The Dukes of Hazzard TV series drove people wild back in the ’70s & ’80s

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The Dukes of Hazzard TV series
The Dukes of Hazzard TV series followed the adventures of the Duke cousins – Bo and Luke – who combat political corruption down South with good ol’ boy style and lots and lots of car chases.

Cast/characters

Tom Wopat as Luke Duke
John Schneider as Bo Duke
Catherine Bach as Daisy Duke
Denver Pyle as Jesse Duke
James Best as Sheriff Rosco P. Coltrane
Sorrell Booke as Boss Hogg
Ben Jones as Cooter Davenport
Sonny Shroyer as Deputy Enos Strate
Rick Hurst as Deputy Cletus Hogg
Byron Cherry as Coy Duke
Christopher Mayer as Vance Duke
Waylon Jennings as The Balladeer
Years: 1979 – 1985
# of seasons: 7
# episodes: 147

Tom Wopat and John Schneider may have been the first-billed stars of the eponymous show The Dukes of Hazzard, but the real star was arguably their orange 1969 Dodge Charger — The General Lee.

Of course, not just content to spawn one pop culture icon, the show also introduced a fashion trend, courtesy of Catherine Bach — the high-cut short shorts that would go on to share a name with her character, Daisy Duke.

Spinning together several notable Southern icons — like moonshine running, muscle cars, country music, and the ’70s CB radio craze — the Duke boys saw a successful run of seven seasons between 1979 and 1985, with each episode featuring the voice of country star Waylon Jennings in the opening credits.

You can also see that show intro and hear the theme song in the video clip below the articles.

Dukes of Hazzard DVD cover

Redneck ” The Dukes of Hazzard” comedy fails with critics but wins viewers

By Bill Kaufman – The Tampa Times (Florida) Mach 20, 1979

Take a rural county with a corrupt redneck sheriff, citizens who deal in moonshine and a bunch of disorderly dust-kickers who like nothing more than a good car chase and outsmarting the law, and what do you have?

You have “The Dukes of Hazzard,” a new (CBS) series almost unanimously trounced by the critics.

There are those, however, who would contend that the nation’s television critics don’t represent the vast “heartland” of TV viewers.

Amidst the loud moans and groans of the professional TV watchdogs, “The Dukes of Hazzard” has one major thing going for it: very good ratings.

Dukes of Hazzard - Main cast

In its review of the first program, Variety, the show-business trade publication, predicted that the show wouldn’t win any Emmys or critical support, “but in the present mindless wasteland in weekend primetime, its free-wheeling style and humor could well turn into a ratings success for CBS-TV.” That prediction seems fairly accurate.

The show has been called an action-packed combination of “The Beverly Hillbillies” and “Green Acres,” and even a down-home “Starsky and Hutch,” with a little of Burt Reynolds’ movie epics tossed in.

With an early episode of “The Dukes of Hazzard” depicting someone’s expectorating into a plastic cup and then another person’s being “retired for hemorrhoids,” the show would seem to prove that good taste is relative.

The series stars Tom Wopat and John Schneider, two relatively unknown young actors, as Luke Duke and his cousin, Bo Duke, who along with their blouse-and-jean-popping cousin, Daisy, played by Catherine Bach, live in Hazzard County.

Daisy Duke - The Dukes of Hazzard TV series

The locale is a fictitious Southern place (somewhere east of the Mississippi and south of Ohio) where the folks amble around in a pastoral setting, doing such earthy day-to-day things as brewing up homemade white lightnin’, running country music jamborees, and otherwise being reasonably good citizens.

The dramatic counterpoint, as it were, is provided by the imbecile Sheriff Rosco Coltrane (James Best) and his superior, Boss Hogg (Sorrell Booke), who is maneuvering to control the local moonshine industry.

With his white suit and tie, Hogg looks like he belongs on a Kentucky Fried Chicken container. Veteran character actor Denver Pyle portrays the silver-maned uncle and patriarch, Jesse Duke.

Another major part in the series is played by a souped-up car, a 1969 reincarnated junker displaying a Confederate flag and nicknamed General Lee by the boys.

With the car, the boys have outrun the sheriff on a weekly basis so far.

“Dukes of Hazzard” executive producer Paul R. Picard acknowledged that “the reviews we got were 98.9 percent really dreadful-awful… But as you know, the ratings are really holding. They started off very good, and are continuing to maintain a substantial position.”

