OM171 - The Rural Purge

For an episode about Children's TV shows, see Episode 106: "Scrappy Doo".

Media properties mentioned in this episode

  • ABC, American Broadcasting Company,
  • NBC, National Broadcasting Company
  • CBS, Columbia Broadcasting System
  • PBS, Public Broadcasting Service
  • ESPN, Public Broadcasting Service
  • Fox, Fox Broadcasting Company

John always felt like a NBC guy and in the 1970s he was a CBS guy, but he never was an ABC person. Ken is an NBC kid who came up on the Huxtable-Brandon-Tartikoff-era family sitcoms.

Big ABC Sitcom block from the late 1970s:

Ken's NBC Family sitcoms:

Jingles from the late 1970s:

More mature programming with sex implied:

Edgy programming on Fox:

Rivalries between two big brands in other areas:

In the late 1970s NBC was a disaster before the Cosby Show remodeled it as a Sitcom brand. CBS had the classier shows:

CBS, also called the "Tiffany Network", was the top-rated television network in America from 1955-1976 without interruption.

Evening shows:

Wide Variety of programs on CBS:

In 1968 the entire Top 5 most successful TV shows were on CBS:

This gives you a strange picture of the late 1968s that you never quite see as a Generation X person. You think of the era as:

CBS started to get a reputation of having these weirdly backwards shows led by Andy Griffith or Jim Nabors and they were disparagingly called the "Country Broadcasting System". In 1957 there were a lot of Westerns on TV, John's dad loved watching Westerns like Gunsmoke, but the dawn of rural TV started in 1957 on ABC:

After World War II there was a transformation of rural America with electricity, telephone and sewers going into all these places while during the war people in a lot of rural communities were still not on a grid of any kind. Suburbanization, Urbanization all happened in this 10-year period and it must have been incredibly destabilizing for people who weren't already living on Madison Avenue, but it was not the time period when Americans moved to the cities! When America was founded 5% of the country were city-dwellers and today it is only 80%. It passed 50% around World War I. Early TV is a sparkling urbane atmosphere:

There was a boom of fish out of water shows starting in 1960 when you would think that the rural influence would be ending, but it takes over the airwaves:

In 1971 Fred Silverman took over as executive at CBS when it was still the number 1 network. He decided that they were tired of being the laughing stocks and there had been some decline:

In the space of one or two years he instituted the rural purge where he cancelled anything old-timey on the network (also happening on other networks):

All these shows at the time were for middle class white people, there were barely immigrants, but integration was happening on TV slowly:

Gil Scott-Heron name-checks CBS's rural TV in his The Revolution Will Not Be Televised piece twice as something he sees as a problem:

Advertisers were starting to care less about the overall number of people watching a show, but more about who was watching the show. This was the birth of the coveted 19-35 demographic, a Don Draper-era thing invented by Madison Avenue. Suddenly it didn't matter if 30 million people were watching Mayberry R.F.D. if it were not the right people.

The shows were replaced by forward-thinking shows for Boomers:

Exceptions were:

These shows didn't appeal to John as a kid because there was too much Gingham and it was too dramatic, like the dog died and he didn't want to know Where the Red Fern Grows, but he wanted to be on a boat full of love.

Furthermore, dad's Westerns were replaced with new grittier shows set in cities:

… which led to modern shows like House (Fox 2004-2012), a medical drama featuring Dr. House. There were hardly any police shows before that, but only things like Perry Mason (CBS 1957-1966)

Also mentioned:

Alienating old people from mainstream media (OM171)

This created a separate track of media because old people had effectively been marginalized and American culture passed them by. None of that stuff on all three major channels was for them anymore, but there were young people, black people and Rock music. This created a ghetto for old people in the media which eventually gave us Rush Limbaugh (since 1984) and Fox News (since 1996) because old people had been told that the mainstream programming was not for them.

This alienation also led to an East/West-divide in America which is visible on electoral maps. Between 1968 when Washington went for Humphrey and 1988 when Washington and Oregon went for Dukakis there was not a state West of Texas voting for a Democrat. The Ford / Carter election of 1976 is pretty much a straight line through America. Ken wonders if cancelling all the Westerns and telling the frontier that they had no place on television anymore was when the West got fed-up with the Eastern elites. Not only were they telling them where their herds could graze, but they also wouldn't let them watch Bonanza anymore.

It was the era of the Eastern elites again and the rise of Ronald Reagan who said that he was part of the Sagebrush Rebellion and that he was one of them. The prominent Republicans at the time, Nixon and Ronald Reagan, were Californians who could plausibly say that they were the future of America, not these old-timey Southern Democrats. These were also the beginnings of the Water Wars (see OM8) and the Bureau of Land Management and it came probably down to that stuff and not Gunsmoke getting cancelled.

