HybridizerJohn Aylesworth

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A Canadian, Aylesworth came to fame in 1953 as a writer and performer on the Canuck comedy show After Hours. He moved to the U.S. in 1958 to write for the musical show Your Hit Parade. He teamed up with his former partner Frank Peppiatt to write for other shows, including Perry Como’s Kraft Music Hall, The Judy Garland Show, The ABC Comedy Hour, and shared Emmy nominations for work on the Julie Andrews Hour and The Sonny and Cher Show. But he is best known for what he did with Peppiatt in 1969: they looked at the TV ratings and noticed “‘Laugh-In’ was the leader followed by ‘The Beverly Hillbillies’,” Peppiatt said years later. “We wondered what kind of show would combine both elements.” They created it: their show Hee Haw brought country music (and cornball humor) to the American public, and in its first season tied with Laugh-In at the top of the ratings. That’s right: two Canadians created Hee Haw.

“It would be hard to find two more urbane and cosmopolitan cats,” the Los Angeles Times’ TV critic wrote when the show debuted. “Frankly,” Aylesworth admitted, “we couldn’t write one of those cornfield jokes. We wouldn’t know how.” And neither had even visited the South of the U.S. Still, the Country Music Association named them “Men of the Year” for the show. CBS canceled it in 1971 as part of its “rural-show purge,” when it also axed the likes of The Beverly Hillbillies, Green Acres, and Mayberry RFD, but Hee Haw remained on the air in first-run syndication until 1992. Aylesworth died in California on July 28 from pneumonia. He was 81.

From This is True for 1 August 2010