Commentary: ‘Dukes of Hazzard’ a slice of TV from a bygone era

March 7, 2013 

  • WHAT: “Dukes of Hazzard” Georgia Reunion, Classic Car Show and Music Festival
    WHEN: 4-11 p.m. Friday, 10 a.m.-11 p.m. Saturday and 10 a.m.-7 p.m. Sunday
    WHERE: Old Middle Georgia Raceway at 4015 U.S. 41 North in Byron
    COST: Advance one-day tickets are $20. All three days costs $35. Tickets at the gate cost $5 more. Children 6 and younger and seniors 65 and older are free. Tickets can be purchased at, or in Warner Robins at Victory Lane Auto Sales or Flooring Specialists, and in Byron at the Welcome Center or Big Peach Antique Mall. (Proceeds will go to the Bradley Baptist Church Road to Hope Program, the Jones County Cruisers Annual Charity Drive for children and families, as well as other charities.)
    ABOUT THE EVENT: The reunion will feature seven of the original “Dukes of Hazzard” cast members, including John Schneider (Bo Duke), Tom Wopat (Luke Duke), Catherine Bach (Daisy Duke), James Best (Sheriff Rosco P. Coltrane), Sonny Shroyer (Deputy Enos Strate), Ben Jones (Cooter Davenport) and Rick Hurst (Deputy Cletus Hogg). The cast members will be available for autographs Saturday.
    OF NOTE: Organizer Chris Jennings believes more than 60,000 will show up for the event. He said tickets have been sold in all 50 states and nine countries. The event will feature a concert Friday by country singer David Allen Coe, a classic car show with more than 500 cars, an Army tank, a monster truck, helicopter rides and jump houses for children. Other musical performances through the weekend include Ben Jones & Cooter’s Garage Band, Confederate Railroad and The Lacs, a “country-rap” duo. Other local musical acts also will perform.

In thinking about the cultural impact of the original “The Dukes of Hazzard” television series, I kept coming back to one inescapable conclusion: The same show almost certainly would never be made today.

The TV series, inspired by the 1975 movie “Moonrunners” and airing from 1979-85, was something of a product of its time. Uncomplicated plots. Low stakes. And relatively static character development.

As TV has grown into massively plotted, layered shows, full of guts, gore and sex -- think “Game of Thrones” or “Homeland” -- “Dukes” has become a sort of bygone, slice-of-life bit of Americana.

It was about fun, and that’s all it was ever about.

Bo and Luke Duke, known as the Duke boys (John Schneider and Tom Wopat), always seemed to get themselves into mischief each week, but it was mostly harmless shenanigans. They never carried firearms, they never swore (it was always “dang” and “shoot”), and they never mistreated anyone. Had the show been created today, Bo and Luke likely would be cooking up crystal meth and trying to outrun U.S. marshals and the DEA -- something of a mix between “Breaking Bad” and “Justified.”

Daisy Duke (Catherine Bach) was a sex symbol even back then, but her outfits never got more racy than her eponymous jeans shorts or tied-up plaid shirts. One can only imagine what the character would have been asked to do today.

Boss Hogg (Sorrell Booke) and Sheriff Rosco P. Coltrane (James Best) were always involved in a money-making, crooked scheme. But let’s face it. These guys weren’t exactly cut out of “The Sopranos” cloth.

A modern variation of the show would be considered too regional, with not enough broad-based appeal or diversity that today’s audiences expect. Rather, it was Hollywood’s view of what we Southerners do and how we talk.

A standard episode of “Dukes” was fairly formulaic. There always was a scheme of Boss Hogg’s that set up the storyline that week, the Dukes’ efforts to either foil that scheme or rescue Boss Hogg when everything hit the fan, and a car chase. At the end of the day, the Duke boys were always able to rely on the home-spun wisdom of Uncle Jesse (Denver Pyle) and the loyalty of family, including “honorary Duke” Cooter (Ben Jones), who was their trusty mechanic.

Occasionally, a country music or NASCAR star showed up to either help Bo and Luke or get rescued by them.

But I’ve forgotten most of the details of the plots over time. My favorite episode of “The Dukes of Hazzard”? The one where the General Lee jumped over something while the boys shouted “Yee-haw!”

“Dukes” did teach me some life lessons along the way, though.

• Despite high levels of corruption, it’s very difficult to remove elected officials from office.

• There’s no need to carry a gun if you have an explosive-tipped arrow.

• Drugs and alcohol are bad, unless it’s moonshine.

• Rural Georgia is full of natural inclines that can launch a car 50 feet in the air and allow it to land in one piece -- unless it’s a police cruiser.

• It’s always easier to renegotiate a contract when you do so from a position of strength. Otherwise, you have what’s called the “Coy and Vance season.” (In real life, Schneider and Wopat walked out on the show in a dispute with producers, and were replaced by two actors playing their cousins, Coy and Vance. Producers ultimately had to give way when there was a huge dropoff in ratings).

Somehow, that sense of fun and innocence is much harder to find today. Just look at the movie version of “The Dukes of Hazzard” with Johnny Knoxville and Seann William Scott -- more of a romp without any of the spirit of the TV show.

Perhaps the movie producers didn’t pay attention to the last verse of the theme song: “Just some good ole boys/Wouldn’t change if they could/Fightin’ the system like a true modern-day Robin Hood.”

Phillip Ramati used to write “The TV Guy” blog for The Telegraph and is a screenwriter in his spare time.

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