How to Succeed in Oil Without Really Trying: “The Beverly Hillbillies” (TV Showcase #1)

I’ve watched many TV shows all the way through, but “The Beverly Hillbillies” was the first one I ever watched all the way through, and it was also the first time I really remember enjoying a TV show that wasn’t a cartoon and was in black-and-white. My dad told me when it came on TV, and at fourteen, I began to watch this comedy gem. I have now watched each episode a minimum number of five times.

“The Beverly Hillbillies” was created in 1962 by Paul Henning, who was also responsible for “Love that Bob”, “Petticoat Junction”, and the “Green Acres” TV series. The show focused on the Clampett family: Jed, his daughter Ellie May, his mother-in-law Granny, and his nephew Jethro. Unbeknownst to this backwoods family of Bug Tussle, Tennessee, oil has been discovered on their land, and Jed is instantly paid $25 million, with more coming in each day. With all this newfound money, the Clampetts relocate to Beverly Hills, California, and attempt to continue their everyday Appalachian lifestyle in the big city.

“The Beverly Hillbillies” was the number show on television by the end of its second week on the air, and it’s season one episode “The Giant Jackrabbit” has continued to be the single most watched half-hour time slot in TV history (something Henning didn’t even know until he was told in an interview in 1995). The show ran for nine seasons, totaling 274 episodes, with a reunion movie in 1981, a docucomedy, and of course, an awful remake movie in 1993.

First off, there’s something I observed by watching “The Beverly Hillbillies” that stands out to me more than any other characteristic of the show: it ran out of ideas. I’ve noticed that shows from the 1960s era of television tended not to plan finales, but rather just kept going until they were cancelled, which sometimes had terrible repercussions. “The Beverly Hillbillies” (BH for short) had three or four seasons of excellent material that was absolutely unmatched. But after that, the show started going downhill. In the black-and-white seasons, we’d seen Buddy Ebsen display his fabulous dancing skills, we’d seen Flatt and Scruggs pick some awesome tunes, and we’d seen Mrs. Drysdale (the banker’s wife) overreact in every way possible. But at 26 episodes per season, the show was running out of fresh ideas. So they had to get creative, and they did… for a little while.

In later seasons, we started getting story arcs: a continuing saga of episodes featuring a character or place. Sometimes as many as ten to twelve episodes were given to one storyline, which worked for a while. But like I said before, this had all been done on smaller scales earlier on in the series. And that’s when things became way worse way more quickly.

When the BH started, there were very often times lessons in all the goofiness on how to live a life as a good citizen. Almost every time someone would try to trick the Clampetts into giving up their money, they would wind up giving it back because they could see the Clampetts’ eagerness to help others. Jed put no value on his money save how he could use it to help others. He even went so far as to spend $10 million dollars on a castle in England, just because a distant relative had died and left that much in debt for his castle staff to deal with. Even when Mr. Drysdale was scheming new ways to get more money into the Commerce Bank, Jed was never interested in doing anything with his life other than helping others.

Unfortunately, in the last seasons of the show, that theme was lost, and the show began to say and do anything just for shock value. This was displayed particularly in the Shorty Cullums saga, in which a friend from back in the hills comes to visit the Clampetts and decides he likes the good life, so he stays for a while. In that time, Shorty almost exclusively spewed out innuendos and inappropriate comments, and he even went so far as to hold what he thought of as an orgy, which of course was visually appropriate given the era of TV, but still, there was no call for any of this in the BH. Some of Shorty’s attitudes stuck around after he left, because the Clampetts began to act almost the same way.

It was almost a relief for me when I reached the end of the show. It was painful to watch a show I had stuck with for so long as it slowly died, becoming worse every day. It was worth watching in the beginning, but by the end, I’m not so sure. It lost quality, for sure.

As far as TV elements go, the show never left the top ten in its entire run, which is impressive given its nine years on the air. It was kept alive in no small part due to the guest stars and performances on various episodes. Flatt and Scruggs, Roy Clark, Pat Boone, Joi Lansing, Gloria Swanson, Mr. Universe (I think his name was Dave), Phil Silvers, John Wayne, and other big names of the day were influential in keeping the show afloat. Also of note is that the BH had a pretty good blend of verbal gags and physical comedy, some of which is impossible to do in real life, which added to the show’s dynamic.

Overall, I still consider “The Beverly Hillbillies” one of my favorite TV shows ever, but one I would rather have seen end early than lose quality. What do you think?


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