The Dukes Of Hazzard
Just two good ol' boys, never meaning no harm ...
On January 26, 1979, CBS aired for the first time The Dukes of Hazzard as a pinch-hit replacement for a midseason flop. Six years and 147 episodes later, the series concluded its run as one of the most successful television shows of its era, ranking consistently in the Nielsen top 10 and reaping millions of dollars for Warner Brothers in licensing fees.
More than a decade after they made their last episode, the extended Duke family remains an icon of pop culture. Their infamous 1969 Dodge Charger, the General Lee, is as familiar to the average American 20-year old as a Coke can or the Nike Swoosh symbol. One member of the cast, Ben Jones, even managed to cash in on his role as Cooter with a four-year stint in the United States Congress. The Duke phenomenon may have come as a surprise to its producers and CBS, but given the social situation in the United States at the time, it should only have been expected. The show had been originaly slated for eight episodes, but when the show skyrocketed to the top of the Nielsen ratings, its critics at CBS and Warner Brothers had no other choice but to leave The Dukes on. The Dukes may not have been the only Southern rural sitcom to appear on television, but it met with the most all around success and resurrected the Southern outlaw-hero from the dust that it lay in after the 1960s.
Although Hazzard County, Georgia was a fictional location (the early episodes of the show were filmed in Covington, Georgia and Conyers, Georgia), the real-life town of Hazard, Kentucky was a beneficiary of the show's popularity. Members of the cast were frequent visitors to the town's annual Black Gold Festival. There are still gatherings of Dukes of Hazzard fans, the largest of which is the Dukesfest, which is now held at the Music City Motorplex in Nashville, Tennessee and organized by Ben Jones (Cooter Davenport) and his wife. More than 100,000 fans attended the 2 day event in 2006; the largest gathering of fans for a TV show in history.
The General Lee was a 1969 Dodge Charger. It was orange with a Confederate battle flag painted on the roof, and the words "GENERAL LEE" over each door and the number "01" on each door. In the first episode ("One-Armed Bandits"), a confederate flag along with a checkered racing flag in a criss-cross pattern could be seen behind the rear window. The name refers to the American Civil War Confederate General Robert E. Lee. Since it was built as a race car, the windows were always open, a rollbar was installed, and the doors were welded shut. Through the history of the show, an estimated 309 General Lees were used; twenty-three are still known to exist in various states of repair.
The Duke boys had added a custom air horn to the General which played the first twelve notes of the song Dixie. Warner Brothers purchased several Chargers for stunts, as they generally destroyed at least one or two cars per episode. By the end of the show's sixth season, the Chargers were becoming harder to find, and more expensive, so the producers used radio-controlled miniatures or recycled stock jump footage. The third episode, "Mary Kaye's Baby", is the only episode of the entire run that (bar the opening and closing credits) the General Lee does not appear in. In that episode Bo and Luke drove around in a blue 1975 Plymouth Fury they borrowed from Cooter (which unbenownst to them he'd loaded with moonshine to deliver for Boss Hogg, a slip-up that could've wrecked their probation) that Luke later blew up with a stick of dynamite during a duel with some mobsters.
One of the show's notable recurring gags was the celebrity speed trap. With orders from Boss Hogg, Rosco would lower the speed limit on a particular road to an unreasonable level so that singers of country music passing that way would be in violation. The singers would then be required to sing at the Boars' Nest in exchange for having their citations forgiven. Typically, the nabbed act would give a parting shot to the nefarious commissioner and his half-witted yes man.
The Dukes offers no real glimpse at the Southern middle class. The Dukes, and the rest of Hazzard county, are all blue collar workers, and Boss Hogg, who owns the bank, the Boar's Nest, and most of the property in the county, serves as the lone representative of the rich. But to find someone whose occupation and speech indicate that they have had the benefit of a college education, viewers must stick to the random background characters that occasionally materialize to fill the support roles that some scripts require.
The Dukes was a simple series that required little digestion or deep thought on the part of the viewer: "Dukes considered the South to be a land of freedom, moral valued, and simple people. Good and evil are easily defined, and the good guys always won." As a television series designed to draw a viewing audience and get a few laughs, Dukes served its purpose well, but it, and its sitcom predecessors, are should be billed as neither a thorough nor accurate representation of average working class Southerners.
The contents of Hazzard County, as created by Warner Brothers, are a brilliant amalgamation not of what tells about the South, but what sells the South. But what ever happened to the hard-drivin', fast-talkin', short-shorts-wearn' crew of The Dukes of Hazzard?
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