Whenever Father's Day approaches, I like to think about things that made my late father happy. Coincidentally, June 15 marked the 40th anniversary of the premiere of one of them: the TV series "Hee Haw."
The cornpone variety show began as a summer replacement for "The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour." It soon became a regular series, made "outhousehold" names of performers such as Lulu Roman and Gordie Tapp, and even spawned a Charlton magazine. (I still have a tattered copy of the second issue, which I received for my 10th birthday.)
In 1971, however, CBS canceled the show as part of a purge of programs with an older/rural/less affluent/looked at me the wrong way audience. But "the stubborn little donkey wouldn't leave" (as a nose-thumbing "Hee Haw" song of the era put it) and the show moved to syndication, where it stayed for an amazing 21 years.
I'm glad that the RFD-TV cable channel is re-running classic "Hee Haw" episodes, but I would be appalled if someone tried to update the show for 2009. Mixing surviving cast members with new stars and computer-generated images of late performers, some greedy producer would probably give us abominations like:
Buck Owens and Roy Clark getting flustered during their music-and-jokes segment. "I'm pickin'." "And I'm grinnin'." "Or is it the other way around? Or maybe it's two other guys??? I hate this identity theft stuff!"
Junior Samples would watch helplessly as his Samples Sales car lot was sold to Fiat. ("Hey, what's Eye-talian for BR-549?")
The Gossip Girls around the washtub would join with Scooter Libby to sing "We're not ones to go around repeating the names of CIA operatives, so you'd better be sure and listen close the first time."
Al Gore would have solar panels fitted onto the hillbilly sluggards who are always lying about, and bring a global warming theme to the caterwauling of the "deep dark depression, excessive misery" moonshiners, joining them to sing "Gloom, despair, and big profits for me-e-e!"
The Empty Arms Hotel would be replaced with the Loaded Arms Hotel. ("Tennesseans, be sure to pick up your complimentary AK-47 rifle at the bar.")
The CSI craze would affect even Archie Campbell's doctor sketch. ("Nurse Deadbody, would you please let someone wheel you in here?")
Roni Stoneman as Ida Lee Nagger would find herself replacing waterboarding at Gitmo.
The "Hey, Grandpa! What's for supper?" sketch would most often bump every other segment from the broadcast, by the time Grandpa Jones got through listing the calories, sodium, cholesterol, refined sugar, shoe size of the busboy, etc.
The Fairness Doctrine would force the Hee Haw Gospel Quartet to become the Hee Haw Gospel Octet with the addition of a Muslim, a Buddhist, an atheist, and Flossie, high priestess of Zoroaster.
The deadpan soap opera "The Culhanes of Kornfield Kounty" would be set in the White House. ("Join us next week when Cousin Barack says, 'I still think there's some way we can blame that 1971 cancellation on Cousin George W.!')
My father appreciated the fact that "Hee Haw" steered away from "current E-vents" such as the Vietnam War and Watergate. He would snap and appear in Justus O. Peace's courtroom if they decided to refer to the "PFFT! You Was Gone" song as "The 401(k) Song."
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