“The Dukes of Hazzard,” an hour-long television sitcom about the rural adventures of two charming “good ol’ boys” and “modern day Robin Hoods” who evade corrupt local lawmen in their sizzling, southern-fried 1969 Dodge Charger, debuted on television on this day in history, Jan. 26, 1979.
It became a surprise pop-culture phenomenon — defying industry experts and even the expectations of CBS executives.
“The Dukes of Hazzard” ran for seven seasons and 147 episodes, drawing as many as 40 million viewers every Friday night — more than twice as many eyeballs as the average NFL game in 2022.
“It’s become a permanent part of Americana, like Mickey Mouse or ‘I Love Lucy,'” actor Ben Jones, who played Duke sidekick Cooter Davenport in the show, told Fox News Digital.
The program starred John Schneider and Tom Wopat as cousins Bo and Luke Duke.
They were joined in their exploits by country vixen cousin Daisy Duke, played by Catherine Bach (known for her famously revealing shorts) and their American muscle car dubbed the General Lee, complete with Confederate flag on the roof and a horn that played “Dixie.”
“The Dukes of Hazzard” proved more than just an unexpected American ratings bonanza.
It’s been a TV hit around the world and spawned a series of remakes, reunions and merchandising successes. It still influences the American cultural lexicon in surprising ways.
“Daisy Dukes” are now an American synonym for tight-fitting short shorts — the phrase and the fashion known by millions of people born long after the show aired.
The General Lee rolls down the highway of American memory as one of the most iconic vehicles in screen history.
One version of the vehicle owned by actor Schneider sold for $10 million at auction in 2007 — among the highest prices ever paid for any vehicle.
The General Lee received 35,000 fan letters each month at the height of the show’s popularity, reported Warner Bros., which produced the show, at the time.
Performer Waylon Jennings enjoyed a no. 1 country music hit with “Theme from the Dukes of Hazzard (Good Ol’ Boys)” in 1980.
“Just the good old boys/Never meanin’ no harm,” sings Jennings, dubbed “The Balladeer,” in the opening credits.
“Beats all you never saw/Been in trouble with the law since the day they was born.”
“The show also spurred the music careers of Schneider and Wopat, who themselves became country chart regulars in the ’80s,” Billboard reported in a 2015 history of the theme song.
The car chase scenes were the most spectacular in television history. So many vehicles were ruined taping the gravity-defying stunts that as many 300 Chargers apparently played the role of the General Lee in the series.
“The appeal of the show hasn’t changed much,” said Jones. “Americans still love old cars, we still wear blue jeans, work shirts, ball caps and cowboy hats. Nothing much has changed in rural in America. We still drive old cars down dirt roads.”
But the program offered a much deeper connection to viewers than just its superficial appeal of fast cars and long legs.
Bo, Luke and Daisy Duke were orphaned cousins raised by wisdom-spinning Uncle Jesse (Denver Pyle).
The Dukes flouted the law, but only because the law was corrupt. The Dukes stuck together through thick and thin, helping the community along the way.
“It was a family show, it was clean, there was no profanity, no blood — and it was watched by families all across the nation,” said Jones.
“It was a Robin Hood story in which the bad guys were actually the good guys. It was a morality tale where if you do the right thing, you’ll be rewarded at the end. It offered a sense of right and wrong that’s missing on television today.”
Jones rode the success “The Dukes of Hazzard” all the way to Congress.
He served two terms in the House of Representatives as a Democrat from Georgia (1989-1993).
He also operates Cooter’s Place, a trio of “The Dukes of Hazzard” museums in Nashville, Pigeon Forge, Tennessee, and Luray, Virginia.
For all its success, the program wouldn’t pass muster in today’s cancel culture.
It unapologetically displayed the Confederate flag on its iconic muscle car, named for Confederate General Robert E. Lee.
“The program was totally benign,” said Jones. “There was never one complaint about the flag, not even from our African American viewers, and we had a large African American viewership.”
Despite recent criticisms, the program continues to thrive in digital format in the U.S. and around the world.
“You can never tell when something’s gonna pop,” Wopat told Fox News Digital in November.
“But some time in the first year, we just knew we had something amazing here,” he also said.
“The fans are unique in that they hand down their love for the show from generation to generation. I’ve met third- and fourth-generation fans. It’s amazing. It’s a gift. The show will long outlive me, that’s for sure.”
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