Inspired by the 1975 motion picture, 'Moonrunners', written and directed by Guy Waldron, CBS ordered 13 episodes of 'The Dukes of Hazzard' in 1978 for showing at the start of 1979. The first 5 episodes were shot on location in Atlanta, Georgia. The last 8 episodes were filmed at Warner Bros Burbank Studios (Agoura substituting for Georgia). Described as a "high concept" program (catering to the mass market), the series centered around the Duke family who lived in the mythical Hazzard County and driving an orange race car, the 1969 Dodge Charger called "General Lee." James Best remembered, "We've been told on several occasions that any one of the actors can be replaced because the car is the real star of the show."
In the television universe, 'The Dukes of Hazzard' was the biggest midseason hit of 1978-79. Of its popularity, Catherine Bach observed, "The family unit is very important in 'Dukes of Hazzard'. Every show has the family sitting around together at least once saying grace for supper or maybe saying a prayer for one of their friends. So there are touching moments and family moments and fun. There's no real danger on the show and no real violence." Tom Wopat added, "Our stuff is fantasy . . . Take the characters – they're really caricatures. But we try to make them as human as possible in a fantastic situation. It's a fantasy when you jump a car 150 feet, roll over, and nobody gets hurt. Still, we don’t want to stretch belief too much."
After 'Dallas', 'The Dukes Of Hazzard' was the 2nd most popular show on TV between 1980 and 1981. John Schneider remarked, "I'm not surprised that our show is near the top of the ratings . . . The show has comedy and adventure. Young people enjoy the spirited fun and older people like seeing 3 kids having a good time without drinking, smoking or using drugs. There's no real violence. Nobody gets hurt. Actually, the idea for this show began before 'Smokey and The Bandit' (1977). The creator of 'The Dukes of Hazzard' is Guy Waldron. He came out with the 'Moonrunners' series in 1970. It was about moonshiners (*) and it bombed out. But it had 2 guys and a gal, just like our show, who lived with an uncle. It was just a little ahead of its time."
(*) Moonshiners were people specializing in liquor trading, "a business tradition predating the American Revolution (1775-1783)." Catherine told 'United Press International', "It's ('The Dukes of Hazzard') really a piece of Americana. It's something that's happened in a lot of peoples' past with the cars and the moonshiners. Moonshining is where stock car racing evolved from in the United States today (1981)." On the show, Luke and Bo earned "spare cash driving in stock car races." John pointed out, "What could be more Americana – perhaps other than Norman Rockwell – than 'The Dukes of Hazzard?'" It was reported, "In 1969, Dodge Chargers won 22 of the 54 major NASCAR races."
On reflection, Tom made the comment, "There are cartoon aspects. I think the thing about our show is that it's done so well. Paul Baxley, the stunt coordinator and second unit director, takes the money and turns it into beautiful stunts. A lot of people in the Midwest and South watch 'The Dukes of Hazzard' and they see it as a fantasy of their own lives. They've got the car with the mag wheels and the 440 engine, but they may live in a tarpaper shack. It was uncommon for the car to be worth more than the house. These people see our show as the epitome of their lifestyle."
'United Press International' noted, "So popular was 'The Dukes of Hazzard' that it was No. 1 and No. 2 in the ratings for April 26, 1981. Astonishingly, both episodes were reruns. It was a first in the history of television ratings. Only 'Dallas' had better ratings for the 1980-81 TV season than 'The Dukes of Hazzard.'" Catherine believed, "Ours it is a very old-fashioned show. It has a high level of morality. Our car chases aren't violent and there isn't any sex. Nobody ever gets killed. The characters are all wholesome and likable. The show could be compared to a modern-day Robin Hood story every week. The boys don't go through the bureaucracy to solve their problems. They take things into their own hands. We always find the good guys against the bad guys. The good guys win.
