CLASSIC VIDEO SHOWPLACE: “The Beverly Hillbillies”

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For over a hundred years some of the greatest video treasures of all time have been produced. Some have been lost in the sands of time and others, soon to be rediscovered, will become fan favorites for a whole new generation. 

Each week we will feature just one of the many hidden gems that you can see on RCN TV with insights and commentaries on classic television shows and legendary cinematic performances. 

Whether you’re a fan of rural comedy or not, you can’t argue that The Beverly Hillbillies was one of the most successful television comedies of all time.

Spawning two other successful shows, a “return” episode over a decade after its cancellation, and a major motion picture, “Hillbillies,” its low-brow comedy set a high standard (along with boffo ratings) throughout the 1960s.

The plots were simple: take a backwaters family who strikes oil and inherits a fortune, and dump them in the ritziest area of the country, while having Beverly Hills’ greediest banker be their guardian while watching over their money. “Fish out of water” hijinx always ensued, complete with memorable special guest star performances, and big- named actors often portraying themselves.

Heading the creative team was Paul Henning, who had worked as a writer on other TV classics, including the “Burns and Allen Show,” which had a 10-year run on television after a lengthy radio run.

The cast was anchored by veteran song and dance man, Buddy Ebsen, who was ready to retire before reading the pilot episode and deciding to put those plans on hold.

Veteran radio and television character actress, Bea Benaderet, who had wanted to play the part of “Granny,” saw Irene Ryan’s screen test and insisted Ryan take that role.  Benaderet ended up with a recurring guest starring role as Jethro’s mother before starring in “Hillbillies”’ first spin-off, “Petticoat Junction” (more on this show in a future blog entry).

Ryan brought interesting dynamics to the program as she had both played as, and starred in front of, hillbillies in summer stock theater.  (On EmmyTVLegends.org

Henning tells a humorous story about Ryan’s early career and also recalls how the banker Milton Drysdale was based on a real character he knew.)

According to “Variety’s” article, “The Top 100 Television Shows of All-Time,” The Beverly Hillbillies was the number one show in its first two years and finished in the top 20 in the Nielsen ratings in eight of its nine-year run.

The only year the show was not among the top ranked shows was its last year, when CBS made the bizarre decision to drop the show out of its primetime lineup and air the program at what is an extremely unusual (for a network show) timeslot of Tuesdays at 7:30pm.

“Hillbillies” never lost a ratings battle within its timeslot against any other program during its entire run.

Several of its individual shows are ranked in both the most-watched and the critics’ choice for the greatest 100 television episodes of all time, including 16 of its episodes ranked among the top 100 programs watched in television history.

It captured many Emmy Awards in multiple categories during its production and has remained on TV in syndication to this day.

“Hillbillies”’ network run came to an end, not because of declining ratings, nor did the cast nor creative team run out of ideas, nor did viewers want to see the series end.  It, along with several other very successful TV programs, were cancelled because CBS executive Robert Wood decided to cancel every successful show that had a tree in it (according to actor Pat Buttram.)  This was part of the great “rural purge” of 1971, in which CBS jettisoned many of its feel-good, rural shows in lieu of comedies that tackled serious social and cultural issues. 

You can relive the hilarity of “The Beverly Hillbillies” on Wednesday mornings at 9:30 a.m. on RCN TV.

To view the complete rundown of classic programming on RCN TV, check out the weekly listings here on our website.

 

 

Chris Michael About Chris Michael

Chris handles play-by-play for RCN sports events, including baseball, football & basketball games and produces/hosts the station’s 60-minute live call-in show. Among Chris’s other responsibilities include reporting on local news & sports stories, conducting “Take 5” interviews with community and political leaders, producing commercials, voiceovers and promos; and generating blog entries and videos on the internet. Click here to listen to the weekly Sports Talk podcast.

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