In its heyday, Hee Haw was truly a cultural phenomenon. Its down-home humor and focus on country music gave it a special place in the history of variety television shows.
An ever-changing cast of comedians, including Junior Samples, George Lindsey, Minnie Pearl and Archie Campbell, teamed with an always stacked ensemble of musical guests (from Tammy Wynette to Garth Brooks) and regulars (Tennessee Ernie Ford, Charlie McCoy, Grandpa Jones and others). Together, these talents helped make “a-pickin’ and a-grinnin'” part of the American vernacular throughout the show’s 1969-1992 run.
The average episode was absurd enough to raise a few eyebrows (or elicit a few rolled eyes), yet kept country’s family-friendly image intact well enough that a good ole gospel song never sounded out of place. The little variety show that could maintains enough relevance today for rumors of a reboot to capture old and new fans’ imaginations.
Here are 10 quick facts you may not know about the residents of Kornfield Kounty and their numerous special guests.
Although Hee Haw captured the self-depreciating humor of middle America and the songs of the South, it was created by a couple of Canadians. Creators Frank Peppiatt and John Aylesworth wanted their own rural version of the then-popular variety show Laugh In. Series writers and performers Gordie Tapp and Don Harron also hailed from the Great White North.
Oklahoma-born “superpicker” Clark co-hosted the short-lived Swingin’ Country series for NBC, proving his talents in a variety show setting. Owens appeared at least once on the 1966 series. Perhaps this one-off pairing weighed on one of the best and most important casting decisions in country music television history?
To work around touring schedules and other obligations, the cast and crew gathered in Nashville bi-annually to power through several tapings in a short time span. It’s crazy to consider how much talent must’ve been on standby on a given day. The first few episodes included the likes of Loretta Lynn, Conway Twitty, George Jones, Merle Haggard and Charley Pride. Might they have staged a jam session for the ages while the tape machines weren’t rolling?
Back when most everything halfway kid-friendly got a comic book, Carlton Comics Group published a short-run Hee Haw series. It only lasted seven issues between 1970 and ’71 and doesn’t seem to have much of a collector’s market. Still, it’s fun to see what they did with the show’s characters in a format that allows for better visual gags and physical humor.
Hee Haw originally aired on CBS but got cancelled after just two years. It was a victim of 1971’s infamous “rural purge,” which also saw Green Acres, Mayberry RFD and The Beverly Hillbillies canned in favor of series that appealed to New York and Los Angeles sensibilities. Hee Haw bounced back for a lengthy run as a syndicated show seen across the nation.
Apparently, Roger Miller hated Hee Haw at first, fearing that the series made country music and its fans seem a little too silly. Even with his mentor and cousin-in-law Sheb Wooley’s involvement in the show, Miller took some convincing before he eventually made his first of many cornfield appearances in 1971.
With such beauties as Linda Thompson, Gunilla Hutton and then-girlfriend Bobbi Benton appearing at different times as cast members, it’s no surprise that Hugh Hefner himself made a stop in Kornfield Kounty. Still, it looks a little odd to read the March 23, 1974, episode synopsis, which lists Hef alongside such good guys in white hats as Lester Flatt and the Hager twins.
Hee Haw Honeys, a spin-off that ran from 1979-’80, hardly had the longevity of the original series. Based in a fictional truck stop, the show paired Lulu Roman, Kenny Price and other Hee Haw regulars with newcomer Kathie Lee Johnson. She’s now known as Kathie Lee Griffin, the beloved morning show host and talk show veteran.
Although the show remains synonymous with the Owens and Clark tandem, that on-camera partnership ended with the 1986 season. Owens, who wrote rather poorly about “that cartoon donkey” in Buck Em!: The Autobiography of Buck Owens, was replaced by a string of special guest co-hosts.
In the final seasons, the cornfield and other barnyard imagery gave way to a bus stop, gazebo and other scenery that looked more like it was near the town square than down on the farm. This apparent attempt at gaining a younger, more cosmopolitan audience through this rural face lift failed to extend the series’ life beyond its 25th season.