'Hee Haw' comes back with pickin' and grinnin' on VHS and DVD

Monday, May 17, 2004

NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- "Hee Haw," with its pickin', grinnin' and hayseed humor, was an American television institution, on the air somewhere almost continuously from 1969 to 1997.

The hourlong program started on CBS for two years, then went into syndication until 1993 and finally wound up on cable's old Nashville Network.

Now the straw hats and the braying cartoon donkey are coming back -- thanks to the big-city operation Time-Life, which is releasing full "Hee Haw" shows for the first time on VHS and DVD on Tuesday, the 35th anniversary of the show's first season.

Saaa-lute!

"'Hee Haw' won't go away," said Roy Clark, host or co-host of the show for its entire run. "It brings a smile to too many faces."

The program's format was folksy comic skits interspersed with performances by country music stars like Vince Gill, Garth Brooks, Willie Nelson and Alan Jackson.

There were no serious issues debated, no cliffhangers, no drama and no wardrobe malfunctions -- just down-home silliness accompanied by grins and guitars.

"Everywhere I go, people talk about it," Clark said.

The show's most memorable prop was the cornfield where guests and the show's regulars told jokes.

Example:

Grandpa Jones to Junior Samples: "I saw you riding on a mule and your wife was walking behind you. Why was that?"

Samples: "My wife ain't GOT no mule."

Critics mostly hated the show because of its Dogpatch look, simple humor and twangy country music. And sometimes the show still gets criticized for perpetuating stereotypes.

But TV viewers embraced it, and even such stars as Sammy Davis Jr. and Regis Philbin were among the celebrities eager to appear on the show.

"They just wanted to be part of the fun," Clark said.

Clark was joined by singer Buck Owens, who was co-host for 17 of the seasons. There were about 600 original episodes.

The show, one of the longest running in TV history, even had an impact on the national lexicon. The phrase "pickin' and grinnin'" became popular after a segment with Clark and Owens playing guitar while smiling and telling jokes.

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