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 TV (initially 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. While last year's A Salute To Hee-Haw boxed set from Time-Life provided a whole host of musical entertainment from across the spectrum of country entertainers popular at the time the show was made, the focus on this new single disc release is on George Strait, who just last year was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame. Influenced by the likes of greats such as Merle Haggard and Hank Williams, Strait has been at this a long time, playing in various country music outfits since the early to mid seventies. By the time the eighties came around, Strait was the biggest name in country music and he's gone on to become the best selling country music recording artist of all time. His popularity is massive, he continues to sell out auditoriums even now, over twenty five years after his debut, and he's had over fifty number one hits. Those who underestimate Strait's popularity and possibly wondering why anyone would want to watch his old Hee-Haw appearances are selling the man and in turn themselves very, very short. The fact of the matter is that he's very good at what he does and the material archived here on this set does a fine job of showing off some of his live (well, live in a studio at least) performances. Here he performs two songs, Amarillo By Morning and the better known A Fire I Can't Put Out. The Statler Brothers also appear on this episode, performing Guilty and Oh Baby Mine (I Get So Lonely). Aside from the two headlining acts, this episode also features a bearded Buck Owens And The Buckaroos doing There Must Be Something About Me That She Loves, The Alridge Sisters performing Sometimes Love Is A Pain In The Heart, Roy Clark And Family singing Heel And Toe Polka and, closing out the show, The Gospel Quartet performing Camping In Canaan's Land.
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 and it remains fun, albeit very corny, years since. The show may have gone out of style a bit but it remains popular with a large fan base. Here's hoping Time-Life dips into the show's archives and delivers more historical performances by some of the greats of country music.
Considering that this fifty minute episode is from the early eighties and that the show was shot entirely on a soundstage without a massive budget, the material here 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.
Sadly, aside from some menus and a chapter selection option, this disc is completely barebones.
Time-Life's Hee-Haw Collection With George Strait will obviously sit very well with Strait's millions of fans and with those who already know they enjoy the show. It probably won't win over any new converts but the material here is going to go over quite amicably with established fans and despite the lack of extras this disc comes recommended to those who fall into those categories.
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.