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Wednesday, June 07, 2006

DukesFest 2006 — "The Dukes of Hazzard:" Still America’s favorite family show?

by Jennifer Squires Biller

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — It was 27 years ago when The Dukes of Hazzard first raced onto the television scene, but you wouldn’t know it from the thousands of fans who gathered at the Tennessee State Fairgrounds this past weekend for DukesFest 2006.

L-R: The Dukes of Hazzard cast reunited at DukesFest. Actors John Schneider, James Best, Catherine Bach, Ben Jones, Rick Hurst and Sonny Shroyer. Not pictured: Tom Wopat. Below: Wopat autographs a photo for a fan.

An estimated 100,000 people attended the two-day event in Nashville, eager to catch a glimpse of their favorite Dukes actor, get an autograph or picture, or do their funny impressions of Rosco P. Coltrane. They came from all over the U.S. and Europe. Some carried vintage lunch boxes, toy cars, posters and other Dukes memorabilia they’ve cherished since childhood, hoping to get it autographed. From children to senior citizens, the crowds stood patiently in line for hours, waiting to meet their favorite stars. The huge attendance shocked reporters, organizers, and even the fans.

“I have never seen such die-hard fans. Some have been waiting in line since 7 a.m.,” said DukesFest worker Cynthia Steven, who was helping control the crowd. Steven has worked several other large celebrity meet-and-greet events at the fairground, such as Fan Fair, but was in awe of what transpired at DukesFest during the weekend.

How could a fan event for a 27-year-old television show command such an audience that it broke attendance records for the venue? And just what is the magical phenomenon of The Dukes of Hazzard that keeps audiences tuning into reruns on CMT over and over again?

“It’s really an extraordinary story and one that has been flying under the media radar,” said Ben Jones, who played Cooter on the show and organized DukesFest with his wife Alma. “When CMT brought the show back on the air, the first weekend they had 23 million viewers watching The Dukes of Hazzard. That’s huge.”

Jones isn’t exaggerating. By comparison, today’s most popular television programs, such as Lost and Desperate Housewives, average between 18-22 million viewers. Even a show such as The O.C., considered a success by today’s ratings standards, averaged only 6.4 million viewers for its season finale.

So, is The Dukes of Hazzard really America’s favorite family show? Jones thinks so.

“We’re proud that we’re the only show that has been a hit twice, in two different millenniums. Not many shows can say that,” he said. “What’s happening is that millions of children think it’s a new show, and they love it as much as their parents, if not more. And parents are very happy about it because they trust our show with their children, and we’re very proud of that.”

“Our show was just a plain unpretentious show about people living in the country,” Jones said. “It was kind of like an old western where the good guys won and nobody got hurt. Bo and Luke and Daisy were heroes. They always did the right thing. They’d been taught that by their Uncle Jesse. They always made the right moral choice.”

Below: The Phelps family

Fans Randy and Kim Phelps are experiencing the magic of The Dukes all over again with their daughter Whitney. “She is absolutely in love with Bo Duke,” Kim Phelps said with a chuckle, while waiting in line to get an autograph and picture with “Bo” (actor John Schneider.) “We watch the show on CMT, and we buy the DVDs if they’re available, so we can watch it again and again.” Kim’s favorite character is Bo. Randy’s is Daisy, followed closely by the General Lee. “I think it’s more popular today than when I was a kid,” Randy Phelps said, gazing at the thousands of fans waiting in line. “Everybody I know who grew up watching it is glad it’s back on, and now they’re watching it with their kids.”

The question is why?

“It’s a good show. It’s wholesome,” Kim Phelps explained. “It’s something parents don’t care if their children watch, and there’s not many of those out there anymore. It’s got something for everybody: fast cars for dad, love stories for mom and all the humor for the kids.”

John Schneider poses for a photo with a young fan.

This year’s DukesFest celebration was the first time the entire cast has appeared together since the end of the show, Jones said. Actors John Schneider (Bo Duke,) Tom Wopat (Luke Duke,) Catherine Bach (Daisy Duke,) James Best (Rosco P. Coltrane,) Ben Jones (Cooter,) Sonny Shroyer (Enos,) and Rick Hurst (Cletus) signed autographs for hours and posed with fans for photos. The only missing members were Denver Pyle (Uncle Jesse) and Sorrell Booke (Boss Hogg) who are deceased, but were remembered fondly during the celebration by the cast and fans.

