It was June 15, 1969. Man was still a month away from landing on the moon. The country was still heavily entrenched in the Vietnam War. And, if you were watching CBS Television that night, you saw a new series called "Hee Haw." Though the critics balked at the show's mix of backwood humor and country music, it struck a chord through America and lasted for close to a quarter-century.
The surviving cast members of the show are, as the late co-host Buck Owens would say…."Together Again." Gabriel Communications has just released the four-disc "Salute To The Kornfield DVD" set.
"Hee Haw" was one of the most successful series in TV history, and following its cancellation in 1971, it became a highly successful syndicated series, offers Gabriel's Larry Black. "When it went off in 1993, I think it went off due to the years that had passed. But, as (rural cable network) RFD-TV has proven, it's one of their highest rated shows weekly, because people still want to laugh and remember."
At the end of the day, cast members such as Roy Clark, Gunilla Hutton, and Barbi Benton mixed with many of the stars that frequented 'Kornfield Kounty,' like Bill Anderson, John Conlee, and Larry Gatlin - who, ironically worked as a janitor at Nashville's WLAC-TV, where the series was originally filmed.
Black said that one of the highlights for him was seeing Don Harron reprise his role as KORN announcer "Charlie Farquharson" for the first time since 1986. He noted it was amazing to see how quickly he morphed back into character. "I think it's not unlike someone like Jack Greene. He has difficulty seeing, but when you turn a microphone on, his muscle memory takes over and he nails the song on key. I think these guys, like Don Harron, just goes back into the memory bank, and it's an easy pull for them - one that they haven't been able to do for a long time, especially with their friends present. It just comes flowing out of them."
Black allowed that the show presented a unique chance for families to bond - back when television was limited to a lot less channels than today. "I think the time period worked amazingly well for people to congregate in front of a television set. It was the kind of show that you could come in and out of. You didn't miss anything -- storyline-wise if you walked in during the middle of it. It became a real bonding time for families."
The idea for a reunion of cast members had been talked about for awhile, but when Danny Forbes, a former assistant to creator Sam Lovullo, came into the picture, Black knew the time was right. "When Danny met with two of my sons, that became the catalyst for putting this together. We could not have done it, nor would have attempted to do it without someone like him. He was the one who said 'You ought to do this.' We said 'Sure. That's something we'd love to do. This is a no-brainer, but how do you get to all the people. He was they key that got us to all the people. Without somebody like him to help to get us beyond that first layer of management and into the people themselves, it would not have happened. It wasn't an original idea that one person could claim genius for having done it. It was a matter of the pieces falling together, and he brought them together.
The set is part of the ongoing "Country's Family Reunion" series that Black has been involved with since the late 1990s. When asked about future productions, Larry said that there would be more 'Country's Family Reunion' shows, but they were also looking at some other options, as well. "We had great success with the Bill Anderson tribute. We did a salute to him, and I would think we would do more salutes to some of those icons, like Willie Nelson or Ray Price," he said.