Corner Gas Self-Linking, and Rural Comedy

Today is Corner Gas finale day, and here’s my piece for the print edition on the success of the series.

There wasn’t room in the piece for this quote from Brent Butt, which I think does a service in reminding me of why I shouldn’t try too hard to find one single explanation for the success of a show:

Trying to say that the planets aligned for one reason, or there was a cultural shift in that area… Nobody wants to say that it was a funny show that was well done. They need some other angle.

Of course, everybody still has their own explanations of why Corner Gas was a hit (it’s not necessarily enough for a show to be funny and well done, though those are necessary ingredients). The explanation I’ve used many times in the past, and touch on in the article, is that CG was a type of show that is very popular but was no longer being produced by U.S. television, the rural comedy where viewers can laugh at small-town people while simultaneously envying their closeness and sense of community. (It’s true that CG was not huge in the big cities, but even outside of big cities, you can go a long time without meeting most of the people in your neighbourhood. The CG world, where everybody knows everybody’s business, seems like an ancient bygone world.) It wouldn’t have worked out if Butt had been cynically trying to fill a gap, and it doesn’t mean that Canadian networks can automatically succeed just by doing whatever the U.S. networks aren’t doing — but the way it worked out, it made the whole “Canadian Content” issue irrelevant: it was a crowd-pleasing show with literally no competition from any U.S.-produced show.

But, again, that’s a very reductive explanation, particularly since — as Butt points out — most of the jokes and storylines on this show were not specifically about rural life. It was not a wallow in nostalgia for old-fashioned life, like Petticoat Junction, and it didn’t portray small-town life as hell on earth, like Green Acres; it just picked the setting as a place that Butt knew and where the characters could plausibly be meddling in each other’s business all the time.

Speaking of rural comedies, the second season of Petticoat Junction will be hitting DVD on July 7. This probably won’t have extras like the first season, but it is a very worthwhile release because these episodes are a) extremely rare and b) very good. They’ve never been on DVD, even public-domain DVDs, and they’ve never been rerun because they’re in black-and-white (the last black-and-white season). But this was the season where Paul Henning put Jay Sommers, a fellow radio veteran, in charge of the writing, and Sommers worked on developing some new characters, re-developing characters who had been introduced as guests like Mr. Ziffel, and eventually laid the groundwork for the sister show he would go on to create the following season: Green Acres. Once Sommers left Petticoat to concentrate full-time on Green Acres, Petticoat Junction became extremely bland and everybody started acting like it was the 19th century; not that the Petticoat could ever be as surreal as Green Acres, but Sommers was as good a comedy writer as radio and TV has ever produced, and he made it a very funny show when he was around.

Unfortunately, Green Acres, owned by MGM and distributed by Fox, is still in limbo after three seasons, so there seems little chance of getting the final three seasons of one of the two all-time classic rural comedies (the other is The Andy Griffith Show, which has had all its seasons released, though Paramount shows no inclination to release the Aftermash-style spinoff, Mayberry R.F.D.)

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