Despite the fact that Hee Haw was created by two Canadian writers (Frank Peppiatt and John Aylesworth both hailed from the Great White North), the show remains one of those television series that really only appealed to Americans and in fact, outside of North America, you'll be hard pressed to find anyone who has even heard of it despite the fact that it ran on CBS for over two decades. The show built up a huge following by way of the typical variety show format – combining funny skits and regular hosts with live music performances.
Roy Clark and Buck Owens were the two men most often associated with the show and for good reason – they hosted it (though Owens called it quits in 1986)! But alongside these two talented musicians there were regulars like Minnie Pearl, Roy Acuff, Barbi Benton, Jon and Jim Hager, Grandpa Jones, Susan Raye Junior Samples and plenty more. Buck and Roy would perform each night (Buck usually backed by The Buckaroos) and depending on who was booked there would almost always be a special guest musician. Everything took place out in or around the cornfield so of course the cast would always be dressed as farmers or, even better, as farm girls (the show had a reputation for featuring scantily clad buxom blondes).
In between music numbers of course there would be the skits. Although there were a lot of different ones used throughout the series there were just as many, if not more, recurring ones. Some of the ones that viewers would see over and over again included an old philosopher who, after spouting his wisdom, would get smacked with a rubber chicken; the 'Where Are You Tonight?' duets in which different cast members would sing a goofy duet always with the title of the skit in the chorus; Grandpa Jones would regularly be asked what was for supper while he was out cleaning windows to which he would reply with a description of something either really tasty or really nasty – the audience would react accordingly; Minnie Pearl was always trying to get control of her classroom only to get bombarded with bad puns for the kids (who were usually adult cast members dressed as kids); Roy Clark was always working as the attendant at the Empty Arms Hotel where he was constantly having to deal with unusual customer complaints. There's plenty more, the show was known for recycling bits over and over and over again, Clark and Owen's 'Pickin' And A Grinnin' routine being just one more of the many memorable bits.
Was the comedy effective? Yes, to a certain extent it certainly was. Hee Haw used a rather dated form of comedy during its long run, and on the surface it appeared to be truly wholesome material. The reality of the situation was that a lot of times the writers slipped in some very clever and rather suggestive material that would go over the heads of the kids watching the show but which had to have been caught by those old enough to know better – the nurse's name was Nurse Goodbody, for example, and she lived up to her name quite aptly. Archie Campbell was always surrounded by beautiful women during the regular Archie's Angels skit and then there was the 'All Jugs Band' which was a trio of stacked gals doing goofy musical numbers.
The real reason that Hee Haw remains significant, however, is the aforementioned musical guests. As if regular performances from Owens and Clark weren't enough the show featured plenty of other country and western performers throughout the years. Some were on the more obscure side but just as many remain living legends in the field and it's here that this set excels. The complete list of musical performances contained in the ten episodes that this set houses are as follows:
-Buck Owens: Let The Good Times Roll
-Grandpa And Ramona Jones: My Bonnie Lies Over The Ocean
-The Hagers: Lodi
-Dottie West: Clinging To My Baby's Hand
-Roy Clark: Yesterday When I Was Young
-Hank Williams Jr.: Cajun Baby
-Dottie West: Silver Threads And Golden Needles
-Hank Williams Jr.: I'd Rather Be Gone
-Buck Owens: Charlie Brown
-Buck Owens: We Were Made For Loving Each Other
-Merle Haggard: I Take A Lot Of Pride In What I Am
-The Hagers: Six Days On The Road
-Loretta Lynn: Fist City
-Roy Clark: Meet Mister Callaghan
-Merle Haggard: Today I Started Loving You Again
-Loretta Lynn: Dear Uncle Sam
-Buck Owens And Susan Raye: Love Is Strange
-Buck Owens: Who's Gonna Mow Your Grass
-Jerry Lee Lewis: Whole Lotta Shakin' Goin' On
-Susan Raye: It's Over
-Conway Twitty: I Love You More Today
-Roy Clark: Do You Believe This Town
-Grandpa Jones: Are You From Dixie
-Jerry Lee Lewis: What's Made Milwaukee Famous
-Sheb Wolley: Tie A Tiger Down
