As the nation continues to fight over Confederate monuments and statues — as well as figures important to the United States’ founding — a classic CBS TV show is getting caught up in the controversy … again. But the show’s human stars are coming out to defend their work and their mechanical co-star.
Where did the show go?
“The Dukes of Hazzard,” which launched in January 1979 and ran through 1985, had tens of millions of fans when its episodes initially ran, and it kept a healthy fan base in syndication.
The adventures of Bo and Luke Duke — a pair of cousins who tore through the back roads of the fictional Southern rural Hazzard County in their iconic 1969 Dodge Charger, named General Lee and adorned with a Confederate flag on its roof — were enjoyed and celebrated for nearly 40 years.
John Schneider, Catherine Bach, and Tom Wopat on the set of 1997’s “Dukes of Hazzard Reunion” (Getty Images)
Until 2015, when Dylann Roof, who had posted online messages supporting white supremacy and the Confederate flag, shot and killed black churchgoers. Then a fight over the Confederate flag blew up. As calls grew louder for states and organizations to rid themselves of the Stars and Bars, the Duke boys’ muscle car suddenly found itself in protesters’ crosshairs.
Within days, TV Land canceled its syndication of the hit show without explanation, angering fans; Warner Bros. stopped production of all toys and replicas of the General Lee; and PGA great Bubba Watson announced he would paint over the Confederate flag on the roof of an original General Lee car he bought at auction.
What are the Duke boys saying?
Fast-forward to 2020, and again American culture is waging a fight over Confederate symbols. And again the action comedy is taking its lumps. But now the actors who played the Duke boys and one of the show’s other famous characters are coming to the show’s — and the General’s — defense.
John Schneider, who played Bo Duke, told the Hollywood Reporter, “I have never had an African American come up to me and have any problem with it whatsoever.”
“The whole politically correct generation has gotten way out of hand,” he added.
Schneider believes the show was a “unifying” one that was given short shrift by the PC crowd.
“‘Dukes of Hazzard’ was a unifying force. Mom, grandma, everyone wanted to watch it together. But who benefits from division?” he told the Hollywood Reporter. “‘The Dukes of Hazzard’ has been shot down, I believe unfairly. We haven’t missed a generation yet, but we may miss this next one.”
Schneider’s co-star, Tom Wopat, who played Luke Duke, added that though he agrees that the show should not be an issue, he supports the attitude behind racial justice being debated in America.
“The situation in the country has obviously changed in the last 40 years. I feel fortunate to be living in a time when we can address some of the injustices of the past,” he told the outlet.
However, he noted that the world’s most famous Dodge Charger is not the problem.
“But the car is innocent,” Wopat said.
‘Taking the “S” off of Superman’s chest’
Ben Jones, who starred as Cooter the mechanic and then served as a Democratic U.S. representative from Georgia in the late 1980s and early 1990s, stands by the show.
“This was a family show. Black families watched it for generations. I know this. I had a [congressional] office right there in the Martin Luther King district,” Jones said, according to the Hollywood Reporter. “King’s right-hand man Andy Young is a dear friend of mine. We couldn’t care less about rebel flags.”
The General Lee from “The Dukes Of Hazzard” television show, sits outside Cooter’s The Dukes Of Hazzard Museum in Nashville, Tennessee. (Photo By Raymond Boyd/Getty Images)
Asked about digitally erasing the flag from the General Lee in order to get the show back on air, Jones responded, “That wouldn’t please anybody. Because after 40 years seen all over the world — in thousands of jigsaw puzzles, on model cars and lunch boxes — the General Lee, by not having the flag there, would just draw attention to itself.”
“That would be like taking the ‘S’ off of Superman’s chest,” he added.