buck Owens and Roy Clark).
The show had a summer run and after which it then went on hiatus. It returned later in the year as a mid-season replacement and was canceled once more in early 1970. Eventually, however, CBS picked the show up once more and added it to their 1970-1971 line-up. It was canceled one final time by CBS after the end of the 1970-1971 television season.
Not wanting to see the series end (and certain unemployment for almost all of it's staff...including the cast) Lovullo, more than anybody else connected with the show, believed the show could thrive in syndication...offering the show to local affiliates across the country to program during the local access time slot. The FCC had mandated that a certain time of the day were to be turned over to local affiliates to air local programming (Prime Time Access Rule) rather than every channel being consumed by national/network programming. This rule, instituted in 1970, aided the syndicated market in a big way...and first-run syndication broadcasts eventually became just as profitable and just as attractive to sponsors as network broadcasts. Interestingly, this FCC rule was repealed in 1996, the year Sam's Life in the Kornfield book hit the stores.
As history shows, Sam Lovullo remained a vital part of Hee Haw and he remained it's driving force throughout it's entire 22 years in syndication (1971-1993). The 1992-1993 season, however, was a compilation series of sketches and music performances to celebrate the program's Silver Anniversary. The final first-run episode of Hee Haw aired on May 30, 1992.
In addition to The Jonathan Winters Show and Hee Haw, Sam Lovullo produced several variety programs in his career. A majority of those were one-time specials rather than a series. One of those one-time specials starred John Wayne...the 1970 NBC special, Swing Out, Sweet Land. Lovullo happened to be the associate producer, technically. It was filled to the brim with all kinds of celebrities from all time periods...and those celebrities mostly all portrayed historical figures from all different time periods...and you can watch it on YouTube. Roy Clark is on the special as a banjo player for Andrew Jackson's inaugural ball.
Yet the most notable of Sam's non-Hee Haw efforts, which happened to be a weekly series, is Nashville Palace. The program aired in the early 1980s and it featured a lot of cross-over with the stars of Hee Haw but the Palace was a conventional variety series. In fact, Roy Clark hosted the first episode of Nashville Palace (airing October 24, 1981). The Palace series happened to be one of the last regularly scheduled, country music-oriented, variety programs on network television for more than a decade. It also aired prior to the 1983 launch of cable television's The Nashville Network, also known as TNN (1983-2000). Reruns of Hee Haw would air on TNN for four years (1993-1997).
From 2009 until 2011 Sam was the President of the Pacific Pioneer Broadcasters organization.
The Oklahoma Historical Society put together a salute to Hee Haw in 2014 (the 45th anniversary of it's 1969 debut) and a video retrospective/documentary was also put together. You can see that video by clicking HERE. As you could imagine Sam Lovullo is featured several times throughout the video clip.
TVLEGENDS, a YouTube channel, has a 10-part interview with Sam Lovullo. Some, if not all, of the segments have extremely low volume, though...so you may need to adjust your device's volume. You can see part 1 by clicking HERE. You can access the rest of the clips once you're over on YouTube.