By JULIE HINDS
KNIGHT RIDDER NEWSPAPERS
Have y'all seen the commercial for the new "The Dukes of Hazzard" movie, which comes out Aug. 5?
It's the one where Jessica Simpson, wearing the famous Daisy Duke short shorts, delivers a swift kick to a rude good ol' boy and pins him by the neck with her high-heeled shoe.
Remakes are all the rage this summer. "Bewitched" turns the Elizabeth Montgomery sitcom into a Will Ferrell-Nicole Kidman vehicle. "Herbie: Fully Loaded" brings back the "Love Bug" franchise. "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory" is updating "Willie Wonka."
But who knew a revival of "The Dukes of Hazzard" would generate such buzz? Well, it makes sense. The Web is littered with "Dukes" fan sites. The country-music cable network CMT is getting good ratings from "Dukes" reruns.
There's a large, loyal base of "Dukes" supporters out there who've never stopped celebrating the show, which ran from 1979 to 1985.
With its mix of rural fantasy and NASCAR crash-'em-ups, "The Dukes of Hazzard" is many things at once: a pop culture icon; a "Hee Haw" on wheels; a series that made the General Lee car, a 1969 orange Dodge Charger, a superstar; a series that ignored the racial and social issues of its time and place, and an example of how escapist television is often as beloved as grittier fare.
The show's appeal seems as strong now as it's ever been. Stronger if you ask the most loyal "Dukes" followers.
In mid-May, fans lined up at the Motor City Comic Con event in Novi, Mich., to meet Catherine Bach -- the original Daisy Duke -- and buy an autographed photo.
"The movie is giving us the national attention, but this has been going on for a million years," says Bach, who, like other cast members, has remained active in various "Dukes" events.
This weekend, as many as 50,000 fans are expected to gather at Tennessee's Bristol Motor Speedway and Dragway for the CMT DukesFest 2005, an annual gathering for fans.
It's sponsored this year by CMT, the cable channel that began airing "Dukes" reruns twice each weeknight in late February. A special "Dukes of Hazzard" weekend to kick off the reruns drew 23 million viewers to CMT and set several viewing records for the network.
At the Dukes Fest event, CMT will announce the winner of a contest to be vice president of "the CMT Dukes of Hazzard Institute," a one-year job that pays $100,000 and involves watching "Dukes" reruns, knowing the words to the "Dukes" theme song, acting as a "Dukes" media expert and writing for the network's online blog.
Making a difference
What is it about "Dukes" that turned a simple fable about fast cars, cute guys, goofy police officers and a babe in barely-there cutoffs into a phenomenon?
"It just appeals across the board to all ages," says CMT spokeswoman Amanda Murphy. "It's a piece of American culture and people still feel a part of this show. It appeals to so many people who are now at an age when they have children. It's got a huge nostalgia factor."
Bach agrees, citing the G-rated content of "Dukes."
"I think everybody from 3 years old to 90 years old can appreciate that show," says Bach. "It's a family show. You don't have to be embarrassed. ... I think this show is something where you can put your feet up and not worry."
Of course, "Dukes" owed much of its gentle feeling to being so divorced from reality. Taking its cue from "Petticoat Junction," "Green Acres " and other rural sitcoms of the 1960s, it dealt with a South where race wasn't an issue and black characters were mostly absent (except Sheriff Little of Chickasaw County, who was added in 1981).
There was no sex on the show, save for the blatant sex appeal of Daisy Duke's incredible shrinking outfits. And there was no real violence or animosity, even though the episodes revolved around cousins Bo and Luke Duke evading the law and outwitting Boss Hogg. The action was narrated by Waylon Jennings, the late country outlaw singer.
And don't underestimate the appeal of Daisy Duke, the woman who attracted many teen males and spawned a fashion trend that's still around.
Will Jessica Simpson be able to fill Bach's shorts, literally and metaphorically? Bach says, "I don't have a problem with that. I think she's a cute little girl. ... Of all people, I'm certainly not going to be the one to judge her, because I'm such a fan of all women, all girls."