A 1981 TV movie was supposed to revive The Beverly Hillbillies
Irene Ryan's absence was felt, explaining why the television movie was not a fan favorite.
Do you remember the Beverly Hillbillies movie? No, not the 1993 remake that attempted to portray a modern version of the 1960s classic. We're referring to the made-for-television movie that starred a few original cast members in 1981.
It's called The Return of the Beverly Hillbillies, but the original name was The Beverly Hillbillies: Solving The Energy Crisis. According to a 1981 United Press International article, the hour-and-forty-minute CBS movie aired in the winter. Buddy Ebsen and Donna Douglas reprised their roles, but Max Baer Jr., who became a producer, refused to "tarnish his public image" by playing Jethro again.
Irene Ryan, who played Granny, and Raymond Bailey, who played Mr. Drysdale, passed away before the TV movie came about, so they were not involved. To fill that gap, Paul Henning and other writers created a "fresh" plot to help revive the series for the movie.
The National Energy Commission assigned Jane Hathaway (Nancy Kulp) to find Jed, who left behind the luxurious Beverly Hills life to retire in Tennessee. According to the article in the newspaper, "she is accompanied by a hand-wringing government bureaucrat, Werner Klemperer, bent on solving the fuel shortage by learning the secret formula of Granny's powerful moonshine."
Yes, Granny's moonshine was the key to solving the fuel shortage. That's where Granny's maw (Imogene Coca) comes in, as she's the only person with the recipe. It was undoubtedly a different plot than Beverly Hillbillies fans were used to.
Many people didn't like the idea of revisiting a classic, but Buddy Ebsen felt that the new angle would work. "My vibes tell me that Thomas Wolfe may have been wrong when he said, 'You can't go home again,'" he told the United Press International in 1981. "There are new elements to this show and new characters that give it new life. This isn't just a revival."
It seems like Ebsen was trying to speak the "show" part into existence, as if the TV movie was a success, CBS would've made future long-form versions.
However, the ratings were not the best. Many fans believed the humor they once loved was gone, and it wasn't the same without Irene Ryan as Granny.