TV

The Bandit Tells the Story of Steadfast Friendship

Documentary Reveals the Inside Story of Smokey and the Bandit

When Hollywood’s top stuntman decided he’d like to try his hand at directing in 1976, he wasn’t exactly met with a vote of confidence from those around him. But sometimes it only takes one person’s unwavering support to make a dream come true.

Premiering Saturday (Aug. 6) at 10/9c on CMT, The Bandit gives viewers a behind-the-scenes look at the making of Smokey and the Bandit, along with the unbreakable bond between its star Burt Reynolds and director Hal Needham.


Reynolds and Needham met on the set of the television series Riverboat in the 1950s, where Needham was assigned as his stunt double. The two ultimately became best friends and roommates, and Needham continued as Reynolds’ stunt-double on multiple projects.

After writing the script for Smokey and the Bandit, Needham approached Reynolds about starring in it. Reynolds had already been the lead in movies with similar themes — Gator and White Lightning — and was looking for more serious roles, but stayed true to his friend and decided to make the film.

With only 30 days to film and a budget of $4.3 million, Smokey and the Bandit went on to become a fan-favorite movie, and changed the friends’ lives forever.

Featuring interviews with Reynolds, and the late Needham, The Bandit traces the personal journeys of the pair, and includes never-before-seen archive material, along with commentary from other key players. Directed by Jesse Moss, the documentary made its world premiere at the SXSW Film Conference and Festival in March, and has been screened at numerous film festivals since that time.

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