"We have a formula people want to see. John and Tom are good with throwaway lines. I like to think of it as country cool. There’s a high level of integrity in our shows, even when it comes to Daisy. She wears provocative outfits, but maybe it's the way I fill them out. Her costume has become fashionable, especially at rock concerts in the South – cut-off jeans, T-shirts and high heels. You see it all the time . . . Our show touches the hearts of viewers, not the intellect. It reaffirms the family unit and other traditional values." John maintained, "There’s nothing wrong with having old-fashioned standards as long as it comes naturally."
Of the car chases, John made known, "We are essentially very careful when we drive since there are insurance considerations. The stunts viewers see are handled by the second unit and professional drivers. Nevertheless, we have fun doing a few things you just couldn't try out on a public highway." Tom had stated, "I do worry that somebody's going to drive like that. I have a conscience about that. We try to rationalize the speeding and stunts. We have a reason for it – we're being chased or harassed."
In 1982-83, Tom and John sat out the first half of the season over royalties dispute with Warner Bros., Licensing Corp. of America and Knickerbocker Toy Co. Inc. (alleging 2.5% to 5% of the gross from merchandise sales, some $190 million worth in 1981, was changed to a flat 5%). In July 1982, a nationwide talent search got under way. A field of over 2,230 candidates was narrowed down to 6. Byron Cherry and Christopher Mayer were screen tested and recruited to play Coy and Vance. From the outset, Chris conceded, "The biggest hurdle we have to get over is having the American public love us as much or more than our cousins." After 18 episodes, ratings for 'The Dukes of Hazzard' fell (ranking dropped from No. 13 to No. 65), Warner Bros. made the announcement in December 1982 that the contract dispute had been settled and Tom and John would be returning on the show.
John recounted, "They (Warner Bros.) didn't think it mattered who was driving General Lee. They thought the car was the star of the show. What they didn't realize was that there was a close-knit family feeling in the cast. People really believed in the Dukes and cared about them. We got letters from little kids saying, 'Coy and Vance don't drive like you guys'. What they (the fans) didn't realize was that it was the same stunt drivers all along. It was the real family feeling they were missing."
Creatively, John also disclosed, "Tom and I planned the break 5 months before it happened (in January 1982). It wasn't any spur-of-the-moment thing. 'The Dukes' is the biggest merchandising success in the history of TV – over $200 million so far (by the end of 1982). But creative problems were the real reason Tom and I left the series. We knew we were in trouble when friends would say, 'When will the new shows be on?' and we'd have to tell them those were the new shows. The scripts were so much alike, everyone thought they were reruns." James Best seconded, "We keep doing the same show over and over, just changing the heavies. How many ways can you jump a General Lee? I think the public would like to know something more about the characters. The writers we've had have exhausted their ideas, so the show should be opened up to new writers."
"I can see why some people go a little crazy in a series," Tom acknowledged. "It's not fulfilling their need to create. I can see why people jump series." Mary Crosby mentioned, "I'm an actress and there's so much I want to learn . . . I'll do anything that will let me grow creatively as an actress and won't stereotype me in a sort of typical TV mold." Tom continued, "I enjoy working. I get a little stir crazy when I'm not. On Friday night (in those days) I'll fly across the country to a custom car show and fly back on Sunday night in time to get to work at 6:30 Monday morning. Our schedule's tough, but I feel I get paid for it." 'The New York Times' understood the stars to be earning around $25,000 per episode. Tom told Newspaper Enterprise Association, "I expected that my residuals would be worth $3 million or maybe a bit more. But it's less than that. It's not exactly chicken feed – I figure I'll make a quarter of a million a year for the next 5 years (between 1985 and 1990) – but it's not what I'd expected. Still, if I live modestly and don't go off the deep end, I believe I can exist for the rest of my life on my income from the show and what that money is earning for me."
'The Dukes of Hazzard' ended its run in 1985. "In the 7 years we did the show, life got pretty hectic a lot of the time . . . and have something that runs 7 years is phenomenon," Tom said. John told 'Entertainment Tonight', "For 7 years it's the only thing in my life other, of course, than my immediate family that has been around for that long and I'm going to miss it." In 1997, 'The Dukes of Hazzard Reunion!' TV movie went on air and in 2000, 'The Dukes of Hazzard: Hazzard In Hollywood' movie was made.