Hee Haw was a television variety show co-hosted by musicians Buck Owens and Roy Clark and featuring country music and humor with rural "Kornfield Kounty" as a backdrop. It was taped at WLAC-TV (now WTVF) and Opryland USA in Nashville The show was produced by Yongestreet Productions through the mid-1980s; it was later produced by Gaylord Entertainment, who distributed the show in syndication. The show's name was derived from the sound a mule makes when it brays.
The show was inspired by Rowan & Martin's Laugh-In, the major difference being that Hee Haw was far less topical, and was centered around country music. The show was equally well-known for its voluptuous, scantily clad women in stereotypical farmer's daughter outfits, male stars Jim and Jon Hager and its cornpone humor. Hee Haw was a quintessentially American show; and although its appeal was not limited to a rural audience (indeed, it was widely watched in all large markets, including New York, Los Angeles, Dallas and Chicago), it is virtually unknown outside North America.
Its success in the 1970s alerted local stations to the wisdom of scheduling niche programs, those appealing to older or ethnic audiences, in less-prominent time slots. Indeed, other niche programs such as The Lawrence Welk Show (which targeted older audiences) and Soul Train (a black-oriented program) also rose to prominence in syndication during this era. Like Laugh-In, the show minimized production costs by taping all of the recurring sketches for a season in batches - setting up for the Cornfield one day, the Joke Fence another, etc. At the height of its popularity, an entire year's worth of shows would be taped in two separate week-long sessions.
Hee Haw started on CBS as a summer 1969 replacement for The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour. Though the show had respectable ratings, it was dropped by CBS as part of the so-called Rural Purge in 1971, along with fellow country shows The Beverly Hillbillies, Mayberry R.F.D. and Green Acres, due to network executives' feeling that its viewers reflected the wrong demographics (e.g. rural, somewhat older, and less affluent). Undaunted, the producers put together a syndication deal for the show, which continued in basically the same format for 20 more years (though Owens departed in 1986). In many markets, it competed in syndication (usually on early Saturday evenings) against The Lawrence Welk Show, which, for some of the same reasons, was also cancelled and resurrected in syndication in 1971. (In a few areas, Hee Haw and Welk were shown back-to-back.)
By 1991, a continued decline in its audience, led to a dramatic change with more pop-oriented country music, in an ill-fated attempt to gain younger viewers. The new format (entitled The Hee Haw Show) lasted a single season, during which the show alienated many of its longtime viewers. In its final 1992 season, the now renamed Hee Haw Silver featured Clark hosting a mixture of classic clips and new footage.
After the show's syndication run ended, reruns aired on The Nashville Network until 1997. Its 21 years in TV syndication was the record for a U.S. program, until Soul Train surpassed it in 1993. Wheel of Fortune surpassed it in 2005. In 2006, Jeopardy! surpassed it also, making Hee Haw currently the fourth-longest-running off-network American TV program.
On July 17, 2006 CMT announced that it would begin rerunning the series starting July 29, and reruns began in late September. The channel hosted a marathon of episodes on January 1, 2007 but the show has only aired sporadically since, with only three episodes airing from that time (March 13, July 7 and July 8) to the present. The show is no longer broadcast by CMT.
In April 2007, the "TV Land" network recognized the long running series with an award presented by k.d. lang. In attendance were Roy Clark, Gunilla Hutton, Barbi Benton, the Hager twins, Linda Thompson, Misty Rowe and others.
On August 12, 2008, RFD-TV Announced that "Hee Haw" will return to a regular weekly TV slot premiering on RFD-TV Sept. 7, 2008. "Hee Haw" episodes will anchor RFD-TV's new Sunday night lineup, at 8PM Eastern. RFD-TV will air "Hee Haw" episodes in the same order they were originally televised.
Two rural-style comedians, already well known in their native Canada, gained their first major U.S. exposure—Gordie Tapp and Don Harron (whose KORN Radio character, newscaster Charlie Farquharson, later appeared on The Red Green Show).
