"If you don't accept defeat, then a setback can be just a temporary postponement of success," Buddy Ebsen said in his 1994 memoir, 'The Other Side of Oz'. Buddy was 86 years old when Donovan published his book. "Life's a brand-new ball game every day. Spirit is all important. Of all the elements that comprise a human being … this is the most important."
In October 1981, Buddy Ebsen returned as Jed Clampett in the 2-hour TV movie, 'The Beverly Hillbillies: Solving the Energy Crisis'. Donna Douglas confessed, "It's hard to believe 10 long years have gone by." When the weekly TV series left the airwave in 1971, 'The Beverly Hillbillies' still attracted good ratings. However the network decided to drop the "rural series" in an image-changing campaign to urbanize its programing.
Buddy Ebsen expressed at the time, "I doubt very much that the demographers will shoot us down. But even if they do, I wouldn’t fret over it." Demographics was a trade term for the composition of television audiences – particularly whether current programs on the air were attractive enough to the 18-50 age group that bought advertisers' products. Buddy Ebsen remembered 8 years later, "I wasn't too happy with (Fred) Silverman at the time but he created the need for 'Barnaby (Jones)' and I'm grateful for that."
Jed Clampett had retired back to the Tennessee hills when the movie was shown in 1981. To solve the fuel shortage, viewers learnt the National Energy Commission had assigned Jane Hathaway and government bureaucrat, C.D. Medford to find Jed to get Granny's powerful "white lightning" secret formula, passed down from mother to daughter, as a new energy source for America. The "white lightning" fuelled the Clampetts' old car to amazing speeds.
From the outset, Buddy Ebsen told the press, "If the response is good, we could go back to a weekly show. It all depends on the numbers (ratings). If people yell loud enough, 'Give us more!' I'd be susceptible (to return). I never left 'The Beverly Hillbillies' voluntarily. My vibes tell me that Thomas Wolfe may have been wrong when he said, 'You can't go home again.' There are new elements to this show and new characters that give it new life. This isn't just a revival."
The 7 years between 1973 and 1980, Buddy Ebsen could be seen playing 'Barnaby Jones'. He told 'United Press International' in 1978, "Originally, Barnaby was supposed to be a character I played as a guest star on the 'Cannon' show that starred Bill Conrad. It was produced by Quinn Martin, a very high quality guy, and it was rolling along with good ratings. Then in mid-season CBS killed a couple of half-hour shows and needed something to replace them in a hurry.
"They asked Quinn to help out. Well, Quinn took the 'Cannon' episode I was supposed to be on and made the character of Cannon the guest star and that's how we got on the air. We were guaranteed only 13 weeks. Look at it this way, they’d tried every other kind of private eye possible – fat detectives, thin ones, rich ones, poor ones, women detectives, black detectives and even a blind one. But never a 'mature' detective. So they made me a mature private eye and figured it would barely last the 13 weeks.
"I could understand their thinking. The idea of another detective show was crazy. The tube was so crowded with private eyes you could spend an entire week in prime time looking at nothing else. But by the end of the season the network discovered it had created a problem. The ratings were intriguing. They were afraid to drop it. Not only that, the very first show knocked off 'Lawrence of Arabia'. They decided to try us one more year but let us know it would be our last 24 shows.
"'Barnaby' was still considered a fill-in. We bounced around in the ratings, sometimes up, sometimes down. But by the end of the season we looked good. What the hell, they gambled on a 3rd and last year. I know it was supposed to be the final season because I ran into Fred Silverman, who was then head of programing at CBS. He asked me to have a drink with him. Fred was very nice. He said, 'Buddy, you’re doing a fine job. But enjoy this season.'
"The implication was very clear that it was our last. Well, at the end of the season Silverman was gone and we were still hanging in there. Fred has been trying to shoot us down at ABC ever since, but the show keeps rolling along. I'd like to see the series continue as long as viewers enjoy it. It's the public that really cancels a show, not the executives – except for Silverman and 'The Hillbillies'."
In the 1984-85 season, Buddy Ebsen joined the cast of 'Matt Houston'. He recounted, "This more or less came out of the clear sky. My agent called and said they were giving Matt Houston a family. I remembered his father was killed off in the pilot and I asked (producer) Duke Vincent what was my life expectancy. But the way they talked it sounded like an interesting job and I took it...'Matt Houston's' directors wanted me to help give it more substance. You know, make it more 3-dimensional, rather than pure action. I am helping to add some really human relationships to the show."
At the time, Buddy also made known, "I'm doing some writing now (for the project 'Cabaret DaDa'), and I enjoy writing. If you're a scribbler, you're a scribbler. I definitely am." Buddy elaborated, "A group of sensitive artists gathered in a Zurich cabaret in 1916. They were appalled by the western slaughter that occurred in World War I and they decided that if a world saw Renaissance art as beautiful and war as logical, there was something wrong with that world.
"So to make a statement, they uglied up their art. For example, one artist painted himself as Mona Lisa, and put a mustache on it. They just wanted to shake up the world, force it to reassess its priorities and outlook. The movement lasted a couple of years, and involved interesting characters like Einstein, Leonard and Freud, Emmy Hennings and Hugo Balls. I am fascinated by it, so in this setting, I constructed a play. It will be done at the University of Florida and involves, among other things, dancing."
Buddy Ebsen theorized, "People used to say the same thing about 'Beverly Hillbillies' that they do about 'Barnaby Jones'. They didn't know what made it successful … And that's despite having 3 time slots in 3 months. We finished the season on Sunday, got moved to Saturday during the summer and opened the new season on Tuesday. Then if you really want to kill off a series, you pre-empt it 6 times, which they did. In spite of all that, during a 6-week period we had a 40 share. You can't figure it on ratings because Tuesday night has the lowest number of sets turned on. And at 10 o'clock a whole lot of people turn theirs off ... You can only tell by the audience reaction or those ratings numbers … We just try to do good stories, use good actors and do it in such a way that people believe it."