In mid-1971, I experienced a most distressing visit to the dentist.
A TV fan magazine in the waiting room divulged life-changing news. Irene Ryan (who portrayed Granny on The Beverly Hillbillies) told an interviewer she was madder than a wet hen — because CBS had canceled the beloved sitcom after nine seasons!
TV historians regard this as part of the “rural purge” of the early ’70s. Petticoat Junction and The Jackie Gleason Show had disappeared a year earlier, and Bonanza and Gunsmoke would hang on until 1973 and 1975, respectively.
But fall 1971 was the epicenter of a major upheaval in programming.
Part of the change arose because networks were ceding the first half-hour of prime time to local affiliates. Veteran stars pricing themselves out of a job also played a part.
But mostly, after two decades of indiscriminately pursuing the largest possible audience, the TV networks decided to cater to the most affluent demographic groups.
Yes, the programmers and Madison Avenue would tickle the fancy of trendy, malleable audiences, not the world-weary, tradition-bound consumers who recognized a snake-oil salesman when they saw one.
This emphasis on being edgy, hip and relevant to urban young adults spelled bad news for programs that attracted too many children, seniors and country folks.
I will grudgingly admit that this network disdain for kids, codgers and Cletuses — while producing only a handful of “city slicker” hits in the autumn of 1971 — would eventually make room for crowd-pleasers such as M*A*S*H, Maude, The Bob Newhart Show, Sanford and Son, Rhoda and Barney Miller.
Still, as a former youngster, a current senior, a lifelong small-town resident and a father apologizing that all the DVDs chronicling the porcine misadventures of Arnold Ziffel have been exhausted, part of me resents the elitism of the bicoastal TV executives.
But they’ve never really apologized for five decades of forgettable “sophisticated” shows that fizzled with critics and Nielsen ratings families alike.
Sure, I have enjoyed my share of risqué programs in recent years; but I still yearn for the corny values of TV seasons past, such as Red Skelton ending his show with “Good night and may God bless.”
The snooty network execs who cringed at the Clampetts taking a dip in the “ce-ment pond” have no qualms about doing the backstroke in a cesspool.
Granted, the last half-century has produced an embarrassment of riches with upscale sitcoms and dramas; but I can’t help but think that a little dash of the bucolic life would make them even better.
The possibilities are endless — if you don’t look down on half your audience.
— Satirical columnist Danny Tyree welcomes email responses at firstname.lastname@example.org and visits to his Facebook fan page Tyree’s Tyrades. He is syndicated by Cagle Cartoons and the author of Yes, Your Butt Still Belongs in Church. Click here to read previous columns. The opinions expressed are his own.