Television’s “Rural Purge”: When CBS Cancelled Everything With a Tree In It

In the 1950s, there was a trend where it seemed like every sitcom on TV was centered in a rural setting. These rural-themed shows — including Green Acres and Hee Haw, became huge hits for audiences and have gone on to become some of the most classic TV shows of all times. So, why did the networks decide to cancel all of them? What became known as the “rural purge” started in the early 1970s, when ABC, NBC and CBS decided it was time for a major shift in programming. CBS executive Fred Silverman started the ball rolling by cancelling Gomer Pyle, U.S.M.C. Not long after, the ladies of The Shady Rest Hotel got the boot when Petticoat Junction was cancelled after seven seasons. At the time, the Clampetts of The Beverly Hillbillies were the most popular family on the network, but CBS didn’t care. They cancelled the beloved show after nine seasons. Some of the other affected shows included The Red Skelton Show, Bonanza, Gunsmoke, Hogan's Heroes, and The Andy Griffith Show. The one plus of the rural purge was that it did bring some incredible shows to the air, including The Brady Bunch, The Bob Newhart Show, All in the Family, The Jim Nabors Hour and M*A*S*H. Other new shows included Maude and The Jeffersons. Fortunately, some of the old rural favorites continued to run successfully in syndication, which was proof that the networks don't always know what audiences want to see. Due to popular demand, The Waltons brought back rural families to TV, which led to the popular Little House on the Prairie. The one lesson learned by the networks is that American audiences will always want to see a balance of rural and urban shows.