The Beverly Hillbillies' smash success completely confused critics

Early reviews struggled to find "deep significance" in the Clampetts’ universal appeal.

When Jed Clampett first struck oil in The Beverly Hillbillies premiere, everyone working on the show was sure that audiences would recognize the show was comedy gold.

In 1962, Irene Ryan, who played Granny, told the Los Angeles Evening Citizen News that this part was the grandmother role she’d been waiting her whole career for.

"From the first moment I heard of The Beverly Hillbillies, I just drooled for the part of Granny," Ryan said. "Now, I feel that Irene Ryan at heart is Granny."

Reading over The Beverly Hillbillies creator Paul Henning’s first script for the pilot, Ryan instinctively felt it was funnier than other TV comedies.

However, it wasn’t until filming started and she heard the reactions from the crew that she knew the show was destined to be a huge success.

"We fall apart laughing on the set," Ryan told the St. Louis Globe Democrat in 1962. "We hope that is a good sign. The technicians who work on these film things in Hollywood are a super critical lot. When they bust up laughing, we think the home audience will do the same."

Buddy Ebsen, who played Jed Clampett, was so confident in his new show, he invited a TV critic from the Salt Lake Tribune to watch them shoot the pilot.

The critic reported that he watched enthralled, as he saw Buddy “going through a long and difficult take.”

This lucky bystander became one of the few critics to accurately predict what otherwise to many critics felt like The Beverly Hillbillies’ "unlikely" success.

That critic wrote before the show premiered: "I believe I can predict that Jed Clampett and the other Beverly Hillbillies will find an enthusiastic and responsive audience."

And right away, following the premiere, that critic was proven right, as The Beverly Hillbillies shot to the top of the Nielsen ratings and stayed there.

The ensemble cast’s popularity surpassed major TV stars like Andy Griffith, Dick Van Dyke and Lucille Ball to take the top position, becoming by far the most popular TV show on air.

Before The Beverly Hillbillies shook up TV ratings, critics had predicted that 1962 would be the year of a new TV trend where audiences craved hit dramas focused on World War II.

They were shocked to see more people interested in the Clampetts than shows like Combat!

Hollywood critic Cynthia Lowry insisted there had to be "deep significance" in viewers’ rampant interest in The Beverly Hillbillies.

Noting that the sitcom was "unblushingly loaded with corny humor and preposterous situations," Lowry proceeded to guffaw that this could be the very formula that helped The Beverly Hillbillies become "the most popular television program in the nation."

Noting that seven of the top 11 shows were comedies, she wrote in sincere shock that "there is a sharp indication" that "the television public turns on its set primarily in hope of being amused and lightly entertained."

Imagine that!?

And for the record, when those viewers back in 1962 did want drama, it wasn’t WWII stories they sought, Lowry said, but Westerns.

In her column, Lowry failed in her mission to find that "deep significance," proclaiming the Clampetts’ success an anomaly:

"Students of television will find it hard to explain the quick, dramatic success of The Beverly Hillbillies, which received an unmerciful drubbing in the hands of critics earlier in the season," Lowry said.

Perhaps the most extreme "drubbing" came from United Press International’s Hollywood critic Rick Du Brow, who watched the early episodes and declared that The Beverly Hillbillies only became a hit because it appealed to the most basic viewer.

He went on a rather dramatic rant, inferring that The Beverly Hillbillies stole the top place in the ratings:

"The most impressive thing about the show is not its quality, but the almost awesome, premeditated commercialism that put it across," Du Brow wrote. "It is not the sort of accomplishment that makes the cockles of one’s heart glow with admiration. This might be a good day to remember that the best man does not always win and that crime, unfortunately, often pays."

But The Beverly Hillbillies proved that even the loudest and whiniest critics only have power to push ratings when audiences don’t know what they like.

Within its first week, one critic wrote that the sitcom had become a “sleeper” hit precisely because the fans who tuned in were the "we-never-miss-it" type of fan.

These massive audiences didn’t need to be told to watch The Beverly Hillbillies.

Irene Ryan thought that viewers liked the show so much because it was like watching a "live comic strip." Her costar Buddy Ebsen agreed that the characters were fully formed and dependable for a laugh.

"The foundation for the series is the complete and sharp contrast of the Clampetts with the people surrounding them," Ebsen told The Salt Lake Tribune in 1962.

Much like Ryan saw a wholly unique character in Granny, Ebsen saw the same potential in creating the Jed Clampett character.

Though the critics were befuddled by the show’s success, according to the stars, these characters made watching Henning’s hilarious scenarios play out worth tuning in for.

