The Great Smoky Mountains national park will always be the reason the heartland series came about. In 1984 the park turned 50 years old; a celebration that drew visitors from all over the country.
WBIR-TVâ€™S Stephen W. Dean and then general manager, Jim Hart saw this as a great opportunity to highlight, not only, the natural beauty of the mountains but also to tell the rich human story of the people who made these mountains their home. It was from this inspiration that The Heartland Series first began.
From the beginning The Heartland Series was an oddity. Only 5 minutes long, it featured people that, frankly, weren't representative of the modern movement. Most viewers certainly didn't expect to see or hear them on television. Their dress, their mountain accents, and rural sensibility were a TV consultant's nightmare. But their easy smiles and comfortable manner were endearing. The fact that a television camera was pointed at them seemed not to matter. They spoke plainly about what they knew or felt. They were representatives of a closing generation that had lived in remarkable times.
Most had ridden horseback in their youth and in turn had seen men land on the moon. They had endured the titles of hillbilly and hick yet, made a way of life for their families. They appeared totally comfortable with who they were and their station in life, a station many had abandoned in the rush. The result was surprising. The Heartland Series had given voice to a people and a legacy that the audience had nearly forgotten but now embraced.
For native east Tennesseans the show proved there was no need to ignore a part of their past. It is a past no less noble or no less flawed than anywhere else. It is a history that fits along side them all and builds the bigger picture of our country.
For new residents to east Tennessee, it was a way to see flesh and blood people emerge from behind the stereotypes of southern Appalachian mountain people. They were people of accomplishment, wit and reverence, the less-than-perfect existed side-by-side with the inspirational.
The Heartland Series did not discover these people or their way of life. Authors and historians had written about Appalachian culture many times. The difference was that popular and contemporary media was sharing the images.
Ironically, television, one of the creations of the modern consumer society, had paused to consider the past and when it did it gave new vitality to the buried soul of a region.
For more than 25 years the heartland series has been pleased to reveal a new appreciation for a passing generation and its culture.
Staying true to their mission the heartland series continues to celebrate a people and their land.