Monday, March 26, 2007
The Giant Jackrabbit, January 8, 1964
Newsweek called it "the most shamelessly corny show in years"; Time magazine declared "the pone is the lowest form of humor...a program that is dedicated to finding out how many times the same joke can be repeated." Even the New York Times couldn't resist a dig, declaring "The Beverly Hillbillies is steeped in enough twanging guitar and rural no-think to make each half-hour seem like sixty minutes." TV talkshow host David Susskind seriously begged "the few intelligent people left" to write Congress to get the show off the air.
The American public, however, begged to differ. The Beverly Hillbillies was #1 within just three weeks of its first broadcast in the fall of 1962. The Beverly Hillbillies and Who Wants to Be A Millionaire are the only TV shows to become the #1 ranked program of the year its first, freshman season. Not I Love Lucy, not Dallas, not Cosby, not American Idol, nor even the $64,000 Question can claim that feat. Audiences ate up the "fish out of water" concept like a fresh-from-the-oven TV Dinner. Early during the show's second season, ratings continued to hold strong at #1, but just above Bonanza, Candid Camera, Red Skelton, and Lucy.
Then national tragedy struck! When President Kennedy was assassinated Thanksgiving weekend that fall of 1963, the stunned nation dissolved into mass depression. The entire Kennedy saga was a cataclysm that played before American eyes in their living rooms, and for weeks after the assassination, television assisted viewers make sense of it all.
By Christmas and the end of the year, weary Americans were ready to move forward, and primed for some mindless, harmless escapism. The Beverly Hillbillies came to the rescue. Beginning January 1 and for the next seven weeks, American's tuned into the Clampett clan in record-breaking droves. Mystified critics again protested, but over 60,000,000 viewers turned a deaf ear. The January 8th episode, The Giant Jackrabbit, became the highest rated television program ever broadcast; and, as of 2007, it still remains the highest rated half-hour program in television history. A cool dozen Beverly Hillbillies shows from these post-assasination days currently rank in the list of Top 100 Highest Rated Television programs of All-Time.
For much of the coming spring, the nation continued to heal with a weekly dose of gentle, home-spun humour. By summer and fall of 1964, the hillbillies' ratings swell passed, and the show tumbled to a respectable 12th place showing. It had done its job and notably by bringing comedic relief and a "heaping helping of hospitality" to a devastated nation.