-Conway Twitty: It's Only Make Believe
-Buck Owens: Stay A Little Longer
-Roy Clark: Blues In The Night
-Ray Charles: Don't Change On Me
-Lynn Anderson: Stay Till I Get There
-The Hagers: California Cotton Fields
-Roy Clark: Thank God And Greyhound
-Lynn Anderson: Rocky Top
-Grandpa Jones: The Kickin' Mule
-Buck Owens: Crying Time
-Buck Owens: You Gotta Have A License
-Waylon Jennings: Kentucky Woman
-Diana Trask: All I Have To Offer You Is Me
-Grandpa Jones: Arkansas Traveler
-The Hagers: That's My Love
-Johnny Duncan: I Fall To Pieces
-Waylon Jennings: Six Strings Away
-Buck Owens And Buddy Alan: Bye Bye Love
-Buck Owens: Roll In Sweet Baby's Arms
-Roy Rogers: Lovenworth
-The Hagers: Palausa Country Girl
-Dale Evans: Heavenly Sunshine
-Roy Clark: Nine Pound Hammer
-Gordie Trap: Nobody's Singin' Them Cowboy Songs No More
-Roy Clark: Only Daddy That'll Walk The Line
-Roy Rogers And Dale Evans: Friendship Medley
-Buck Owens: I Wouldn't Live In New York City
-Buck Owens: The Crawdad Song
-Tanya Tucker: Delta Dawn
-Roy Clark: Roy's Blues
-Buddy Alan: Caribbean
-Buck Owens: Songwriter's Lament
-Tanya Tucker: What's Your Mama's Name
-Buck Owens And Buddy Alan: White Lightning
-George Lindsey: Unluckiest Songwriter In Nashville
-Roy Clark And His Family: Log Cabin In The Lane
-Buck Owens: Uncle Pen
-Loretta Lynn: Hey Loretta
-The Hagers: Six Days On The Road
-Roy Clark: Things That Might Have Been
-Conway Twitty: You've Never Been This Far Before
-David Houston: The Lady Of The Night
-Buck Owens: My Bucket's Got A Hole In It
-Loretta Lynn And Conway Twitty: Louisiana Woman Mississippi Man
-Roy Clark: Uncle Ephs Got The Coon
When you keep in mind that almost all of this material was performed in front of a live studio audience and not lip synch material you can see how fans of this type of music would just eat this material up.
Considering that some of these episodes are over thirty years old and that the show was shot entirely on a soundstage without a massive budget, the material spread across the four discs in the set that contain the ten episodes looks just fine. There's some softness here and there, which is to be expected and sometimes the colors look just a little flat but more often than not everything is pretty clean looking without anything to complain about in terms of print damage. Edge enhancement isn't a problem though there is some mild line shimmering if you really want to look for it. For the most part, however, Hee Haw doesn't look half bad at all.
The English language Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono soundtrack isn't going to make your ears scream with joy but it does deliver clean, clear dialogue and the musical numbers all sound quite good. Don't expect much of anything in the way of range is things are pretty limited here but there aren't any issues with anything but the faintest trace of hiss and there are no distortion problems whatsoever. Levels are properly balanced and things, for the most part, sound just fine across the board on this release. No alternate language dubs are supplied (there probably weren't any made available) and there aren't any subtitles or closed captions either.
The extras are all contained on the fifth disc (the first four discs contain two episodes a piece and some menus but that's it) in the set where you'll find on camera video interviews with stars Roy Clark, Roni Stoneman, George "Goober" Lindsay, Lulu Roman, the Hagar Twins, writer George Yanok and musical director Charlie McCoy. The interviews are fun and fans of the show will definitely enjoy hearing them look back on the time that they spent on the series. Of course, not everyone involved in the series is still around – Minnie Pearl, Grandpa Jones and more recently the great Buck Owens have all passed on. These three are remembered very fondly by the cast and crew that have survived them and there is fitting tribute paid to their contributions to the series alongside a lot of fun anecdotes and stories about working on the set and with one another.
While the humor is really hokey and much of the content here hasn't aged well at all, the show is never the less a uniquely American slice of pop culture that deserves its place in television/variety show history. Some of the skits work better than others but the cute lil' farm girls are still fun to look at and there are so many great performances in here for fans of old school country music to enjoy that it's hard to hit the A Salute To Hee Haw boxed set with anything less than the recommended stamp!
Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.