Rural Comedies, "Rural Purge", etc.

Discussion in 'TV Central' started by ClassyCo, Mar 23, 2018.

  1. ClassyCo

    ClassyCo Soap Chat Well-Known Member

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    As many of us avid TV lovers already know, the 1960s gave us a multitude of classic rural comedies. These shows dominated the top of the ratings for many years. CBS, the network most associated with the trend, was even nicknamed the Country Broadcasting System.

    Starting in the late 1960s/early 1970s, as the TV landscape was going through many changes, all three major networks suddenly saw their still-popular rural comedies as passe and began canceling them. This trend of canceling rural shows became known as the "rural purge".

    Basically, I'm starting this thread to discuss the rural comedies by Paul Henning, other shows the fall inside the same genre, and the "purge" that got them all axed.
     
  2. ClassyCo

    ClassyCo Soap Chat Well-Known Member

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    Just yesterday, I watched this episode of The Beverly Hillbillies called "The Thanksgiving Spirit" (S7, E10).

    upload_2018-3-23_7-57-22.png
     
    Last edited: Mar 23, 2018
  3. Snarky's Ghost

    Snarky's Ghost Soap Chat Oracle

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    These shows got good numbers, even when they were axed in 1971, but none of them were character-based as the early years of THE ANDY GRIFFITH SHOW had been nearly a decade before.

    They were very slapstick and formulaic, obviously, that formula usually spelled out in the opening theme song of each show and repeated yet again in that week's script. Some of them (BEVERLY HILLBILLIES and GREEN ACRES) could actually be rather funny if you were in the right mood, but talk about repetitive!

    And as more "sophisticated" sitcoms like ROOM 222 and MARY TYLER MOORE and ALL IN THE FAMILY were coming in and the urban sitcom genre was now being viewed as a literal agent of social change, in part thanks to CBS programming exec Fred Silverman, the decision was made to put to rest those old '60s rural comedies whether they were still getting good ratings or not.

    The middle-American audience may or may not have been pleased, but it seemed an appropriate time. Even the western, the dominant dramatic genre for seventy years on the big screen and twenty-five years on the small screen, essentially died out in the early-'70s in both media, replaced by contemporary urban cop vehicles.

    The cultural shift in the '60s was deep and real, so by the beginning of the next decade, the rural sitcom quickly felt like a total anachronism. And successful rural, non-western dramas like THE WALTONS and the far-drippier LITTLE HOUSE -- and early DALLAS -- were few and far between by the '70s and generally viewed as a risk.

    But the sweeping away of the absurdist '60s country-based TV sitcom format was kind of a metaphor for something.

     
    Last edited: Mar 23, 2018
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  4. ClassyCo

    ClassyCo Soap Chat Well-Known Member

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    No, none of the Henning rural comedies had the character-based stories that made The Andy Griffith Show so good in its earlier seasons. It seems CBS always viewed The Andy Griffith Show, which technically started the trend at the network, in a different light in those that came after it.

    Henning's three comedies --- The Beverly Hillbillies, Petticoat Junction, and Green Acres --- all got exceptional ratings during their runs. The Beverly Hillbillies and Green Acres, as you have said, were rather formulaic (as are many sitcoms, especially those back then), although I often found the latter funnier than the former. Petticoat Junction probably offered the best in terms of variety in its episodes, although its mid-series shift to the more domestic comedy vibe topped with (often) many musical numbers just isn't this viewer's cup of tea.

    When Petticoat Junction concluded its seven-season run in 1970 (after the initial decision to cancel in 1969), it had been out of the top thirty in the ratings since 1967; Green Acres had fell out of the top thirty as well, while The Beverly Hillbillies, the eldest of the three, finished at a healthy #18 for the year. The following season, both of the latter shows were out of the top thirty and got the axe, too.

    The more "sophisticated" (as it's been called) shift in television in the early 1970s was radical and quick. Out were hits and TV staples like The Beverly Hillbillies and Gunsmoke, and in came All in the Family (and its spin-offs) and The Mary Tyler Moore Show. The trend for more urban-aimed shows saw the gradual, but consistent moving away from the rural-based shows that topped the ratings for years. (There has not been any rural-based series since then, that I know of at least.) The "rural purge", as it was called, saw the conclusion of a multitude of television staples; from rural comedies, westerns, variety shows, and others that network execs felt appealed particularly to the older viewing audience. It also saw the death of innocent, family-friendly television in favor of cruder and often more "adult" television that pollutes are airways these days.
     
  5. TJames03

    TJames03 Soap Chat Well-Known Member

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    By this time "All in the Family" had debuted in January of '71, so that sealed the fate of these shows. MTM had already been on the air a year and that changed the television landscape, too, when debuted in '70.
     
