In praise of Hee Haw’s old-time country laughs – and music

It’s time to bring back Hee Haw and its successful brand of comedy and country music to a whole new generation of TV viewers

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Michael Taube“SAA-LUTE!”

Does that ring a bell?

If not, maybe a quick “Howdy!,” “Pfft! You was gone!,” “Uh-huh, oh yeah!” or “Hey Grandpa! What’s for supper?” will bring back fond memories.

Perhaps a short visit to Kornfield Kounty and Archie’s Barber Shop would help. Or we could grab a guitar and banjo and start pickin’ and grinnin’.

Yes, I’m referring to Hee Haw. This variety show appeared on CBS (1969-1971), in syndication (1971-1993) and The Nashville Network (1996-1997). It’s lived on in reruns for years, most recently on RFD-TV and Circle TV.

The show was based on rural life and culture, and included heaps of humour. The good-natured jokes and vernacular could occasionally be low-brow, but Hee Haw was mostly a fun-loving, light-hearted examination of the heartland.

In a strange twist of irony, this distinctive slice of Americana was the brainchild of two Canadians, Frank Peppiatt and John Aylesworth. Our influence in the entertainment industry is never-ending!

Hee Haw’s hosts were country music legends: Buck Owens and the multi-talented Roy Clark. Other well-known cast members included Grandpa Jones, David “Stringbean” Akeman, Minnie Pearl, Archie Campbell, Gordie Tapp, Lulu Roman and Don Harron. There was a veritable who’s who of guest stars from the worlds of entertainment, sports and politics, too.

Hee Haw also focused heavily on music. It was the first exposure some of us had to country music, old time and bluegrass. The first episode featured country music legends Loretta Lynn and Charley Pride. Virtually every major country star/act – including Alabama, Chet Atkins, Johnny Cash, June Carter, Charlie Daniels, Waylon Jennings, Oak Ridge Boys, Dolly Parton and Conway Twitty – would make appearances.

There was one notable holdout. Roger Miller “once vowed he would never go on the show,” wrote Jimmie Tramel in the Tulsa World on Aug. 16, 2015, “telling Clark that Hee Haw, in perpetuating stereotypes, had set country music back 20 years.” In the end, “Miller eventually relented and, during a joint performance, was reminded of the vow by Clark.”

Hee Haw’s important role in promoting country music to a wider audience is an interesting topic for discussion. And what better person to provide insight than Diana Goodman McDaniel, one of the famous Hee Haw Honeys?

McDaniel has led a fascinating life. She’s a former Miss Georgia USA, Atlanta Falcons cheerleader, model, TV star, author of Hollywood Lights, Nashville Nights, mother and grandmother.

She also briefly dated Elvis Presley. Yes, that Elvis.

“I enjoyed five years with Hee Haw, which are currently in reruns. What a wonderful blessing!,” she wrote during our email interview. “Roy Clark, Buck Owens, and George Lindsey, who I got to work with on a daily basis, were legends. Sometimes I had to pinch myself because I was standing next to people of that caliber!”

“There were so many interesting people that I met on Hee Haw,” she noted. This included sports stars like Tommy Lasorda, Johnny Bench and Bear Bryant, and politicians like Tennessee Gov. Lamar Alexander, “who included my Hee Haw photo in his book.”

She made special mention of Sammy Davis Jr. He was “probably one of the most special people I met. What a kind man! Funny, engaging, winsome and so talented! I did a cornfield skit with him, and I was so nervous I could not get my lines right even though they were printed right in front of me on cue cards. The stage director kept needling me about it. Sammy finally said, ‘Stop!’ He looked at me, and said they want the inflection to be on this word. He did it for me. The cameras then rolled and I did it – and it was perfect!”

With respect to Hee Haw and music, McDaniel wrote, “I believe Hee Haw was a huge influence in the growth of country music. People of all ages loved this family-oriented show, and at some point there was going to be a performer who appealed to at least one corner of the audience. … Hee Haw was instrumental in reviving Kenny Rogers’ career, and gave many country music singers an opportunity to perform before a gigantic audience. It really helped put some singers on the map! Hee Haw had a powerful influence!”

In McDaniel’s view, “Hee Haw was definitely about the music, and then there were the ‘girls’ and the comedy. The producers were very smart and knew that being open to a broad range of guest stars increased the viewership in a huge way.”

She also pointed out “Hee Haw still gets thousands of hits on a daily basis on the Internet. Even though you can find reruns on some networks, it still baffles me why no one has wanted to revive the show to bring back some old stars – and incorporate new stars!”

That’s a good question. Some would likely argue the tastes of viewing audiences have dramatically shifted the past few decades. Key demographics would be nearly impossible to attain. Hence, TV executives would be leery.

Then again, TV executives were just as wrong about this show as the critics always were.

I’m with McDaniel. It’s time to bring back Hee Haw and its successful brand of comedy and country music to a whole new generation.

Michael Taube, a Troy Media syndicated columnist and Washington Times contributor, was a speechwriter for former prime minister Stephen Harper. He holds a master’s degree in comparative politics from the London School of Economics.

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