When the ‘C’ in CBS stood for ‘Country’

The Tiffany Network went rural in the 1960s

In the decade immediately preceding “All in the Family,” “The Mary Tyler Moore Show” or its more socially relevant fare of the 1970s, CBS had gained the nickname of the “Country Broadcasting System” for its proliferation of rural-oriented programming.

Perhaps the poster child for this was “The Beverly Hillbillies.” Airing from 1962 to 1971, this fish-out-of-water sitcom from Paul Henning featured an ensemble cast of Buddy Ebsen, Irene Ryan, Donna Douglas and Max Baer as the Clampetts, a poor backwoods family from the Ozarks who struck oil on their land and subsequently moved to the land of “swimming pools, movie stars.”

Much of the comedy derived from the clan’s lack of sophistication in its posh surroundings, as well as a host of double entendres and cultural misconceptions. Critics didn’t much care for the show but viewers did, vaulting it to the top of the ratings in its first two seasons. Its viewership was still respectable when the network canceled it after nine seasons and 274 episodes in 1971. By then, the “Rural Purge” was well underway and its fate was sealed.

Viewers can stream “The Beverly Hillbillies” on Amazon and Vudu.

Other Retro Rewinds:

“Petticoat Junction” (Weekday mornings on Decades; streaming on IMDb TV, Roku, Tubi, Hoopla, Classix, Redbox, Pluto TV):

Paul Henning was also responsible for this 1963-70 “country cousin” of the “Beverly Hillbillies” that was set at the Shady Rest Hotel, which was run by Kate Bradley (Bea Benederet), her three daughters and her Uncle Joe (Edgar Buchanan). Cast came and went over the show’s seven-season run, including several actresses playing the daughters. But Benederet’s death in 1968 marked the beginning of the end.

“Green Acres” (Weeknights on MeTV; streaming on Amazon):

A spinoff of “Petticoat Junction,” this Henning-produced 1965-71 sitcom put a reverse spin on the rural-to-city premise of “Beverly Hillbillies,” casting Eddie Albert as Oliver Douglas, a Manhattan lawyer who decides to chuck urban life and move to the country burg of Hooterville, much to the dismay of wife Lisa (Eva Gabor). Also a solid ratings performer during its six-season run, it like its Henning siblings fell victim to the “rural purge” axe in 1971.

“Mayberry R.F.D.” (Streaming on Amazon, iTunes, Google Play):

Andy Griffith’s decision to leave “The Andy Griffith Show” prompted this 1968-71 spinoff that, much like its predecessor, followed a father/son relationship in this case that of widower farmer Sam Jones (Ken Berry) and his offspring Mike (Buddy Foster). It enjoyed strong ratings during its three seasons but …

“Hee Haw” (Streaming on Sling TV):

Country music and corn-pone humor against the backdrop of fictional Kornfield County were the hallmarks of this variety series, which ran on CBS from 1969 to 1971 before enjoying a long life in syndication. Hosted by country artists Buck Owens and Roy Clark, the series was a showcase for the genre’s stars of the day, including Tammy Wynette, Chet Atkins, Loretta Lynn, Roy Acuff, George Jones, Charley Pride and Merle Haggard.

George Dickie

George Dickie has been a features writer for Gracenote/Tribune Media Services since 1989, when “Hee-Haw” was still on the air and George “Goober” Lindsay was his first interview. His early interviews ranged from Jim Henson and Dick Van Dyke to Phil Collins and the Dixie Chicks.

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