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Thursday, July 13, 2017

Book Review: The Hooterville Handbook by Stephen Cox

Classic television has received something of a Renaissance in recent years as a result of the launch of several “micro-networks” carrying reruns of old sitcoms. Now that TV Land and Nick-at-Nite have marched steadily into the 1990s, the older programs from the 1950s to the 1970s familiar to Baby Boomers and their kids who watched them on cable in the 1980s and 1990s have moved up the dial to new networks such as MeTV, Get TV, Decades, and Antenna TV. These channels are broadcast over the air, primarily on network affiliates secondary digital stations, but they are keeping alive old shows that are some of the classics of comedy.

This is a long way of getting to the point that the oldest shows are now so old that even the first generation of books celebrating them are now themselves classic. Consider, for example, the CBS sitcom Green Acres, which originally ran from 1965 to 1971 and has been in syndicated reruns ever since. In 1993, TV historian Stephen Cox wrote a book about the show called The Hooterville Handbook: A Viewer’s Guide to Green Acres, and that book, to date the only major work on Green Acres, is about to celebrate its 25th anniversary, making it a classic of its own!

Cox’s Hooterville Handbook came early in his oeuvre of studies of classic sitcoms. As such, it is a weaker entry in his series, lacking the polish and the depth of research of his other volumes, such as The Addams Chronicles, about ABC’s The Addams Family. The book has its charms, however, especially when it calls up nostalgic memories of a sitcom that most of us will have encountered on cable at least once.

In the book, Cox tells the story of Green Acres from its origins in the 1950s radio program Granby’s Green Acres to its redevelopment as a companion series for the hit sitcom Petticoat Junction to its demise in the so-called “rural purge” of 1971, when CBS, in an effort to appeal to wealthier and younger urban viewers, canceled all of it rural-themed programs at once, including Acres, Junction, The Beverly Hillbillies, and even Lassie.  Cox arranges his material in a roughly chronological order, but the chapters are mostly short and generally disconnected. There is little in terms of narrative, and the reader could pick up the book at any point without really needing to know what came before or after.

One of the weaknesses of the book is that Cox lacked sufficient material to fill up its scant 205 pages. Far too much of the book is taken up with potted biographies of the cast and summaries of episodes. This material was essential for readers in the pre-Internet era, but after 25 years, the descriptions of the cast’s houses, favorite foods, and then-current activities haven’t aged well, especially since the stars, with one exception, have all since died. As a result, modern readers will like to skim through almost half of the book. Cox wrote it for his present time (1993), and its present tense voice almost inevitably condemned the book to appear more dated that Green Acres ever will simply because he didn’t write the book with an eye to the future.

But beyond this, the chapters that focus on the production of the series, while the strongest in the book, lack some of the details that readers would have expected to learn about, especially from a book written at a time when the production crew were mostly still living. Many readers would have wanted to know more about the artistry behind the show. For example, most of the action in Green Acres takes place in and around the dilapidated farmhouse owned by Oliver and Lisa Douglas, the show’s protagonists. But only a single photo caption discusses the show’s set design, and there is only the briefest mention of the impressive cycloramas used to create the illusion of being outdoors on the show’s sound-stages. Similarly, an entire chapter is devoted to star Eva Gabor’s negligees, but Cox never tells us how the show’s costume designers settled on the very distinctive looks given to the show’s many colorful characters.

Overall, The Hooterville Handbook is a book likely to bring a smile to the face of a true Green Acres fan, but given Cox’s amazing access to the stars and the crew before many of them passed on, it is also a tremendous missed opportunity to go beneath the surface in much greater depth.



Disclosure: This book review was willingly provided by Eric Thomson. He is a freelance academic writer from https://cheapwritinghelp.com essay writing service with low prices.

4 comments:

  1. Thank you for the review. I remember Green Acres being on years ago. I would still watch reruns today if the we on.

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  2. I used to love these shows. All of them nice family friendly shows. I sure miss those times. Thank you so much for sharing this book

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  3. Back when Green Acres was on the air weekly, I thought it was the corniest show ever. But now, looking back (and comparing it to what's on TV now!), I realize what a gem it was. Gentker, more innocent times, for sure! (Yeah, I know that I sound corny now, OMG!)

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  4. i had never heard of this book or any show

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