It is weird that they would posit themselves as the modern vital and viral future, but also have it connected to Western/Cowboy revisionism. The Southern Democrats had really shown their hand during the Civil Rights era in the 1960s and were hard to admire and there wasn't yet that urban Democrat coalition that would become an unstoppable force that turned out to be fairly stoppable anyways. The presence of the Southern United States as a cultural and rebellious force is something we see over and over and we try to account for it somehow, but the South has a population of 120 million people and it is a full third population of the country. We think about the South all the time because our relationship with it is so troubled and every time there is a rural purge one place you get a rural splurge somewhere else.

Happy Hours during John's drinking years (OM171)

When John was a drinking man, the bar he drank at, the Comet, had a Happy Hour from 7-9pm and a new bar Linda's opened down the block and their Happy Hour started one hour later at 8-10pm and so you would start at the Comet, but then go to Linda's for that extra happy hour and that was where you would stay for the rest of the night. Savvy!

Hee Haw, John's mom's Northern Ohio prejudices (OM171)

John watched Hee Haw, but he doesn't remember how. His mom is from Northern Ohio and there isn't any worse prejudice in America that what the people of Northern Ohio feel for the people of Southern Ohio. She feels like West Virginia and Kentucky is some foreign land. She was really against the music of John Denver and any kind of American fetishization of rural country people. The Dick Van Dyke Show was the world she aspired to and was the world that she thought of as morally superior. She doesn't think that Country Roads are anything to celebrate, but City Streets are better.

She was extremely suspicious of that world because she was growing up in a world of post-Civil War Ohio. Her grandfather fought in the Civil War for the Union and there was still a pretty stark dividing line because Ohio was the one place in the country where the Union was only one state deep. How the hell did John ever see Hee Haw? If his mom had come into the room or had ever heard it from the kitchen, she would have yelled: "Turn off that Hillbilly music!" Maybe he snugg out to friends or maybe he watched it after he moved up to Alaska in the 1970s to live with his dad.

Ken watched a ton of Hee Haw because it plays really well with young boys because of the literally corny comedy and the winsome Southern beauties with their shirts tied under their chest and skimpy overalls. A lot of people are slipping on banana peals.

When John played the Grand Ole Opry, no, when The Long Winters played the Ryman Auditorium in Nashville there was a bronze statue of Minnie Pearl in the lobby. John stopped with her and said: "Why, Minnie Pearl!" The appeal for Ken was that it opened up this whole other world that had its own set of celebrities. Minnie Pearl is some kind of Country singer, there was Roy Clark and Buck Owens who was a genuine talent of Bakersfield Country that changed the face of music. Ken just thought of it as vaudevillian. It was the same reason Ken got into Wrestling: You had to figure out all these relationships between these celebrities. John had the exact same experience with that show.

John refers to the late 1970s / early 1980s rural revival of Trucker Culture (see Episode 120):

John's and Ken's dad's families being Southerners (OM171)

While John's mom has this Northernism, both John's dad's family and Ken's dad's families are from Kentucky. Ken fetishizes Southern food, which didn't make it all the way to John. John's dad was an ardent 1950s Liberal Democrat, but he was doing that in angry response to his mother and her family who were just as Southern as can be. After the migration of his family to the Northwest, John's dad really embraced unions and the organized labor principle of labor politics and there was no other air in the room when John was growing up and you couldn't have a different theory. Seattle is still not a great city for Southern food.

John's mom's coworkers misunderstanding All in the Family

John's mom was in computers at the time when All in the Family came on and a lot of her co-workers were the pressed white short-sleeve shirt and pocket protector types who put a man on the moon, but they weren't very progressive. She carpooled to work because that was the style of the time and the other three guys in her car pool would sit and recap the previous night's All in the Family episode, unaware that Archie Bunker was the cad. They admired him as he told off those hippies and those words you can't say, while she just sat with her head down. These were guys she worked with, these were her friends, but when they started talking about All in the Family she couldn't even venture the idea that Archie Bunker was a sarcastic character and you were not meant to see him as the hero of the show.

Those were computer-people, so "educated", but we see the same thing today that computer-people turn into Libertarians the second their stock-options are on the line and their Progressivism is a millimeter (39 thou) thick.

It could conceivably be easy to identify with Archie Bunker, but the spinoffs from that show were

and there is no window-character there. Maude is getting an abortion and George Jefferson is railing against the Honkies and the Crackers. He was a clownish figure, but there weren't any white heroes in that show.

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