‘Beverly Hillbillies’: Why Was ‘The Giant Jackrabbit’ One of the Most-Watched Episodes in TV History?

When you think of the most-watched episodes in television history you probably think of a series finale or a reveal to an epic moment in the history of the show. Think the finales of “M*A*S*H” or “Seinfeld” or the reveal of who shot J.R. Ewing on “Dallas.” What you might not think of is an episode of “The Beverly Hillbillies.”

This, however, would be incorrect. Turns out, one episode of the classic sitcom became one of the most-watched episodes in the history of television, according to MeTV.

The year is 1964. “The Beverly Hillbillies” had been on the air since 1962. During that time, it had become a big hit. The series was even the No. 1 show in the country during its first season. This is a feat that no other sitcom had attained as of 2017.

During the first two seasons of the series, 57 million people tuned in on average each week to see what Jed, Granny, Jethro, Elly May, and the rest got up to. That number was equal to approximately 30 percent of the population of the United States.

‘The Giant Jackrabbit’ Episode of ‘The Beverly Hillbillies’ Set a Viewing Record

Even with the early success of “The Beverly Hillbillies,” what happened in early 1964 is still pretty amazing.

It was on Jan. 8, 1964, that “The Giant Jackrabbit” aired for the first time. It was the 16th episode of the show’s second season, according to IMDb. In this hilarious episode Daisy Moses, who was more lovingly known as Granny, comes across a kangaroo. She, however, believes the animal is a jackrabbit.

On that evening, which was a Wednesday, 65 percent of the population of the United States, watched Granny, who was played by Irene Ryan, and her “jackrabbit.” This made the episode the most-watched half-hour in the history of television.

One factor that helped boost the ratings of this particular episode is what aired just before it. Before the Clampetts hit the small screen, the nation tuned in to watch President Lyndon B. Johnson give his State of the Union address. What made this speech stand out is that it was the first State of the Union President Johnson gave after the death of President John F. Kennedy on Nov. 22, 1963.

“The Giant Jackrabbit” is also known for the performances of “The Ballad of Jed Clampett” during the episode. In this classic 30 minutes of television, Granny sings the catchy song while she is cooking a rabbit stew. The song is performed again – this time by Skipper the chimp on a piano.

“The Giant Jackrabbit” was not the only episode of “The Beverly Hillbillies” that made it into the record books. In fact, the following week another episode – this one titled “The Girl from Home” was watched by tens of millions of people. It became number four on the most-watched list of television episodes at the time.

“The Beverly Hillbillies” remained on the air until 1971.