The Porter Wagoner Show

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(ended 1981)

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The Porter Wagoner Show

Show Summary

By the mid-1950s, the novelty medium of television was the obvious tool for product marketers to reach a wider audience than ever before. All kinds of advertisers were keen to sponsor shows to promote their wares to the vast new audiences.

The Chattanooga Medicine Company had been keeping Southerners regular with Black Draught laxative and women's troubles forgotten with the 20% alcohol formula of Wine of Cardui for many years.However they saw an opportunity to increase their sales through television using the down-home appeal of country music.
Red Foley's Ozark Jubliee was already successfully broadcasting, and Tex Ritter's Ranch Party had had a successful run, and there was ample room on the airwaves for yet another showcase of country music talent, and so auditions were held for the new Chattanooga Medicine Co. vehicle. One of the hopefuls was Porter Wagoner - others included Webb Pierce, Carl Smith and the Wilburn Brothers, who eventually got their own show. Sales of Black Draught laxative were to increase tenfold thanks to the immediate success of "The Porter Wagoner Show". Porter's natural talent, with his friendly, honest and trustworthy appeal combined with his showy rhinestone-laden outfits (Hollywood's Nudie suits), which even on black and white TV were a shimmering feature of the show. Despite Porter's initial nervousness, the obvious sincerity of his performances and a stellar line-up of regular and guest musicians, won audiences over and the show began it's phenomenally successful run in 1960, backed up by regular tours by the TV show's troupe. Porter noticed how many more fans they attracted in areas that received the TV signal. The show initially broadcast to eighteen stations, but pretty soon became syndicated nationwide.

Aside from Porter, cast members included:
Norma Jean, singer (through 1967)
Dolly Parton, singer (1967-1974)
Barbara Lea, singer (1974-1976)
Linda Carol Moore, singer (1976-79)
T Tommy Cutrer, announcer (through 1963)
Hairl Hensley, announcer (1963-1966)
Don Howser, announcer (beginning 1966)
Benny Williams, banjo & guitar (through 1963)
Buck Trent, banjo & guitar (beginning 1963)
Little Jack Little, fiddle (through 1964)
Mack Magaha, fiddle (beginning 1965)
Don Warden, steel guitar
Speck Rhodes, Double bass and comedian whose routine mainly consisted of social satire telephone commentary with an unseen girlfriend "Sadie."

The half hour shows (initially made on a budget of $700 - $800 each) usually included about eight songs and a couple of commercials, performed by Porter and the cast. Who could forget the jingle:- "Black Draught makes you feel fresh and clean inside!" Norma Jean, the first girl singer on the show says that the cast used to joke that they were the regular members of the Porter Wagoner Show.

For a time, the show was taped twice, once with commercials and once without, so that stations could insert their own commercials as required. The Show also produced and sold booklets for fans to purchase which featured photos and stories on the cast members enjoying time off with their families. These were however finally noticed by the authorities and deemed to be commercials over and above the acceptable time allowed during the show and were discontinued.

Porter became known for his hard-working professional attitude. As well as taping the shows, the troupe was touring throughout the USA and Porter was producing lots of records, often uncredited. The workload took its toll on some. In December 1965, Billboard magazine reported that Norma Jean had quit the road tour and would be replaced by Jeannie Seely. Norma Jean continued to appear on Porter's TV show for another year and a half.

In 1967, Norma Jean departed from the TV show "to spend more time with her family" (but in reality she was frustrated at Porter's refusal to divorce his long-separated wife (Ruth), and fulfil his promise to marry her because it would negate his wholesome image in the eyes of the TV audiences). Norma Jean was replaced by Dolly Parton. Dolly's songwriting talent had hugely impressed Porter (His introduction to her first appearance on the show performing Dumb Blonde: "She ain't no dumb blonde") and they began to perform duets of hers and others' songs, eventually becoming one of the most popular duet singing teams ever recorded.

By the early-70s, with the rise of her solo career, Dolly began to feel that the routine of the Porter Wagoner Show was stifling her ability to pursue other opportunities. Initially, Dolly's departure from the series was amicable. In a February 1974 newspaper interview, Dolly discussed her reasons for leaving the show, with Porter giving his blessings. They were to remain partners in the Owe-Par Publishing Company. And, according to Porter, they agreed that he would manage Dolly's career for the next 5 years, receiving 15% of her income. But in 1979, Porter sued Dolly claiming breach of contract.

Porter's TV series, meanwhile, remained in production through 1981. Singer Barbara Lea was added to the cast in 1974. Lea was then succeeded by Linda Carol Moore (1976-79). The final two seasons (1979-80 & 1980-81) featured no regular female singer.

Porter Wagoner continued to be one of the hardest working men in the music industry with weekly Grand Ole Opry appearances and almost continuous production of recordings for new and established country artists. In 1988, Porter and Dolly repaired their relationship when they reunited at the Ryman Auditorium (home of the Grand Ole Opry, 1943 to 1974) for an episode of the "Dolly" TV special.

Porter died on October 28, 2007 from lung cancer.

Reruns of the series have since been featured on US cable TV and even broadcast via the Internet on Willie Nelson's website. "The Porter Wagoner Show" is currently being shown on RFD-TV.

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