The CBS ''rural purge'' of 1971

"It was the year CBS killed everything with a tree in it."

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Throughout the 1960s, one network reigned supreme. Sure, NBC had Bonanza, which was the number-one show three years in a row. Bewitched came close for ABC. But, all in all, the most consistently dominant network was CBS. In fact, during the 1963-64 television series era, CBS boasted 14 of the 15 top-rated shows on television. 

While those ratings made CBS the network to envy, the company's executives weren't comfortable resting on their laurels. In fact, in 1971, CBS revolutionized its programming schedule, sacrificing hits in order to make room for the new and the innovative. According to Tulsa World, Robert D. Wood, president of CBS, said the network was committed to a "new look." While the forward-thinking strategy would pave the way for a new decade of television, some fan favorites got left behind in the dust.

When the new CBS prime time schedule was announced on March 16, 1971, there were some notable absences from its lineup. Gone were programs like Green Acres, The Beverly Hillbillies, Mayberry R.F.D., and even Lassie

"It was the year CBS killed everything with a tree in it," said Pat Buttram, who played Mr. Haney on Green Acres.

Although March of '71 was ground zero for the "purge," a bold move away from rural programming began prior and continued afterward. CBS had already canceled Petticoat Junction and The Red Skelton Show in 1970. They'd nearly axed Gunsmoke in 1967 before finally dropping it in '73. 

Following the fresh slate of CBS programming, Andy Griffith gave his thoughts in a talk show interview regarding the canceled programs. 

"They believe that small-town USA is dying and disappearing from our country," said Griffith. "And they believe that television audiences are too sophisticated, for the fact that they have watched television for a long time, to be able to buy or even enjoy entertainment such as Petticoat Junction or Beverly Hillbillies or our show."

While the rural purge spelled the end for some of the most iconic shows of all time, it also cleared room for shows like M*A*S*H, All in the Family, Maude, and Good Times. These new shows all had one thing in common: They fearlessly dealt with topical material, never shying away from controversial subjects. By contrast, shows like Gomer Pyle U.S.M.C. were intentionally naive, as that show in particular never even mentioned the War in Vietnam. 

Luckily for fans worldwide, the simpler shows of the sixties live side-by-side with their '70s siblings today in reruns. 

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18 Comments

BrittReid 6 months ago
The largest hit for me was the end of Hogan's Heroes.
BrianThetubewatcher 6 months ago
I’ve never accepted that there was a rural purge. Most of those shows were dropped because the age demographics of TV viewership were changing. Once viewers reach certain age metrics, their purchasing habits overall change. The children of the ‘50s were now in their twenties and buying much more. The prime fan base of rural shows and Westerns were moving beyond the mass consumer age groups. CBS still gave us The Waltons, Mayberry RFD, and The New Andy Griffith Show. The network did not abandon the older style shows. They were less emphasized because of the demographics governing the business.
They also thought urban, younger, hipper, viewers
were more coveted by the ad agencies.
Zip 6 months ago
With the success of shows like The Waltons(which ironically aired on CBS) and LIttle House on the Prairie, I wonder if CBS realized that rural shows weren't so "obsolete" after all.
Cougar90 6 months ago
How could they cancel Gunsmoke? It was then CBS began losing it's audience.
Cougar90 6 months ago
For five years before then, it was the westerns that had become fewer and fewer as the years went on.
Runeshaper 6 months ago
That's a lot of GREAT shows to let go in one year...
cperrynaples 6 months ago
First of all, it's Mr. Haney, NOT Hane! He wasn't an underwear heir...LOL! But here's the real reason why everything was canceled: The PrIme Time Access rule forced every network to go from 25 hours a week to 21, meaning that everyone had to drop 4 hours BEFORE making room for new shows! CBS saw the success of All In The Family as an excuse to drop those shows! Ironically, CBS' next big hit was The Waltons, a show that had rural written all over it! One more mistake: Gunsmoke ended in 1975 NOT 1973! BTW, Gomer Pyle was already gone in 1971, but Jim Nabors lost his variety show even though it was top 30!
cperrynaples cperrynaples 6 months ago
They fixed Mr. Haney, but not Gunsmoke, which I think they confused with Bonanza!
justjeff cperrynaples 6 months ago
What about "They fearlessly health with topical material". I guess they meant 'dealt',,,but they did a very unhealthy job of proofreading...
cperrynaples justjeff 6 months ago
They corrected that mistake, but they STILL say Gunsmoke ended in 1973, when we KNOW it ended in 1975!
justjeff cperrynaples 6 months ago
As far as I'm concerned, it ended when it migrated from radio to TV. Long live the radio version with William Conrad!
DocForbin cperrynaples 6 months ago
One thing that isn't in dispute is that at the time Gunsmoke did end it was the longest-running live-action scripted series in American Prime Time television history (a mark now held by Law & Order: Special Victims Unit).
cperrynaples DocForbin 6 months ago
It's 5 days now, and still MeTV refuses to admit that Gunsmoke ended in 1975, not 1973! Go look on Wikipedia or IMDB! I can even give you the final network date: September 1st, 1975! Yes, it was a rerun but there were new episodes that season!
cperrynaples DocForbin 6 months ago
PS so let me get it straight MeTV, Gunsmoke was "dropped in 1973" but still kept producing episodes for 2 more years? Do you realize how stupid that sounds..LOL!
FrankensteinLover 6 months ago
Sad to see all those Great Shows ripped from TV and their Jobs, but most are still relevant Today as im forever living off Reruns.
KawiVulc 6 months ago
Andy should see it now... 50 some years later they're well aware of small town USA... it's just that they despise it and wish with all they've got that it would just go away.
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