1 9 6 5 – 1 9 7 1 (USA)
170 x 30 minute episodes
“Darlink I love you, but give me Park Avenue . . . “
TV producer Paul Henning had already struck gold with his rural sitcoms The Beverly Hillbillies and Petticoat Junction when he was approached by writer Jay Sommers, suggesting Henning make a TV version of his 13-episode 1950 CBS radio series Granby’s Green Acres (itself based on S J Perelman’s 1942 book Acres And Pains).
Henning saw the potential in the idea, a mirror-image format to The Beverly Hillbillies, with powerful New York City lawyer Oliver Douglas (Eddie Albert) and his socialite wife Lisa (Eva Gabor, sister of Zsa Zsa) leaving Manhattan for the countryside and having to come to terms with the rather primitive conditions of their new rural home just outside Hooterville, Illinois – the fictional home of Petticoat Junction.
Lisa feared she’d be a fish-out-of-water in the country, missing her beloved Park Avenue shops, but hubby Oliver was hell-bent on enjoying the rural pleasures that Hooterville offered and persuaded his wife to move away from her beloved New York.
The twist was that when they arrived in their new home it was Lisa who quickly adapted to the backwater, easily making friends and solving country problems with her big-city solutions.
Seriously scatty, it was almost as if she was oblivious to her surroundings and continued to live exactly as she had in Manhattan.
Lawyer Oliver, on the other hand, despite his willingness to live as a son of the soil, never quite pulled it off, failing to master the country dwellers’ insane logic, although Lisa grasped it easily.
Oliver was destined to become the ultimate straight man in a hick town whose bizarre residents pushed rural behaviour to surreal limits.
Although Green Acres made occasional references to The Beverly Hillbillies and shared a general store with Petticoat Junction, this series was in a class by itself and easily surpassed the other two comedies.
While the lead characters were capable enough it was the fantastic collection of finely cast minor characters that gave Green Acres most of its appeal – folks such as the quirkily-voiced hornswaggling conman Mr Haney (Pat Buttram); county agent Hank Kimball (Alvy Moore); gormless handyman Eb (Tom Lester); bumbling house builders Alf Monroe (Sid Melton) and his sister Ralph (Mary Grace Canfield); pig farmer Fred Ziffel (Hank Patterson) and his wife, Doris (Barbara Pepper) who treated their 250-pound pet pig Arnold as if he was their son, and many others.
But there was also much playfulness involving the TV medium itself. For example, screen credits occasionally appeared on unusual props (like the local newspaper), and characters regularly made references to other TV shows.
All in all, Green Acres was closer to Twin Peaks and Northern Exposure than to traditional sitcoms, although it sported a high groan factor of terrible puns and malapropisms usually delivered by Lisa in her thick Hungarian accent.
There was also a generous quota of in-jokes and running gags: Lisa’s hotcakes; Oliver’s speeches; the oddball electricity system; the building of the bedroom wall that was never finished, and plenty more.
Green Acres was cancelled in 1971 when CBS consciously targeted a younger demographic audience and purged its so-called “rural comedies.”
On 18 May 1990, CBS aired a two-hour TV movie, Return To Green Acres, with Eddie Albert, Eva Gabor and many of the remaining original cast re-creating their earlier roles.
In this, Oliver and Lisa prevented a ruthless real-estate tycoon from razing Hooterville in order to build a city of mini-malls, homes, parking lots and fast-food restaurants.
A Green Acres movie for the big screen was also planned in the late 1990s, with Bette Midler allegedly cast in the Eva Gabor role. It failed to materialise.
Oliver Wendell Douglas
Barbara Pepper (1)
Fran Ryan (2)
Mary Grace Canfield
Arnold the Pig