"Jed Clampett is a completely new character," Ebsen said. "I’ve played men in his age group before, and I’ve played country people. But I try to cut each character out of the whole cloth and not piece him together with old tricks. The thinking is what makes a character different, and Jed thinks differently."

"I knew from the day I read the script that it was going to be a smash," Ryan said. "Not only was that first script by Paul Henning funny, but every one of his scripts since then have been just as funny."

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bagandwallyfan52 25 months ago
Whatever Happened To the character Seven on Married With Children??
Seven relocated to THE SITCOM ZONE where TV Characters go when they
DISAPEAR from their TV shows
With No Explanation.
Angela Brown (My Favorite Martian) Chris Carmichael (The
Lucy Show) Moose (Happy Days) Eugene Belvin (Happy Days) Bag Zombroski (Happy Days) Cpl Boyle and Cpl Nick Cuccinelli (Gomer Pyle USMC)
And Chuck Cunningham (Happy
Days ) and Spike (Happy Days)
Welcomed to the land of the lost which is called THE SITCOM ZONE.
Eugene Barkley of The Big Valley and Melvin Belvin and
Sticks Downey Jr both on
Happy Days also greeted
Seven of Married With Children
Located between THE TWILIGHT ZONE and THE
The Phantom Zone was in
DC Comics and host Rod SERLING lives in The Twilight Zone which is also located
Near The Night Gallery and
The Outer Limits and One
Step Beyond.
bagandwallyfan52 25 months ago
I found out today why the character
Warren Ferguson played by Jack
Burns Disappeared from The Andy Griffith Show With No Explanation.
I read on the internet that Jack
Burns (Warren on The Andy Griffith Show )was fired from
TAGS because the character of
Warren wasn't working out.
Anyway it's hard to replace
Barney Fife (Don Knotts) as a
New Deputy.
Mukusthebadd1 25 months ago
They were dorks, being dorks.
Doing dorky things.
That's why.
The Real McCoys and the Beverly Hillbillies were cool .
sputnik_57 25 months ago
BH was criticized as being a stereotype of southern, country folks but everyone on the show was a "stereotype" or caricature! The Hillbillies were the ones with the real values...and those values were about concern for neighbors, family, and the people they met. It was not about greed, money, snobbery and materialism. We need more "Hillbilly" type values in this world today!
Jed Granny Jethro and Elly would have loved to live in
Wufferduck sputnik_57 25 months ago
Sadly that’s not going to happen. People in America have lost their sense of humor. Any joke is followed by a lawsuit.
Moverfan bagandwallyfan52 25 months ago
They came from a place near Hooterville, I think. A little place called Bug Tussle...or maybe that's where Granny was from... (I was either an infant or a preschooler during most of the show's run.)
vinman63 25 months ago
Seeing Irene Ryan in the 60’s appearing on Game Shows and noticing how much she look like Granny.
Moverfan vinman63 25 months ago
I was watching Buzzr one day last summer and Password came on. They show this very nice lady dressed rather stylishly with her hair done in sort of a flip--looked like any high society matron you'd see at a high-end charity event, lovely lady. Didn't know it was Irene Ryan until she opened her mouth and introduced herself and her partner--I had never seen her dressed in anything other than Granny's long skirts until then!
vinman63 Moverfan 25 months ago
She was such a lovely lady to think that in doing a 180 she became such a comedian as Granny and be so loveable.
bagandwallyfan52 Moverfan 25 months ago
Does anyone know who played
Happy Days?
I wondered why Spike (Danny
Butch) Bag Zombroski (Neil J Schwartz) Moose(Barry Greenberg) Eugene Belvin (Denis Mandel) and Melvin Belvin (Scott Bernstein) ALL
Disappeared from Happy Days
And why Randolph Roberts
Played Chuck Cunningham for
Two Episodes ONLY on season
2 of Happy Days.
I also wondered why Newt Kiley (Kay Kuter) Green Acres
Cpl Boyle (Roy Stuart) GOMER Pyle USMC and Chester Anderson (Buddy Hart) and
Tiger Fafara (Tooey Brown)
Leave It To Beaver Ann Marshall(Angela Brown) My
Favorite Martian and Tommy
Leonetti (Cpl Nick Cuccinelli)
Ger Pyle USMC) ALL Vanished
From their TV Shows With No Explanation.
bagandwallyfan52 25 months ago
Green Acres and Petticoat Junction : HOOTERVILLE
Green Acres IS the FUNNIEST
Henderson bagandwallyfan52 25 months ago
idk, Beverly Hillbillies and Green acres were great, but I thought Gilligan's Island was funnier.
bagandwallyfan52 25 months ago
Where is Meredith MacRae (Billie Jo Bradley)?
Gunilla Hutton and Meredith MacRae and Jeannine Riley were all fantastic playing
Billie Jo Bradley and Pat
Woodall and Lori Saunders were both great as Bobbie Jo Bradley on Petticoat Junction.
What is the name of the man who sings The Petticoat Junction Theme Song?
Jon bagandwallyfan52 25 months ago
Meredith MacRae wasn't on the show until after Gunilla Hutton left it a season later. This opening is from Season 3, when Gunilla Hutton played Billie Jo.
Dr_Zachary_Smith 25 months ago
I hope they show the episode where Jethro becomes the movie star "Beef Jerkey". Very funny and the great line where the girl leaves him saying "You'll always be Jerkey to me!"
FrankCollins 25 months ago
I read that the Beverly Hillbillies show holds the all time record for highest rating share over the course of a season, around 31%. This record happened when there were only 3 major national networks to choose from, along with local programming. It is likely that it will never be broken, given the myriad of choices that viewers have now. The appeal of the show that you did not mention, was that it is the dream of every poor and middle class person to get rich quick and live like a millionaire. The theme song was played by the genius bluegrass duo of Lester Flatt and Earl Scruggs.
It also shows what "elites" have always thought of we "unwashed masses". The show was always funny and never mean spirited.
You mean "what 'elites' have always thought of US "unwashed masses."

