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Hee Haw: The Collector's Edition
Hee Haw began as a variety entertainment series on the CBS network in 1969. Though the series received impressive television ratings, CBS decided to cancel many programs at the time-period that reflected country programming and Hee Haw got the axe. However, the series continued in syndication and went on to become one of the longest running syndicated series in history with 21 additional seasons.
There's no plot: the series revolves solely around entertaining the audience. Hosts Buck Owens and Roy Clark lead an ensemble group of performers each week in a series of sketches and musical performances. The show centers on the citizens that inhabit Kornfield Kounty. Each episode has sketches with corny jokes and an assortment of musical performances that fit the country and bluegrass music bill.
The series had some long running and recurring sketches such as The Doctor, The Schoolhouse, The Haystack, The Philosopher, The Culhanes, Korn News, and Gossip Girls. In each sketch, a number of goofy characters are usually given some of the corniest lines imaginable. One of the most common approaches to the show was simply to tell a joke considered "common" with the mostly Southern audience.
According to host Roy Clark, most of the audience wanted to hear jokes they already knew and not things that would be new to them. They wanted the familiar and not "fresh" humor. So the idea was to tell corny jokes that could be heard simply in passing. You had sketches where the joke would often fail and fall flat (on purpose): there would be a very long pause. A wrong word. A stumbled speech. Then the joke would be repeated three or four times in "instant replay" mode until the actor could get the joke "just right."
In The Haystack sketches, a man and a woman always lay beside one another in the cornfield, usually with the man chewing on something while he says something to the girl, who responds with a chuckle and comedic punch-line. In The Culhanes, which are a fictional family, a sort of comedic "hick" family of sorts, there is an old grandpa, the son, and a daughter who all sit side-by-side on chairs while speaking about their day. Each time the family says something which leads to another southern-style joke and punch line.
In Gossip Girls, a group of women will stand together by a clothing-line and say something to one another such as "You know, I wouldn't gossip, but did you hear?!" about other women. It always ends with gossip. In Korn News a reporter tells southern jokes as if on Saturday Night Live's Weekend Update (but in a Southern way). Jokes about men having multiple marriages, wives, and problems with animals are aplenty.
The Philosopher comes barging out of his house to make a joke or remark about something he finds befuddling while wearing a funny top-hat before getting his head hit and his hat spins. In The Schoolhouse a female teacher instructs her students (but the kids usually can't put 1+1 together and it's supposed to be funny that the education is poor). In The Doctor sketches a young woman will help a doctor give a comedic "spin" to his patients: such as suggesting that the patient perhaps consider paying him for a different, more favorable x-ray instead of paying for actual surgery.
These jokes (which were always corny) were the delight of many audience members. They also were the cause of terrible critical reviews at the time of the show's first season. Critics loathed Hee Haw and criticized it for it's terrible humor. Some audience members even wrote in to say they wanted less humor and more music. (But some also wanted more!)
I found the humor to be not in the slightest bit entertaining. It's downright terrible to my tastes. However, to be fair, I discovered that it's also not really my "type" of humor. The show was known for its humor though, whether it was liked or not by any particular member of the audience. Yet that wasn't the only thing Hee Haw was famous for... it was beloved for its remarkable country music. When it comes to music, Hee Haw sings. I enjoyed the music.
Fans of Nashville country music (and the banjo!) will have a blast hearing the songs featured. The show always included well known musicians and relative newcomers who had a chance because of the success of the series to sing, be in the spotlight, and share their music with a appreciative audience. Hee Haw even delivered such emotionally rewarding performances as Johnny Cash delivering a raw and tender performance of Walk the Line. It's sensational. I was floored by Cash's performance.
This DVD collection contains a sample of the series historic run with 23 full-length episodes, including many from its early run. The release includes two individual box-sets of 13 DVD's: Kornfield Classics and The Hee Haw Collection. A standalone DVD entitled Hee Haw Laffs includes a sampling of favorite sketches from the series.
The following episodes are provided on this release: The Hee Haw Collection includes episodes 1, 3, 13, 15, 19, 56, 72, 99, 124, 152, and 210. The Kornfield Classics includes episodes 9, 32, 42, 43, 45, 48, 108, 126, 151, 153, 162, and 169. The Hee Haw Laffs DVD includes clips of beloved sketches.
Longtime fans of Hee Haw will undoubtedly be pleased to have a nice collection of episodes highlighting some of the fan-favorite sketches and some of the great music performances. It certainly is an impressive release. While some may dislike the humor, the series is often an entertaining musical variety series. (And some viewers apparently like the corny-humor.)
Hee Haw arrives on DVD from Time Life in a collector's edition collection. This DVD release preserves the series original television broadcast aspect ratio of 1.33:1 full-frame. This isn't a remastered presentation but it's a moderate one which looks more similar to videotape. The picture quality is reasonably decent for these dated, faded masters. The image is stable and decent for most of the presentation. However, clarity and detail are only decent. Colors are somewhat muted and look faded due to the age of the materials used for this presentation. Nonetheless, it's a serviceable release effort by Time Life which should leave fans of the television series reasonably pleased given the age and quality of the source materials.
The audio is presented in Dolby Digital stereo 2.0 audio. While a surround sound presentation up-mix would have been appreciable for the musical performances, this is a decent stereo audio mix which preserves the sound design of the television broadcasts. Though this is far from being a "high-fidelity" presentation the quality of the source audio sounds pleasant and certainly isn't as poor as some television series from this time-frame.
There isn't an issue with hiss, crackle, and other audio deteriorations which would distract. While never perfectly crisp, Hee Haw does sound reasonably good on this DVD release and the music performances (which is something fans will care about deeply) still sound just fine.
This release includes a bonus disc featuring interviews with cast members (80 min.), including Roy Clark, Roni Stoneman, George Yanok, Charlie McCoy, Lulu Roman, George Lindsey, & Jim and John Hager. The cast are asked about their experiences working on the program, the television ratings, what it was like working with different co-stars, the origins of the series, balancing comedy and music, and more.
The release says it comes with the bonus of "guest stars and kornfield knee-slappers" but this is just a fancy way of saying chapter select is included so viewers can pick favorite performances and sketches. Both DVD box-sets and the standalone DVD release are housed in a nice slipbox.
Hee Haw remains one of the most successful syndicated series of all time. It's a beloved hit with fans of the series loving it's mix of corny jokes, music performances, and old-fashioned country sensibilities. While the jokes will be too corny for some to handle, fans of the long-running program will be pleased with this 14 DVD collection from Time Life.
Neil Lumbard is a lifelong fan of cinema. He aspires to make movies and has written two screenplays on spec. He loves writing, and currently does in Texas.