Sam Lovullo, Longtime Producer of 'Hee Haw,' Dies at 88
When CBS canceled the country music variety show in 1971, he took it to syndication, where it thrived for another two decades.
Sam Lovullo, the longtime producer and driving force behind the enduring country music variety show Hee Haw, died Tuesday at his home in Encino, publicist Sandy Brokaw announced. He was 88.
Lovullo was working as an associate producer on a CBS variety show hosted by Jonathan Winters when he and his staff came upon the idea for Hee Haw.
“We discovered that the show was not rating well, particularly in the South. His comedy just wasn’t their style. In order to pick up some ratings points, we started to book some country artists,” Lovullo recalled in a 1996 interview to promote his book, Life in the Kornfield: My 25 Years at Hee Haw.
When he got country stars like Buck Owens, Roy Clark and Minnie Pearl to appear on the program, the ratings jumped. Later, "We were sitting around one day after having some of those folks on the show, and someone in the office said we needed to do a country show, and someone said, 'Let's just call it Hee Haw."
Owens, Clark and Pearl would become regulars on Hee Haw, which originated out of Nashville, Tenn., and debuted on CBS as a summer replacement for The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour in June 1969.
When CBS programming chief Fred Silverman canceled the show as part of the network's purge of "rural" programs in 1971, Lovullo took Hee Haw to syndication, where it aired in 222 markets and became the No. 1 syndicated show in the nation. All told, Hee Haw aired original episodes — almost 600 in total — for some 25 years.
Lovullo often referred to Hee Haw as "the Grand Ole Opry of Television."
Lovullo continued to do occasional television work in Nashville after Hee Haw shut down. In 2001, he produced an all-star benefit concert at the Grand Ole Opry for ailing country star Johnny Russell.
The Academy of Country Music presented him with its Jim Reeves Memorial Award in 1974.
Born in Buffalo, N.Y., Salvatore Lovullo and his family moved to Los Angeles when he was 16. He attended Manual Arts High School, Los Angeles City College and then UCLA, where he earned a degree in accounting and finance. He served in the U.S. Army during the Korean War.
Lovullo landed his first job as a chief accountant at CBS, then became production manager for the film and tape departments, then manager of business affairs for CBS West Coast.
He also produced comedy-variety TV specials for the likes of John Wayne, Loretta Lynn, Herb Alpert, Don Knotts and The Harlem Globetrotters.
Survivors include his wife of 63 years, Grace; brothers Tony and Joe; their children Linda, Lisa, Anthony and Torey, now manager for baseball's Arizona Diamondbacks; grandchildren Matthew, Katie, Nick, Taylor and Connor; and great-grandchildren Sage, Grace and Olivia.
Services will be held at 11 a.m. on Saturday at St. Cyril’s of Jerusalem in Encino. Donations in Lovullo’s honor can be made to St. Jude Medical Foundation.