|By Robert Folsom, originally published in the October 2013 Socionomist|
[Ed: Major shifts in TV network programming reveal an influence more powerful than sociology can ever discern.
[In this article, writer Robert Folsom explains that a deeply negative social mood in 1970 prompted CBS to cancel all of its light-hearted, rural-themed shows and replace them with dark and controversial series. It was a programming revolution known as “The Rural Purge.”
[Here is an excerpt of Folsom’s October 2013 report.]
Out With the Old Positive
… The 1970-71 season saw CBS cancel “Green Acres,” “The Beverly Hillbillies,” “Mayberry R.F.D.,” “The Red Skelton Show,” “The Jim Nabors Hour,” “Hee-Haw,” “Family Affair,” “Hogan’s Heroes” and other folksy shows.
“It was the year CBS killed everything with a tree in it,” quipped the actor who played Mr. Haney on “Green Acres.”…
CBS promoted 33-year old Fred Silverman—“the first executive who grew up on television”—to head the network’s new programming effort. He faced a uniquely daunting task in replacing the canceled shows. It wasn’t that he had to come up with a great idea for one series. Rather, he had to develop an entire new prime-time line-up and make it provocatively different. No network had ever tried anything like it.
The Smothers Brothers: A Forerunner of the Rural Purge
Ironically, a few months before promoting Silverman, CBS had removed the Smothers Brothers Comedy show from the air—not as a result of poor ratings, but because Tom and Dick Smothers took television to risky places it had never been before. … they reveled in sketches and jokes about nearly every topic that could (and did) drive network censors crazy.
…after three seasons of epic internal battles over program content—and numerous public controversies over the Smothers’ acerbic political and social humor—CBS network executives terminated the Smothers Brothers’ contract in 1969. …
The Smothers’ show, which first aired on February 5, 1967, anticipated the Rural Purge of the 1970-1971 television season three years later.
The relationship becomes clear by examining the stock market pattern in those years (1966-1974), which traced out a bear-market pattern, reflecting increasingly negative social mood.
“The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour” debuted just four months after the low of wave A of the bear market (see Figure 1). The stock market tells us why the Smothers’ show was breaking ground that had been previously untouched on television. The “falling transition” in a young bear market includes negative mood creativity, rebelliousness and angry social concern.The show was canceled shortly after the return toward positive social mood at the peak of wave B. In 1969, wave C resumed the downtrend and carried into May 1970. In other words: Social mood in 1969-1970 turned palpably negative. The Rural Purge in television—a rejection of the safe and comfortable—began immediately after. …
In this four-page article, learn why CBS’s replacement shows such as “All in the Family,” “M*A*S*H” and “Sonny & Cher” became massive hits with viewers in the 1970s.
You’ll come away from this article with an understanding of the impetus behind major shifts in social trends and TV network programming.
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