9 iconic shows canceled due to the rural purge

These beloved shows couldn't escape the network ax after 1971.

Throughout the 1970–71 season, television was radically changing. New urban sitcoms like The Mary Tyler Moore Show and All in the Family debuted to strong ratings and critical fanfare. This spelled trouble for the aging rural and family-oriented shows that weren't as attractive to advertisers. 

It all came to a head in the spring of 1971 with the "rural purge." The networks, especially CBS, canceled dozens of shows in order to drastically change its primetime lineup. The likes of this shake-up haven't been seen since.

Actor Pat Buttram of Green Acres famously said of the change, "CBS canceled everything with a tree — including Lassie." While we can look back now and enjoy the classic sitcoms and Westerns, if you were a massive fan at the time, the rural purge was devastating.

Let's take a look at some of the victims. Do you wish any of these had more episodes?

1. Petticoat Junction (1970)

The cancelation of Petticoat Junction can be seen as the first casualty or an omen, depending on how you look at it. Despite improving ratings during the series' seventh and final season, CBS axed the rural sitcom and replaced it with The Mary Tyler Moore Show. The next year, dozens of other shows would meet the same fate.

2. Green Acres (1971)

The success of edgy, urban sitcoms like Mary Tyler Moore Show prompted CBS to massacre its primetime lineup in 1971. Despite winning its timeslot on Tuesday nights that year, Green Acres bought the farm after its sixth season. There was no series finale — instead, the last couple of episodes to air were backdoor pilots. 

Image: MGM Television

3. The Beverly Hillbillies (1971)

Perhaps this was the biggest casualty of the rural purge. At one point in time, The Beverly Hillbillies was a wildly successful sitcom. It was the top-rated show in the early 1960s, averaging an astounding 57 million viewers each week. But all of that didn't matter to CBS in 1971 when it canceled the sitcom after nine seasons. 

4. Mayberry R.F.D. (1971)

The rural purge even claimed the town of Mayberry. CBS canceled Mayberry R.F.D. after a brief run of three seasons. The sitcom was a direct continuation of The Andy Griffith Show,meaning audiences could no longer visit the fictional North Carolina hamlet after eleven years on primetime television. 

5. Lassie (1971)

You know it's bad when even Lassie isn't spared. After an incredible 17-season run, the show about the heroic dog was finally put to sleep (figuratively!) to make room for other programming. Even though the show didn't break the top 30 during the end of its run, it still had a loyal fan base. 

Image: 20th Century Fox

6. Hogan's Heroes (1971)

We know what you're thinking. Hogan's Heroes took place in 1940s Germany, why is it lumped together with The Beverly Hillbillies and Petticoat Junction? The answer is simple. CBS didn't find its brand of humor in line with hip urban sitcoms, so the series was unceremoniously canceled after six seasons. 

7. Hee Haw (1971)

You know that if shows like Hogan's Heroes were getting canceled, then Hee Haw was on the top of the kill list. The unapologetically rural-themed variety show only ran for two seasons on CBS before it entered syndication for twenty years. Not bad for a victim of the rural purge. 

Image: CBS

8. Bonanza (1973)

It took a couple years after the initial purge, but soon enough the country's most iconic Westerns were fair game for the networks to cancel. NBC did away with Bonanza in 1973, 14 years after it first debuted on primetime television. 

9. Gunsmoke (1975)

The rural purge came to an end five years after it started when Gunsmoke fired its last shot 1975. The Western series lasted an incredible 20 seasons, meaning a whole generation of Americans had never been able to remember a time when the series wasn't on primetime television. 

Image: Everett Collection

Are you sure you want to delete this comment?


HerbF 36 months ago
"Hogan's Heroes" knew it wasn't going to last much longer - there's direct reference to an event in March of 1945 - 6 weeks before the Surrender - in the final episode.
RedSamRackham 45 months ago
The shows had good ratings but poor demographics. Beverly Hillbillies jumped the shark with those week after week Shorty Kellums episodes. Lassie jumped the shark when the farm family was replaced with Corey the forest ranger. Bonanza jumped the shark when Little Joe's pregnant wife was killed, 1 dead Cartwright bride too many.
HerbF 45 months ago
To be in all fairness, "Petticoat Junction" was canceled for Ratings, even though it had stabilized the previous season after Bea's death and June Lockhart joining the cast they did drop in the final season, and CBS filled the time slot with "Mary Tyler Moore". It was not really part of the Rural Purge. It just had the distinction of being the first Paul Henning show to be canceled. Truth is overall, except for Mayberry RFD (Still in the top 20) most of the shows canceled in the "purge" in 1971 by CBS had dropped in the ratings as well. in fact, Mayberry RFD was the highest rated show that was dropped.

Neither "Bonanza" nor "Gunsmoke" should be included in the rural purge as they were both after it had technically ended. The Death of Dan Blocker and the move to mid-week is what hurt "Bonanza" in it's final half-season, not the rural purge.

As for "Gunsmoke", it was doing ok, but started to show it's age. If anything, it was just part of a cleaning house of older shows, which also affected "Here's Lucy" in 1974 (Although Lucy did several comedy anthology special over the next couple of season on CBS), "Mannix" also ended in 1975 after a successful 8 season run.

3 Shows clearly also affected by the "rural purge" and older viewers were "The Jackie Gleason Show" (although CBS wanted Jackie to go all "Honeymooners" all the time in an effort to keep the show -he said no.), "The Jim Nabors Hour" and "The Ed Sullivan Show". These deserve mentioning.
x60hz11 HerbF 36 months ago
According to Jackie, his asking for a raise during this time didn't help his show's chances.
Dario HerbF 36 months ago
Petticoat Junction was canceled in 1970, a full year before the "Rural Purge" of 1971.
Are you sure you want to delete this comment?