Grandpa, Tell Me About the “Hee Haw” Days

*Post written by James Wethington, senior library assistant of the University Archives and Special Collections.

On the set of the television show Hee Haw in Nashville, Tennessee in 1990.

On the set of the television show Hee Haw. In the photograph is Roy Acuff’s father, Roy’s family, Roy Clark, and Buck Trent, 1990. Source: UASC, Sonny Brown collection, MSS 228-1094.

Long before Netflix, Hulu, or even cable, primetime television was where people could watch their favorite shows. With the help of a copy of TV Guide, you could plan out your entire week. One of those shows was the variety show, Hee Haw. For twenty-four years, Hee-Haw proved to be a hit with viewers and became a piece of television history.

Sonny Brown and Roy Clark on the set of Hee Haw.

Sonny Brown and Roy Clark on the set of Hee Haw, n.d. Source: UASC, Sonny Brown collection, MSS 228-3079.

Hee Haw’s first episode was aired on June 15, 1969 and released by CBS. It was hosted by Buck Owens and Roy Clark. It was successful at the time because of its “rural” theme with real people not professional actors. That was a popular theme for CBS because many of their TV programs were rural shows like Green Acres, the Beverly Hillbillies, and Petticoat Junction. By their second season, they were ranked sixteenth in the nation; however, CBS cancelled Hee Haw in 1971. The decision was made by CBS president Robert Wood. He cancelled a large majority of “rural” shows for CBS to focus on grabbing the younger viewer demographic with something hip and innovative. The move proved to be successful because CBS garnered hit shows like the Mary Tyler Moore show, M*A*S*H, All in the Family, Maude, and the Jeffersons. This would not be the end of Hee Haw though. Hee Haw returned to the air in 1971 after being cancelled on the Nashville Network Television. Once it returned, the show was taped in Nashville, Tennessee. New episodes were produced weekly until September 1992.

Hee Haw featured and centered around country music and humor. The show was set in Kornfield County and showcased colorful actors and actresses from their hosts, Buck Owens and Roy Clark, to Grandpa Jones, David “Stringbean” Akeman, George “Goober” Lindsey, Gunilla Hutton (who played Nurse Goodbody), Jim and Jon Hager, Reverend Grady Nutt, Junior Samples, and many more! Hee Haw hosted guest performances each week on the show from country music legends such as Johnny Cash, Loretta Lynn, Conway Twitty, and Tammy Wynette and future country music superstars like Reba McEntire, Vince Gill, and Garth Brooks. One of the best-known groups from the show were the Hee Haw Honeys: they were young, attractive women dressed up to look as if they were the daughter of a farmer, to serve as eye candy to the male audience. Since the show went off the air, Hee Haw was honored at the 2007 TV Land Awards as “The Entertainers”.

At the University Archives and Special Collections at the University of Southern Indiana houses over three hundred of images from the Hee Haw set and characters. They were taken by Sonny Brown, former photographer for the Evansville Courier newspaper. Brown was a close friend to Grandpa Jones, who was from Henderson County, Kentucky. Through their friendship, Brown was able to visit and take photographs. If you would like to see more photographs from the Sonny Brown collection, visit digitalarchives.usi.edu and check out the Sonny Brown collection gallery.

References Consulted

Hee Haw. (2020., May 18). In Wikipedia. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hee_Haw

Hofstede, D. (2019, August 28). Hee Haw: 50 years later. Cowboys and Indians Magazine. https://www.cowboysindians.com/2019/08/hee-haw-50-years-later/

Oklahoma Historical Society. (2015, March 19). Hee Haw Documentary [Video]. YouTube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=–qX-FNPxnw

Taube, M. (2018, November 28). Hee Haw was ahead of its time. Wall Street Journal. https://www.wsj.com/articles/hee-haw-was-ahead-of-its-time-1543448481

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