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  6. ClassyCo

    ClassyCo Soap Chat Well-Known Member

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    The way CBS (and the other networks, too) changed from rural-based shows or other shows they felt appealed to older audiences to more urban-aimed shows was quick and profound.
     
  7. Snarky's Ghost

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    Although GUNSMOKE outlasted them, not cancelled until 1975 and still in the Top 30 and sometimes still in the weekly Top 5. But CBS decided its demographics were getting a bit grey around the temples and cancelled it anyway.
     
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  8. ClassyCo

    ClassyCo Soap Chat Well-Known Member

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    Gunsmoke always had good ratings, although it dipped after expanding to an hour --- and it never quite got back to where it had been as a half-hour show. As I'm sure it is generally well-known among TV history fanatics, but Gunsmoke was the favorite show of CBS head William S. Paley and his wife Babe. Because of sagging ratings the programming team initially canceled the series in the spring of 1967. Upon the Paleys return from vacation, however, they insisted that their favorite show be renewed, thus ending the three-season run of the campy, yet popular Gilligan's Island. Upon its placing on Monday nights at 7:30, Gunsmoke came back in strong in fourth place in 1968, and stayed in the top thirty until it concluded seven years later, in 1975.
     
  9. Snarky's Ghost

    Snarky's Ghost Soap Chat Oracle

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    Cancelled for thee first time in 1956 due to borderline numbers (and the first series ever revived due to a write-in campaign by the fans) the B&W half-hour GUNSMOKEs from 1955 to 1961 saw the show go to #1 in the ratings for four years, and while all that macho "you kilt mah woman!" *bang!-bang!* stuff appealed to the '50s quasi-hetero males out there, the half-hour format quickly felt truncated and too constraining. Expanding it to an hour (as most half-hour dramas were doing during the early-'60s) the creator-producer of GUNSMOKE, Norman McDonnell, was removed ~1964 because James Arness and CBS thought, correctly, that the new full-hour version of GUNSMOKE felt padded. So they brought in Philip Leacock to take over producing duties. But when the show dropped to #35 for its twelfth season in 1967, after being on Saturday nights the entire time, CBS indeed again cancelled it, with William Paley overriding the decision and placing the show early Monday nights where it would remain for another eight years -- and would indeed go as high as #4 during some of those later seasons. Leacock, during the 1967 cancellation, went over to do a 90-minute western for Stuart Whitman called CIMARRON STRIP, so Leacock's line producer, John Mantley, became the boss of GUNSMOKE for the remaining years. And when Mantley's line producer, Joseph Dackow, died around 1970, Leonard Katzman of future DALLAS fame came in and warmed-up GUNSMOKE significantly for the '70s, doing some really excellent work and helping GUNSMOKE survive the slaughter of TV rural western dramas and comedies, at least for a while.

    During GUNSMOKE's 20th and final season, Katzman gave the first half of that year some of the best work it had ever seen and the series was often in the Top 10 for the week, but Katzman reportedly had issues with his boss, John Mantley (as Katzman later did with Phillip Capice on DALLAS) and Katzman exited mid-season to go produce PETROCELLI. Following Katzman's departure, Mantley brought in John G. Stephens to be the line producer for the remaining part of S20, and while the show got some critical praise for their socially conscious scripts, the darker and more ponderous shift in tone was too extreme and ratings started to drop sharply, with an ending-season average at #29th place --- not a bad rating, but far below the numbers GUNSMOKE was getting just five or sixth months earlier.

    Arness, Mantley and Stephens went on to do HOW THE WEST WAS WON for ABC which often pulled good ratings, satisfying Mantley and Arness who'd been furious about the third and last cancellation of GUNSMOKE in 1975, despite good-to-very-good Neilsen ratings in its last year.

    When GUNSMOKE ended, it became the longest-running, scripted primetime show in American television history, tied many year later by LAW & ORDER and surpassed by THE SIMPSONS which will be entering Season 30 this fall.

    Two cast pic I'd never seen before:
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    [​IMG]
     
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  10. ClassyCo

    ClassyCo Soap Chat Well-Known Member

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    You gave a whole load of information about Gunsmoke that I never knew, but I always enjoy learning new things about classic TV. In saying that, I am not the biggest Gunsmoke fan, or of westerns in general. The ones that I have enjoyed (i.e. McLintock!, River of No Return, etc.) more often than not have some actor/actress that I like that's headlining it. I don't watch westerns simply because they're westerns, but usually because they have somebody in them that I like to see.
     
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