According to Picard, the show’s detractors didn’t really get the gist of what the show was all about.

“It’s an hour of absolutely pure escapist entertainment,” Picard said. “They are obviously not real people. They’re exaggerated, far larger than life. You’ll never mistake our sheriff for Kojak.”

Vintage Dukes of Hazzard on TV Guide magazine cover

Picard said that the show has a tongue-in-cheek outlook that stops short of satire or spoofing but is by no means meant to be taken literally.

“Nobody ever gets hurt in Hazzard County,” Picard said. “We can have a car roll over six times, barrel around like hell and fight up a storm in the series, but there’s a definite sense of caricature.”

For actor Tom Wopat, the series is obviously the major break of his career. Not surprisingly, he too thinks that the show has been misjudged by the critics.

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“There’s a great appeal for young people inherent in the show,” Wopat said. “It’s got a kind of spirit or what you might call a working appeal even for the actors.”

Several of the episodes were filmed in Georgia, and, although professional stuntmen were used to handle the major tricks, Wopat said that “we banged the cars around a bit ourselves a few times. It was sort of a devilish kind of wish-fulfillment.”

Wopat’s career has been in high gear only a brief time. After playing in summer stock, he came to New York two years ago to appear in the off-Broadway production of “A Bistro Car on the CNR.”

He then won the lead in “The Robber Bridegroom” at Ford’s Theater in Washington, DC, and ultimately returned to Broadway to star in the hit musical “I Love My Wife.”

Vintage Dynamite magazine cover - Tom Wopat - Dukes of Hazzard

The unseen narrator of “The Dukes of Hazzard,” who opens each segment with a song, is country music star Waylon Jennings.

Accompanied by his band, The Waylords, Jennings twangs out the expository lyrics. Sample: “Just two good ol’ boys / Never meanin’ no harm / Beats all you ever saw / Been in trouble with the law / Since the day they were born.”

Balladeer Jennings not only sings the theme, but also fills in each episode with homilies and casual observations about what’s happening on screen.

Jennings supplies his contributions to the show by audiotape from his home in Nashville. The country music idol also writes the music for each segment.

The show’s producers have tried in vain to get Jennings to do a walk-on or cameo role in “The Dukes of Hazzard,” but he maintains that staying in the background as the unseen voice of the series suits him just fine.

“I don’t want a lot of things that come with being a recognized star (on TV). I like to run loose, just go out and play pinball, or whatever.”

Dukes of Hazzard soundtrack


Meet Bo Duke’s alter ego, John Schneider (1980)

Excerpted from an article by Richard Zoglin – Austin American-Statesman (Texas) January 6, 1980

Schneider, barefooted and dressed in a light-blue T-shirt and cowboy-style pants, was stretched out in a rocking chair, sipping a cup of coffee.

His manner is engagingly open and unaffected, and his resonant, TV-anchorman’s voice has not a trace of Bo Duke’s Southern accent.

Indeed, Schneider won the part after an Atlanta audition in which he dressed up in ragged jeans and trucker’s hat, toted a six-pack of beer, and claimed to be from “Snailville, Georgia,” all to convince the show’s producers that he was authentic “country.”

“I heard they wanted real Southern people,” says Schneider, “so I gave them what they wanted to see.”

It wasn’t until weeks later, he says, that Warner Bros. discovered the Southern farm boy it had hired was actually born in Mount Kisco, N.Y., about an hour’s drive from New York City.

Dukes of Hazzard TV series

SCHNEIDER WAS 14 when he and his mother moved to Atlanta. After attending North Springs High School, where he acted in most of the school plays, Schneider appeared with Showcase Atlanta in such productions as “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum” and “Boys in the Band”; starred in and wrote the music for an Academy Children’s Theatre play, “Under Odin’s Eye”; and sang in a barbershop quartet at Six Flags Over Georgia.

He was appearing with the Manhattan Yellow Pages, a now-defunct revue troupe, when the “Dukes of Hazzard” casting folks came to town looking for a newcomer to play the part of Bo Duke, one of a pair of hell-raising cousins living in a fictional Southern county, for a new CBS series.

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Schneider won the part over 100 other applicants, but in the weeks that followed, he came perilously close to losing it.

“THEY LIKED ME, but they had to find someone to play Luke. They wanted to make sure the chemistry between us was right,” Schneider says. (They also, apparently, were looking for a more seasoned actor to balance Schneider’s relative inexperience.)

