Editor’s note: CMT will premiere Inside Fame: The Dukes of Hazzard on Friday (Feb. 25) at 8 p.m. ET/PT, followed by the first 20 episodes of The Dukes of Hazzard throughout the weekend.
Twenty years after The Dukes of Hazzard entered the home stretch on CBS, the family-friendly series remains firmly in the brain of country fans around the world. Bo, Luke, Daisy and Uncle Jesse Duke always stuck together, even when the law — namely Boss Hogg and Roscoe P. Coltrane — were in hot pursuit.
“If you just casually watched The Dukes, you’d think ’Oh, these people are running from the police. They’re terrible. Don’t watch that, Johnny.’ But there was always a reason,” remembers John Schneider, who played Bo Duke. “We were running from the police because the police were trying to capture us for something we hadn’t done. And if we let them do that, then we wouldn’t be able to get the clothes to the orphanage. You know, at the end of the logic was always something good.”
Of all the things that Dukes — which ran on Friday nights from January 1979 to August 1985 — is remembered for, logic surely isn’t one of them. That’s why Waylon Jennings’ off-screen role as the Balladeer was so crucial.
“We’d do a scene that just didn’t make any sense or was just lame,” Schneider says, laughing. “Something was wrong. And you’ll see, there we are. We’re talking and doing our thing, and Denver [Pyle, who played Uncle Jesse] is going like that, and Boss Hogg is making all of his noises and faces and things. And you hear over top, ’I think what the boys meant to say was …’ blah, blah, blah. He’d make excuses for us when things just weren’t working out on television.”
“He was tremendously important,” agrees Tom Wopat, who played Bo’s older cousin, Luke Duke. “I think that he gave viewers a sense of security. He obviously solved a lot of problems for us in writing scripts and cutting and editing. He would bridge the gap and make some sense out of stuff that didn’t make too much sense in the script.”
Jennings certainly brought a lot of country fans to the show, but the real star proved to be the General Lee — a beat-up orange car with “01” painted on the side.
“It really captured the imagination of the American public,” Wopat says of the Dodge Charger. “I think it’s the best known car in the world.”
With the doors welded shut, like a racecar, Schneider and Wopat jumped through the windows — and as quickly as possible when the law was on their tail.
“Getting in and out of the car became kind of a trademark,” Wopat says. “The slide across the hood was an accident. That was like from the second episode. I was running down a hill, and I was going to vault across the car. … I was wearing boots and hit my heel on the fender, and it just skidded out from under me. It turned into that slide, and that turned into a signature thing as well.”
Catherine Bach, who played the tomboy cousin Daisy Duke, can be credited with another of the show’s lasting cultural contributions — short denim shorts that came to be known simply as Daisy Dukes.
Originally, the show’s producers wanted Daisy to wear a tight white turtleneck, go-go boots and a poodle skirt. Deciding that women don’t usually look good in that sort of ensemble, Bach asked if she could bring her own outfit instead, and the producer tentatively agreed. Along with a homemade T-shirt, she returned with a pair of unraveled denim shorts and high heels. Thus, a phenomenal fashion frenzy was born.
“I think what made Daisy Duke stand out is that I am a ’sex symbol’ who never took her clothes off and never had a love scene,” Bach says. “I never did anything embarrassing. And by the way, to this day, people know that I’m not going to shock them or surprise them with some crazy thing. Somebody’s got to be able to carry the bottom line and have a dignified life and not be crazy. And I guess that’s just gonna be me.”
That down-to-earth approach is a big reason why The Dukes was such a smash, Bach believes.
“The audience helped shape our show,” she says. “Somebody told me, and it really stuck with me, that everybody can watch this show, from 3 years old to 90 years old. You don’t have to get up from the television and turn your back or put your hands over your kids’ eyes, because you know you’re not going to be shocked or rudely taken aback by The Dukes of Hazzard. You’re just going to laugh, and you can just relax and have fun. And I was proud of that, as well.”