Why ‘The Beverly Hillbillies’ Massive Success Shocked Critics

by Megan Molseed

Oftentimes television critics are able to predict where viewer trends are landing in a particular television season. However, sometimes even the experts get this wrong. This was certainly the case when critics predicted the classic television series The Beverly Hillbillies would likely not find the massive success it ended up enjoying. One critic even referred to the sitcom as “not the sort of accomplishment that makes the cockles of one’s heart glow with admiration.”

Critics Didn’t Think The Beverly Hillbillies Would Find The Success The Series Did Among Television Fans

When Jed Clampett first struck oil in 1962, the critics didn’t give the series a whole lot of accolades. Or, more specifically, the critics didn’t believe audiences would tune in to catch this new goofy sitcom series. That year, television critics had all but unanimously predicted a trend where viewers would focus more on the dramatic genre. Primarily dramas focused on World War II. But, it turns out, they were off base on this front.

In fact, seven of the top eleven television shows on the air during this time period fall within the comedy genre. A fact that shocked one Hollywood Critic Cynthia Lowry.

Initially, Lowry had a hard time understanding what it was about this slapstick comedy series that pulled viewers in each week. In her mind, there had to be more to this. A “deep significance” that charmed the TV watchers.

What Was It That Drew Fans To The Beverly Hillbillies?

In her take on The Beverly Hillbillies Lowry notes that the new series is full of “corny” comedy. So, the critic says, she wonders why audiences are drawn to the show. Lowry says the series is “unblushingly loaded with corny humor and preposterous situations.”

She couldn’t understand how audiences were so drawn to this quirky comedy. So many viewers, in fact, that The Beverly Hillbillies quickly became “the most popular television program in the nation.”

Eventually, however, Lowry came to the conclusion that it was this form of escape that television viewers enjoyed. Based on the fact that over half of the shows landed within the top 11 rated at the time, Lowry concluded that television was a form of escape for much of the audience.

Lowry has said that “there is a sharp indication” that “the television public turns on its set primarily in hope of being amused and lightly entertained.”

“Students of television will find it hard to explain the quick, dramatic success of The Beverly Hillbillies,” Lowry writes. “Which received an unmerciful drubbing in the hands of critics earlier in the season.”