John Aylesworth, a television writer and producer who was co-creator of the long-running country variety show "Hee Haw," died Wednesday at a hospital in Rancho Mirage, Calif., at 81. He had pulmonary fibrosis.

Aylesworth and his writing partner and fellow Canadian, Frank Peppiatt, had never visited the rural South or the Midwest before developing "Hee Haw," a fast-paced hour of cornball jokes and music, in 1969. The program, with country singers Buck Owens and Roy Clark as hosts and a stable of other comedians and musicians, aired on CBS for two years.

Despite high ratings, "Hee Haw" was canceled during a purge of CBS's rural-oriented shows in 1971. Aylesworth, Peppiatt and a business partner found advertisers and syndicated the program on their own - an unheard-of practice in TV at the time. "Hee Haw" remained in production until 1992 and, with 585 episodes, was one of the longest-running shows in TV history.

In 1970, Peppiatt told the Los Angeles Times how they came up with "Hee Haw."

"We were looking at the ratings, and 'Laugh-In' was the leader followed by 'The Beverly Hillbillies,' " he said. "We wondered what kind of show would combine both elements."

The writers had previously worked with performers including Frank Sinatra, Judy Garland, Julie Andrews and Perry Como.

Aylesworth wrote for "Your Hit Parade" and variety shows, including "The Andy Williams Show," "Perry Como's Kraft Music Hall," "The Judy Garland Show" and "Hullabaloo."

- The Washington Post

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