You're even MORE unwashed than you thought.

And stop misusuing the word 'elite." You know who the REAL elites are? The billionaires who pay millionaire pundits to indoctrinate you on so-called "news" channels purely for the purpose of advancing their own political and economic interests (i.e. to facilitate the flow of money from the pockets of those who have less, like you and me, into the pockets of those who already have more than they can ever spend -- them) at YOUR expense.
METVisbestTV 25 months ago
Could you by chance bring the western series "Death Valley Days" to METV ?
Alot of the stars from that era appear on the show . And in each episode there
is something to learn as each episode is based on true historical events. Thanks!
Does anyone remember a TV
Show called Trails West with
Ray Milland ??
Moverfan bagandwallyfan52 25 months ago
No, but I remember Ray Milland, if that helps. Now I have to download IMDb and look this up...
METVisbestTV 25 months ago
Loved Beverly Hillbillies ! Loved the article and interviews ! Also love comments below ! Love METV !
bagandwallyfan52 25 months ago
Did anyone see the episode of the Sitcom Day By Day where Ross
Harper dreams that he is Chuck
Brady the Lost Member of The Brady Bunch?Since Chuck Cunningham on Happy Days was the Lost Member
Of the Cunningham Family I wonder
If the writers of Day By Day got
The idea for the Chuck Brady character from Happy Days Chuck
Cunningham. Robert Reed Florence
Henderson Maureen McCormick
And other cast members of the
Brady Bunch were in the Dream
Of Ross Harper
bagandwallyfan52 25 months ago
Love MeTv 22
Do you know the address of the
bagandwallyfan52 25 months ago
Back in the 1960s I wish there had
Been TV Movies called The Real McCoys Meet The Beverly Hillbillies
And The Munsters Meet The Addams Family.I enjoyed the cartoon movie
when the Flintstones met the Jetsons .I wonder if I'm the only
Viewer of The Andy Griffith Show
Who actually liked the character of
Warren Ferguson(Jack Burns).
JamesB 25 months ago
The timing for "The Beverly Hillbillies" was right. The top 30 TV shows of the prior 1961-62 season included ten sitcoms, six westerns, five dramas, five variety/music, three family (including Disney) and one reality (Candid Camera), so the Clampetts combined the top two formats while mocking the upper class society of the 1950s with top quality production. The show also managed to ride the wave of breezy beach-themed comedy films of the era. Writing in the family ties to English nobility was a comedic gold mine, too!
JHP 25 months ago
very well written ultra funny show - all the character blended nicely - granny and Jethro were the funniest - one ep comes to mind - granny and the kangaroo:)
BrittReid JHP 25 months ago
and Ellie-May wasn't too hard to take either no matter what she was up to.
JHP BrittReid 25 months ago
you bet; thats for sure - great show :)
bagandwallyfan52 BrittReid 25 months ago
Donna Douglas was the Perfect
Choice to play Ellie May
CANARYMETV666 25 months ago
I love the Sunday Block Party can’t wait
WallyTV 25 months ago
Could you please make a Granny Face shirt? That would be so awesome to have!
bagandwallyfan52 WallyTV 25 months ago
Wally Cleaver Tony Dow) and
Wally Plumstead (Skip Young)
Were great TV Characters on
Leave It To Beaver and The
Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet.
Tony Dow also had the added advantage of being a smokin' hot teenager.
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