(The University of Virginia American Studies Program)
The Dukes of Hazzard,
Television's Simple South,
and Resurrecting the Outlaw Hero
"Makin' their way the only way they know how,
That's just a little bit more than the law will allow."
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.
This project analyzes The Dukes of Hazzard as a representation of the contemporary white southern working class and its validity, and how this characterization fed the appetites of both Southerners and non-Southerners alike in the early 1980s.
Appendices ( Project Endnotes, Bibliography and Suggestions for Further Reading)
All parts of this essay are copyright © 2002 by the American Studies Program at the University of Virginia. Thanks to Alan B. Howard for granting permission to reprint this article.