“Green Acres is the place to be; farm living is the life for me.” FarmWorld editor David Blower informed me that September 15, 51 years ago the television sitcom Green Acres hit the air waves on CBS. That show did more to distort the public’s view of farming and rural American than any other. But it was a hit with city folks and had solid ratings until 1971 when it and several other rural related shows, like Petticoat Junction, were canceled by CBS in a move to remove all rural-related programs from their line-up. It was the 70s after all, and the network needed to be hip. Since then, television shows about farm and rural life have seldom returned to prime time network lineups.
For those of you not familiar, the premise of the program was a millionaire lawyer from New York City, Oliver Wendell Douglas (played by Eddie Albert), and his socialite wife, Lisa (played by Eva Gabor), move to the country and take over a farm. He knows nothing about farming, and she only want to move back to New York. The clash of city and rural culture provides much of the humor. There are also plenty of odd characters such as Mr. Haney, the oily, dishonest salesman who originally sold Oliver the Green Acres farm; Fred and Doris Ziffel, childless elderly neighbors who have a pig named Arnold, whom they treat as their “son;” Hank Kimball, the county extension agent who draws folks into inane conversations, loses his train of thought, then exits the scene. These, along with several others and a host of town folk, provide great sitcom humor, but present a less than inspiring image of farm folks and rural life.
Several years ago Eddie Albert spoke to a convention of farm broadcasters and apologized for his misrepresentation of farmers. This show lives on today, still aired on fringe channels that specialize in old programs. The program had one of the cutest and catchiest theme songs ever created for a television program, with words that many us still know by heart 50 years later. In this era of remakes, however, what would a “Green Acres 2016” look like?
In our updated version, Mr. Douglas would be a billionaire who made it big in the software business. He will have gotten hooked on farming by playing farm-oriented games on social media. His significant other would be a liberal feminist who plays the stock market on-line. She would want to return to the city because the rural broadband is too slow. She would also get frustrated when her program on the history of feminism was not well received at the extension homemakers club meeting. He would see a software solution to all farm-related tasks and would try to automate everything. He would be flummoxed, however, when visiting the county FSA office to learn they were still using 30 year old computers. The famous Green Acres theme song would be updated in our new series and would have a hip hop beat.
While rural and city life are a lot closer together than they used to be, there are still customs, traditions, and values that would make for plenty of humorous situations. There could also be some good humor made as the main characters, thinking their new neighbors are bumpkins, find out they are actually more sophisticated and proficient on technical issues than the city folks. And, perhaps some of the values of honesty, hard work, and community that are common in rural areas might be a bit disconcerting to the newcomers.
Such a series could shed light on some of the real challenges facing rural America and provide a much-needed update of the image of the American farmer. It could also stress some of the things rural and city families have in common and what benefits each has to offer to the other. Sadly, in today’s reality TV genre, it is our differences that get highlighted and ridiculed. Perhaps that is one reason our current political rhetoric is so caustic and polarized.
Such a remake of Green Acres is unlikely until we find a way to make agriculture cool to those not involved in it — a very tall order. Perhaps if we turned our farmer into an aspiring chef and pitched the program to the Food Network? HHHMMMMMM, that might work!
By Gary Truitt