One of the men responsible for bringing country music to mainstream television has passed away. Hee Haw producer and casting director Sam Lovullo died on Jan. 3 in California at the age of 88.

Lovullo was born in Buffalo, N.Y., on Sept. 30, 1928, and he moved to Los Angeles at the young age of 15. He started his career in the entertainment industry as an accountant for CBS, and landed his first production job on the Jonathan Winters Show, which ran from 1967 until 1969, moving up until he eventually held the position of associate producer.

During his time on that show, Lovullo noticed that guest appearances from country stars drew big ratings, and after it came to an end, he worked with writers John Aylesworth and Frank Peppiatt to develop and pitch an idea for a country music-themed television variety show to CBS.

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Hee Haw premiered on CBS in June of 1969, and ran on the network until 1971, after which it ran for another two decades in syndication. Anchored by veteran country stars Roy Clark and Buck Owens, the show featured a regular cast, as well as weekly guest appearances from the biggest stars, legends and most up-and-coming names in the genre. Mixing cornpone humor and serious musical performances, Hee Haw provided a weekly television showcase for country music during an era in which the genre was nowhere near as mainstream as it would later become.

Lovullo produced a total of 86 episodes of Hee Haw over the years, and later shared his experiences on the show in a 1996 book titled  Life in the Kornfield: My 25 Years at Hee Haw, which he co-wrote with Marc Eliot. After the show ended, he continued to live in California while occasionally working in television in Nashville.

He was awarded the Academy of Country Music’s Jim Reeves Memorial Award — which is given to individuals who have helped popularize country music across the globe — in 1974, and Lovullo also served on the boards of both the Country Music Association and the Gospel Music Association.

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