Warm memories of my youth include sitting down with my parents in front of the TV to watch Hee Haw every week. In a time when variety shows were plentiful on television (The Smothers Brothers and Laugh In, to name a couple) came the concept of mixing country music and corny jokes. To look back at the show through these DVDs, it seems especially clichéd, although at the time it was fresh and the show was well-loved.
According to Roy Clark, who candidly spoke in the interviews on the bonus disc, the show was conceived as a one hour pilot, to be test marketed. When the infamous fall-out between CBS and The Smother Brothers happened, the network needed a replacement and ordered thirteen episodes before ever seeing that test show. The rest, as they say, is history. Despite being horribly panned by critics and cancelled by the network three seasons later (even though it was in the top twenty with viewers) the show could not be stopped and continued in syndication, actually reaching more homes then when it was with CBS.
But what was it about the show that made it one of the most-loved and longest running? As I watched the eight episodes contained on four of the five discs in the set, it became apparent. There is nothing offensive contained herein, nothing that will make you send your kids from the room, and nothing you will have to explain or explain away to innocent ears. It was (and is) family fun coupled with the roots of country music.
Yes, the jokes are corny (hmm… is that the reason they tell them standing out in a cornfield?) — not the kind to make you laugh out loud, but they bring a silent smirk to your face and they come in short but fast-paced bursts in between some of the biggest names in country (and occasionally pop) music of the time.
Included on these discs are appearances by Conway Twitty, Merle Haggard, Loretta Lynn, and Waylon Jennings, to name a few. The shows having aired from '69 to '72, the performers are much younger, but the songs are timeless. Jerry Lee Lewis gave unusually subdued performances of "Whole Lot of Shakin' Goin' On" and "What's Made Milwaukee Famous (Made a Loser Out of Me)." It was fun to see these, knowing what a boisterous stage presence he would become. Along with the guest musical performances, Roy Clark and Buck Owens perform twice in each episode.
Included in the set is a full disc of extras in the form of interviews with the cast and crew members of the long-running show. The most lengthy, interesting, and insightful are with Roy Clark and Roni Stoneman. Lulu Roman and Charlie McCoy also deliver some entertaining anecdotes about backstage antics.
But nostalgia is the main reason to pick up Time Life's A Salute to Hee Haw. It's a look back at family television and the musical variety show. It showcases some of the largest names, stars who built country music as well as some of the most entertaining names in comedy from the '70s. For another review of A Salute to Hee Haw, read Fantasma el Rey's take on the set.