Long before Jeff Foxworthy made a career out of his rural brand of “you might be a redneck…” humor, there was Hee Haw – a mixture of music, comedy sketches, and a whole lot of country charm. For just under a quarter of a century, adoring viewers all across the nation tuned in each week to both laugh at it’s particular brand of down-home humor, and get an earful of some of the best artists in country music.
The show, which debuted in 1969 on CBS, has often been described as a rural version of Rowan and Martin’s Laugh In. Rather than a typical structured variety show format, Hee Haw took a zanier free-form approach, with quick-fire gags and musical numbers, all performed on a number of rural-looking sets, including a cornfield filled with cast members that popped up in succession and offered their own brand of corn-fed humor. Breaking up the scenes and vocalizing the show’s title during the opening was a memorable and comical animated donkey.
Hosting duties were carried out by Roy Clark and Buck Owens, both of whom had already reached stardom on the country music scene (and beyond, one of Owen’s ditties, “Act Naturally” was covered by none other than The Beatles.) While both hosts were charming and witty, they also knew how to break out the instruments and remind audiences of their respectable musical talent. Owens specialized in fiddle and pedal steel, while Clark was a formidable banjo and guitar virtuoso.
Accompanying Roy and Buck were a colorful cast of comical cohorts, from country icons such as Grandpa Jones and Minnie Pearl, with her price tag dangling headwear and hearty greeting of “How-deeee!!!” Other rustic regulars over the years included George “Goober” Lindsey, Gordie Tapp, Don Harron, Jonathan Winters and Slim Pickens. And there was plenty of scantily-clad farmer’s daughter-types such as Barbi Benton, Linda Thompson (who dated the “King of Rock and Roll” Elvis Presley before joining the show) and Misty Rowe. Country music fans or not, male viewers found plenty of reason to tune into Hee Haw.
In the early 70s, when networks were cutting back on rural shows like Green Acres and The Beverly Hillbillies, Hee Haw was deemed a little too country for the prime-time line-up and mercilessly cancelled by CBS. It didn’t matter – Hee Haw simply packed up the wagons and moved to syndication for another 20 years. In 1977, it was the highest-rated non-network series on the airwaves.
Buck Owens would leave Hee Haw in 1986, feeling that it had redefined him as a comedian, rather than a country music legend. He was replaced by a number of guest co-hosts over the next few years. In 1991, the show’s producers decided to try and make Hee Haw a little more accessible to younger viewers and by doing so, misplaced much of the original charm. By 1992, the show had been re-branded as Hee Haw Silver, which was hosted by Clark and featured a collection of classic scenes from the original series, along with some new footage. The show is also responsible for one spin-off series, called Hee Haw Honeys, which debuted in 1978 and starred Kathie Lee Gifford, Misty Rowe and other female regulars. It lasted a single season.
More than anything, Hee Haw proved over the years that comedy wasn’t reserved for those sophisticated city slickers who liked their chardonnay and lobster. No, for fans of Hee Haw, a warm serving of corny country humor satisfied the appetite just fine.
If you have fond memories of watching Hee Haw in your youth, perhaps alongside parents or grandparents, we’d love to hear your thoughts and recollections in our comments section. Meanwhile, a blue ribbon to Hee Haw for the decades of entertainment it provided to millions of viewers.