The Dukes of Hazzard TV series - In the car

They looked at a lot of people, and they were just about ready to say ‘Forget it, we’ll just find two new people.'”

Luckily for Schneider, co-star Tom Wopat was found in the nick of time.

“They cast him on a Friday,” says Schneider, “we took pictures on Saturday, and on Tuesday we were back here shooting.”

The first five episodes of “The Dukes of Hazzard” were filmed about 30 miles east of Atlanta in Covington late last year, but the show then returned to California, where it is now shot just a few miles outside Los Angeles.

Meanwhile, the comedy-action series — a sort of “Smokey and the Bandit” for the pre-teen set — became one of CBS’s surprise mid-season hits.

ALSO SEE: These vintage Halloween costumes based on ’70s TV shows were creepy for all the wrong reasons

Vintage Dynamite magazine cover - Dukes of Hazzard TV show

“IT’S FUN TO do; it’s gotta be fun to watch,” says Schneider. “It’s not real intelligent — that’s what I like about it.

“Sometimes you want to watch a show you can think about — like ‘Dallas‘ (which follows ‘Dukes of Hazzard’ on Friday nights). But sometimes you just want to be entertained. So you’ve got the two extremes on back-to-back.”

Car chases fill much of “The Dukes of Hazzard,” and Schneider, who was trained at the Georgia School of High Performance Driving, has done some of the stunt driving himself.

“We don’t do as much driving as we used to,” he says. “The insurance companies went crazy after (“CHiPs” star) Erik Estrada’s accident.”

ALSO SEE: Ponch & John hit the roads as motorcycle cops in LA on CHiPs (1977-1983)

(No fewer than 10 stuntmen work on “Dukes,” and each of them is required to do everything from filling in for the stars during fight scenes to driving cars through fences and over trains. A total of 27 versions of the Duke boys’ “General Lee” car — a bright orange Dodge Charger — have been wrecked in the course of filming.)

Shooting on this season’s shows will last until March. “It’s a lot of work,” says Schneider, “not so much physically but mentally. It’s like spending a 12-hour day at Six Flags. It doesn’t seem hard, but when you’re done, it takes it out of you.”

The Dukes of Hazzard leads (1980)

SCHNEIDER, WHO says he’ll remain with the series “as long as it’ll go,” has had lots of other work to keep him busy. Among other things, he recently appeared onstage with Roy Clark in Tulsa, Okla.; drove a motorcycle through a ring of fire on the CBS special “Circus of the Stars”; and on New Year’s Eve, co-hosted Dick Clark’s “Rockin’ New Year’s Eve…”

But Schneider has also turned down a number of offers, including guest appearances on “Family Feud” and “California Fever.”

MORE: See 35 vintage car wrecks from the days before seat belts & airbags

“Overexposure is a big problem,” he says. “You have to be very careful what you do. All of us on the show are in a good situation, but we could be taken great advantage of. We could be destroyed quick not by doing things bad, but by doing too many things good.”

FOREMOST IN Schneider’s mind is maintaining his image as Bo Duke. Ask how old he is, for example, and Schneider will answer, “Bo Duke is 25.”

Pressed to clarify that enigmatic statement, he’ll reply that John Schneider is “somewhere around where Bo Duke is.” (Editor’s note: The actor was born on April 8, 1960, making him 29 years old during this interview.)

BACK IN Atlanta for his first extended stay since the show took off, Schneider has been spending his time relaxing, seeing friends and going to such nightspots as Timothy John’s and Charley Magruder’s.

“I like Los Angeles,” he says, “but it’s awful big. You can’t get out of it Atlanta is just the right size.”

Bo Duke of Hazzard County couldn’t have said it better himself.

Vintage The Dukes of Hazzard TV show with the General Lee car


The Dukes of Hazzard opening credits & theme song

Dukes of Hazzard theme song lyrics

Just the good ol’ boys,
Never meanin’ no harm,
Beats all you never saw,
been in trouble with the law since the day they was born.

Straightenin’ the curve,
Flattenin’ the hills.
Someday the mountain might get ’em
but the law never will.

Makin’ their way,
The only way they know how.
That’s just a little bit more than the law will allow.

Just good ol’ boys,
Wouldn’t change if they could.
Fightin’ the system
like a true modern-day Robin Hood.

ALSO SEE: Vintage CB radios: Why everybody was talking ’bout ’em in the 1970s

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