There is a show business saying about knowing your audience. Larry Black definitely knows the country audience. Since the mid 1990s, he has been the brainpower behind the wildly successful "Country's Family Reunion" DVD series. He also produces and hosts the popular series "Larry's Country Diner," which airs on the RFD network, attracting one of the largest audiences on the channel.
The show is a mixture of music - from some of country music's all-time greats, as well as a little bit of comedy mixed in for good measure. Tickets for tapings of the show are one of the most-sought after in Music City, with a waiting list that stretches for over a year.
In an interview for Billboard, Black said that in developing the show, he wanted to fill a void. "I knew that RFD was going to stop doing the Ralph Emery Show, and I always loved the idea of doing an interview show that was based partly on variety, but could not stand the thought of standing in front of a fireplace, or sitting behind a desk like Carson did."
Black thought he could take that format, and expand it a little bit. "I thought the perfect setting would be a little ole country diner somewhere, and the local people coming in around lunchtime, and the camera just shoots the crowds that is there. And, oh, by the way, the sheriff of the town, Grand Ole Opry musician Jimmy Capps, happens to be a world-class guitar player and comes by for lunch. So, if someone comes by to sing, we get him to get his guitar out."
And, the stars do come by in great numbers. "Larry's Country Diner" has featured acts such as Dailey and Vincent, Bobby Bare, Bill Anderson, and the Oak Ridge Boys. Black says the laid-back feel of the show is something that is a little bit different from most shows these days.
"I said to everybody 'No matter what happens, don't stop the tape. If we break dishes, we'll clean it up. It's a diner, for goodness sake. My wife came up with the saying 'Where the cameras are always rolling, and we don't care.' A plate was dropped in front of a Gene Watson song, and you look at his face, and he just smiles. It's more fun to go with it warts and all, and just have fun."
Black is proud of the show and its' success, but he admits that the audience numbers surprises him a little bit. "Isn't that funny? I don't understand that, I really don't. It's done because it's fun to do. But, there's no structure, script, or cue cards."
Nashville radio legend Keith Bilbrey, who worked alongside of Black at WSM-AM 650, serves as emcee for the festivities each week. He says the show is very much old school. "It is spontaneous TV at its best. What you see is what you get. There are no edits or second takes. The cast is great, and we really like each other. The idea that you can do 4 hour-long shows in one day is inconceivable by today's TV standards is a rare thing," he says, pointing out that it takes a week to film a half-hour sitcom.
That is not lost on the audience, Bilbrey says. "I think they have picked up on that spontaneity and the feel of the show. They seem to have an emotional attachment to the show, as well as the cast," he says. "They are very dedicated viewers who never miss an episode and sometimes tape it so they can watch it again."
The show, which also includes the sassy Church lady known as "Nadine" and waitress "Renae," has gone on the road to great response, points out Bilbrey. "We did some shows in Branson, and had great crowds who came to every show and then lined up to buy our merchandise. Our cruise last January was a huge success with over 800 fans sailing with us. We have a bigger one planned for next January because we had to turn folks away in 2012." Whatever you want to call the formula for the show, Bilbrey says it succeeds. "I think the show has succeeded in ways Larry never imagined."