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Uprooting 'Green Acres'

October 18, 1992|STEPHEN COX | Stephen Cox is the author of the forthcoming book "The Hooterville Handbook: A Viewer's Guide to Green Acres" (St. Martin's Press)

About 20 years ago CBS made way for "The Mary Tyler Moore Show" and other sophisticated comedies, canceling the highly rated but rural likes of "Green Acres" and "The Beverly Hillbillies."

At the end of this month, Nickelodeon removes "Green Acres" from its schedule, again "making way for the 'Mary Tyler Moore' library," according to a Nick at Nite spokesman, who added, " 'Green Acres' did very well for us while it was on."

For fans to get that last taste of corn, a "Farewell to Green Acres Marathon" will sub for Nick's regular Sunday schedule.

Is there no justice in TV Land? "Fernwood 2 Night" stays on the air, but "Green Acres" gets plowed? It reeks of the twisted logic of Hooterville.

Nothing was logical on "Green Acres," the story of Oliver Wendell Douglas, a Harvard-educated lawyer who plucked his wife from their Manhattan penthouse existence and relocated to a dilapidated farmhouse. ("Goodbye, city life!")

"Green Acres" came from the man who gave us Jed Clampett and "Petticoat Junction" by way of an unheard-of offer from CBS.

Then-network president James Aubrey--often called "the smiling cobra" for his cunning ways--handed producer-writer Paul Henning and Filmways Television an open time slot to air anything, as long as Henning was involved. Henning was frantic, writing and producing two hit shows that were already airing. Aubrey's solution: No pilot necessary. Just do it. Henning got up from his seat, kissed Aubrey on the forehead and left the office.

Comedy writer Jay Sommers actually created the series, refashioning his old radio show, "Granby's Green Acres." As executive producer, Henning guided Sommers and together they planted TV's "Green Acres" in a fertile time slot between "The Beverly Hillbillies" and "The Dick Van Dyke Show." It was the first time several programs were "cross-pollinated," as Henning calls it. The casts of the three Henning hits appeared on each other's shows, integrating into each others lives.

Henning insisted on casting elite Hungarian Eva Gabor, although the network brass argued: "No one will understand her." Gabor played Lisa Douglas like a parody of an idiot savant, floating around the farmhouse in feather-boa negligees and diamonds.

Eddie Albert was the prig Oliver Douglas, who was continually tortured by the incompetence and bizarre personalities that surrounded him, yet he steadfastly vowed to remain and become a farmer.

The show ran five seasons, with endless years of popular syndication.

The show was playful and irreverent, poking fun at itself long before "Moonlighting." Any episode could have featured the producer's credits etched on burnt toast or the director's name stenciled on one of Lisa's indigestible "hotscakes."

Other elements in the show just seemed to click. "The supporting cast were jewels," says Albert, who agrees the show would have been lacking without the contributions of Alvy Moore (Hank Kimball), Tom Lester (Eb), Frank Cady (Sam Drucker), Sid Melton and Mary Grace Canfield (Alf and Ralph Monroe) and the rest. The theme song and music were the inventive product of Vic Mizzy, master of bouncy-but-weird themes such as the snappy "Addams Family" opening.

No discussion of the show is complete without mentioning show business's most famous porcine, Arnold the Pig. The answers to the most common questions about the endearing porker are: 1. There were many pigs used on the show because they outgrew their cuteness; 2. Yes, many of the Arnolds were female; 3. They died natural deaths on a farm.

Albert and Gabor are surprised the show remains such a favorite. Matt Groening, creator of "The Simpsons," isn't. Groening credits "Green Acres" with influencing his upbringing. He laughed out loud watching the show as a kid while his parents cringed. Later, as a student at USC, he attended a tribute to the show honoring members of the cast. "I remember just really wanting to meet the guy who plays Eb," Groening says. "I was having the time of my life."

"The Green Acres Farewell Marathon" airs Sunday, 8 p.m.-5:30 a.m, on Nickelodeon. "Green Acres" airs weekdays at 11:30 p.m. and Saturday at 10:30 p.m. through Oct. 31 on Nickelodeon.

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