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Is Petticoat Junction Prime Time's Most Recast Show?
I just finished watching every episode of the show in reverse order [I wanted to see the Betty Jo and Steve years, first] and it was quite an eye-opening experience. It’s not many shows that survive the recasting of two of the main characters and continues to flourish for several more seasons. And that’s kind of the tip of the iceberg.
In rerun syndication, I never saw the first season, so I was only aware of there being two Billie Jo’s, but there were actually three. Gunilla Hutton was a pretty good clone for the first Billie Jo played by Jeannine Riley [she looks so much like her that the picture on the DVD case of Riley, I thought was Hutton]; only she didn’t seem to bring the personality to the role that Riley did. Meredith MacRae played Billie Jo for the longest. When I thought about which Billie Jo was the best, I ended up thinking it was Jeannine Riley. Meredith MacRae was kind of bland in comparison, and I used to prefer MacRae to Hutton. Riley just gave the role more personality. It’s a shame she left after the first season.
The role of Bobbie Jo was also recast. Again Lori Saunders was a clone for the original actress who played Bobbie Jo. Not sure why the actress left the part. I thought both Saunders and the original actress brought different things to the role. If I had to say which one I preferred I’d have to probably say Saunders.
But the recasting went further than that. Kate’s arch nemesis Selma Plout was also played by two different actresses. The original Selma Plout had a son named Dan Plout instead of a daughter named Henrietta. The actress who became Selma 2 actually played two different roles in season one. First she was a hotel critic and then she popped up as someone named Cora, who had a daughter named, Henrietta. In season two Selma Plout no longer had a son named Dan, but a daughter named Henrietta, so they basically morphed the Cora character into Selma Plout.
Even more bizarre is Mike Minor who would become a series regular as Steve Elliott, played Dan Plout in season one. It was bizarre watching him and Billie Jo #1 together and everyone assuming they were dating. Actually, if Riley had been still playing Billie Jo, I might have liked Steve and Billie Jo better. They worked well together, looked good together and had chemistry.
Finally, Jack Bannon, who played on Lou Grant, showed up as so many different characters on Petticoat Junction, it wasn’t funny.
The show even managed to survive the death of its leading lady, Bea Benaderet, but the show wisely didn’t try and recast Kate Bradley. Kate kind of became like Chuck on Happy Days. She left town and no one mentioned her, again. There was a brief spat when the actress was off the show for a few episodes and they had another actress in a similar role that looked like a Kate Bradley clone. I don’t know if there was viewer backlash, but when Miss Benaderet finally passed they went in an entirely different direction and brought June Lockhart on as the in-house doctor of The Shady Rest.
I’ve watched a lot of television and I don’t think another show survived the recasting of so many characters and still managed to thrive. It’s quite a testament to the show that it kept the essence of the show despite having to replace so many people.