The Beverly Hillbillies (1962)

Genres - Comedy  |   Sub-Genres - Comedy of Manners, Sitcom [TV]  |   Run Time - 30 min.  |   Countries - United States  |  
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Synopsis by Hal Erickson

Created by Paul Henning, The Beverly Hillbillies was, next to The Andy Griffith Show, the most successful of CBS' "rural" sitcoms, not to mention one of the most consistently popular comedy series of all time. Its premise was as old as...well, as old as the hills: a family of ignorant country rubes were transplanted to the big city, where in their own simple, unpretentious manner, they often proved themselves to be wiser and more honorable than the sophisticated "slickers." It was a formula that kept the property alive and kicking for nine seasons on CBS, and forever after in off-network syndication. As musically explained at the beginning of each episode in "The Ballad of Jed Clampett" (sung by Jerry Scoggins and performed on guitar by Lester Flatt and Earl Scruggs), the members of the Clampett family were "poor mountaineers" who suddenly became very, very rich when widowed paterfamilias Jed Clampett (Buddy Ebsen) accidentally struck oil on his Appalachian property. Following the advice of both neighbors and "flatlanders," Jed and his immediate kinfolk -- his spunky, curvaceous daughter Elly May Clampett (Donna Douglas); his doltish, musclebound nephew Jethro Bodine (Max Baer Jr.); and Jed's ancient but feisty mother-in-law Daisy "Granny" Moses (Irene Ryan) -- packed their belongings and their family bloodhound Duke in their dilapidated automobile and drove to the land of "swimmin' pools, movie stars," Beverly Hills, CA. The hillbillies moved into a luxurious mansion just across the road from the home of their banker, Milburn Drysdale (Raymond Bailey), who did everything he could to make the mountaineers happy in their new surroundings -- and, incidentally, to keep the family's millions in his bank. (By series' end, Jed was worth around 95,000,000 dollars!) Drysdale's loyal secretary Miss Jane Hathaway (Nancy Kulp) was assigned to help the Clampett clan assimilate themselves into Beverly Hills society, a task she took on with gusto, primarily because she secretly harbored a hankerin' for the brawny Jethro. Meanwhile, Drysdale's snobbish wife Margaret, who despised "those dreadful hillbillies" (even though they were never less than friendly and courteous to her), plotted and planned to oust the Clampetts from her neighborhood. During the series' first season, the action alternated between Beverly Hills and the Clampett's hometown of Bug Tussle, where Jed's cousin (and Jethro's mom) Pearl Bodine (Bea Benaderet) had long been Granny's rival as the local social leader. Pearl was written out of the series when Benaderet was cast in her own sitcom, Petticoat Junction -- as was Pearl's daughter Jethrine, who was amusingly played in drag by Max Baer Jr. (with "her" voice dubbed by another future Petticoat Junction regular, Linda Kaye, daughter of producer Paul Henning). Dozens of other supporting characters came and went during the series' lengthy run, but only one could be regarded as a regular: Mark Templeton (Roger Torrey), a Navy frogman who became Elly May Clampett's fiancé during the final season. Debuting September 26, 1962, The Beverly Hillbillies ranked as America's top-rated series in its first and second season, and was comfortably settled in the Top Ten during seasons four, five, and seven. Its cancellation on September 7, 1971, after 274 episodes (168 in color) was due less to a falling-off of viewership than CBS' decision to "de-ruralize" its audience demographic and concentrate on grabbing the all-important big-city viewership. Reruns of The Beverly Hillbillies were seen on CBS' daytime lineup from 1966 through 1972. In addition, a TV-movie reunion special, The Return of the Beverly Hillbillies, was telecast in 1981; and 12 years later, a theatrical-feature version of The Beverly Hillbillies was released, starring Jim Varney as Jed, Erika Eleniak as Elly May, Diedrich Bader as Jethro, Cloris Leachman as Granny, Dabney Coleman as Mr. Drysdale, Lily Tomlin as Miss Hathaway -- and Buddy Ebsen, recreating his later TV-series role as detective Barnaby Jones!