Other cast members over the years included: Roy Acuff (the King of Country Music), Barbi Benton, Cathy Baker, Archie Campbell, the Hager Twins (Jim and John), Gunilla Hutton (as "Nurse Goodbody"), Grandpa Jones, Susan Raye, The Buckaroos (Don Rich, Jim Shaw, Jerry Brightman, Jerry Wiggins, Doyle Singer, Ronnie Jackson, Terry Christoffersen, Doyle Holly), George Lindsey (reprising his "Goober" character from The Andy Griffith Show), Minnie Pearl, Linda Thompson, Kenny Price, Lulu Roman, Misty Rowe, Junior Samples, Rev. Grady Nutt, John Henry Faulk, Gailard Sartain, Roni Stoneman, and the team of Jimmie Riddle and Jackie Phelps, among many others. Original cast member David "Stringbean" Akeman was murdered, along with his wife, in November 1973 during a robbery at his home.
The "PFFT" would be done as a spitting "Bronx cheer", and occasionally, they would break up into laughter after the "PFFT", unable to finish the song (Who got spat upon during the "PFFT" would change each show.) Following Campbell's death, whole groups and even females would be part of the refrain, with future regular George Lindsay often singing the first verse. In some episodes, which had several major guest stars, the routine appeared several times in the show so that each guest would have the chance to be part of this tradition.
"Hee Haw" magazine (Vol. 1, No. 2, July 1970, A Charlton Publication) attributes this song to Susan Heather, (c) 1952, 1965 by Mamy Music Corp out of Paoli, Pa. Later references show copyrights held by Gaylord Program Services, Inc. out of Nashville, TN, but this may be because Gaylord holds the copyrights for "Hee Haw." It appears that this song, as written by Ms. Heather, was originally written as a Gospel Song Bob Newman sang this song on his "The Kentucky Colonel" album in 1959. Mr. Newman is listed as a comedian, so it is probable that this version was the first parody of the original Gospel song. Later artists performing comical versions of this song included Archie Campbell on his "Have A Laugh On Me" album in 1966, and Buck Owens on his "Too Old To Cut The Mustard" album in 1972.
Each of the quartet would sing one line of the verse- a different one for each performance. (In later seasons the female cast got their own version of the song, first just lip-synching the male vocals, but later getting their own woman-ized version complete with female howls of mourning.)
The song featured a new verse every episode. In later years, the guys, in drag, would sometimes replace the girls in the skit, in return for the girls singing "Gloom, Despair..."
(In earlier seasons, the "Gossip Girls" and "Gloom, Despair.." sketches would both end with a repeat of the song's chorus, but in later years that practice was eliminated.)
And ending with Owens and Clark saying "So long everybody! We'll see you next week on...HEE-HAW!!!" (The closing song would be replaced in the early-1980s)
In addition to the regular performances by the hosts and cast members, guest artists performing on the show appeared on a weekly basis. While mostly focused on the country genre, a wide range of artists were featured; these include— Alabama, Atlanta, Roy Acuff, Chet Atkins, Lynn Anderson, Suzy Bogguss, Garth Brooks, Bellamy Brothers, The Buckaroos, Robert Byrd, Glen Campbell, Johnny Cash, Ray Charles, Jessi Colter, David L Cook, Sammy Davis, Jr., Crystal Gayle, Lee Greenwood, Merle Haggard, Doyle Holly, Janis Ian, Alan Jackson, Wanda Jackson, Sonny James, Waylon Jennings, George Jones, Jerry Lee Lewis, Lyle Lovett, Loretta Lynn, Barbara Mandrell, Roger Miller, Willie Nelson, Dolly Parton, Ray Price, Charley Pride, Charlie Rich, Riders in the Sky, Eddie Rabbitt, Jerry Reed, Linda Ronstadt, Kenny Rogers, Roy Rogers, The Statler Brothers, Ray Stevens, George Strait, The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, B.J. Thomas, Mel Tillis, Pam Tillis, Randy Travis, Travis Tritt, Ernest Tubb, Conway Twitty, Eddie Van Halen, Dottie West, Boxcar Willie, Tammy Wynette, Don Williams, Hank Williams Jr., and Faron Young, among others. Elvis Presley was a big fan of Hee Haw and wanted to appear on the program in the '70s. But his manager, Colonel Tom Parker, wouldn't allow him to do so. A similar situation occurred when his friend Johnny Cash asked Elvis to appear on his show.
Hee Haw had a short lived spin-off series, Hee Haw Honeys, for the 1978-79 television season. The sitcom starred Kathie Lee Johnson (Gifford), Misty Rowe, Gailard Sartain, Lulu Roman, and Kenny Price.