Saturday night, cast members gathered on stage for a concert. Wopat, Schneider and Jones delighted the audience with their smooth voices, jokes and camaraderie, as Shroyer, Best, Hurst and Bach slipped into character for some hilarious onstage antics and dancing.

Even the General Lee, the bright-orange 1969 Dodge Charger, made an appearance. More than 120 General Lee look-alikes and their owners participated in a parade around the Music City Motorplex Saturday night at the end of the concert, with several Hazzard County vintage police cars flashing their sirens in hot pursuit. Waylon Jennings’ Good ‘Ol Boys blasted through the loud speakers, as fireworks burst in the sky and the crowd went wild. It was a scene worthy of a Hazzard County Saturday night.

Throughout the weekend, country musicians entertained the crowds, including Stella Parton, sister of Dolly Parton and the very first Nashville guest star on the The Dukes of Hazzard. Other musical guests included Jessi Colter, Billy Joe Shaver, Ralph Stanley II and The Clinch Mountain Boys, and The Bluegrass Brothers.

On Sunday, stunt crews performed gravity-defying jumps in the General Lee and wrecked police cars, much to the delight of the crowd. For fans, the weekend was a dream come true.

“This is the best thing I’ve ever done,” said Sam Myers, of West Virginia, who drove 10 hours to get a picture with Daisy Duke. “She was my first love.”

The Dukes of Hazzard ran for 147 episodes on CBS from 1979 to 1985.

Left: Sam Myers and actress Catherine Bach

Coming next: Behind the scenes at the press conference and interviews with the cast.


TVFan said...

This was a very interesting piece. I've never seen an episode of The Dukes of Hazzard believe it or not, but I know so many people who absolutely love the show and would be very envious of your trip. :-) I had no idea that so many people would come out - this is amazing and a true testiment to the legacy of this show. It's great that the advent of DVDs and syndication on CMT have allowed new fans to jump on board as well. Thanks for sharing your experiences at the Dukesfest! It was a lot of fun to read. :-)

tube talk girl said...

Thanks TVFan for the nice comments. I can't believe you've never seen the Dukes. I watched it the other night for the first time in years, and believe it or not, it's still good. It's one of those shows that seems to stay timeless. You should check it out. I promise you'll laugh out loud at least once. I have more great stuff coming from Dukesfest, but I'm on vacation and haven't had a chance to post it yet.

TVFan said...

I can't wait to see what else you have! I'll definitely try to catch an episode. My parents' neighbors have two boys who call themselves Bo and Duke (their cousin lay claim to Luke) because they're huge Dukes fans. They're still known by nthese names to this day and they're 26 and 24! Both brothers are baseball pitchers (not professional), and they're known as Bo and Duke on and off the field. It cracks me up!

Anonymous said...

DUKESFEST 2006 was a BLAST! Too much fun...'Yee Haa!' We will be at the 2007 event and in Little Rock, AR for Dukes Day.

Anonymous said...

Hey great article. You interviewed my boyfriend and we were looking to see if his picture was here, but no such luck. Oh well better luck next time. I have not heard about dukes day in little rock can you give any more info on that??

tube talk girl said...

Hey Anonymous 2 - I just added more photos to the Photo Gallery in the "Behind The Scenes" post. I think I may have added your boyfriend's photo, if he was the guy with the car hood. Also, you can find more info about Dukes Day in Arkansas here: http://www.starscarsandmore.com/

Anonymous said...

hey john schneider is sexy and im a devoted fan of john schneiders andhes always gonna be bo duke in my heart hes my idol and i want love to meet john schneider one day yeehaww

Michelle said...

Hey you didnt happen to get any pictures of Stella Parton on stage didja???

I was hanging around the stage when she was on it, was on it with her at one point.... anyway I have been looking for Stella photos from this Dukesfest since I got home that year and I am sad to hardly find any :(

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