We watch... so you don't have to.

A Very Redneck Holiday

Over the years, Thanksgiving has come to be my favorite holiday. It's an occasion that has a lot going for it: you get to hang out with family and friends and eat way too much, without the pressure of exchanging gifts that makes Christmas such a stress-fest. But probably the best part of Thanksgiving is that it's a holiday built around the expectation that -- sometime during the day -- people will end up watching television. Whether it's the Macy's Thanksgiving Parade in the morning or football in the afternoon, a hearty helping of TV watching is a tradition.

Cable networks have jumped all over the holiday TV bandwagon the past few years, giving birth to a new tradition -- The Thanksgiving Day Marathon. String together a half-dozen semi-related movies or a cartload of episodes from a well-known TV series, slap a "Thanksgiving Day Marathon" label on it, and sit back to enjoy the festive ratings bonanza.

The most venerable of these, the "Mystery Science Theater 3000 Turkey Day Marathon," unfortunately seems to have gone the way of the dodo this Thanksgiving. However, I did find myself tuning in to several other marathons as the holiday progressed. There was USA's "Herc and Xena Battle-on-a-Thon" -- which, with the exception of a few Bruce Campbell guest spots, consisted of the real low-rent episodes -- the Family Channel's "Waltons Marathon" -- because hey, wasn't every day Thanksgiving on Waltons' Mountain? -- and the oddest choice of the bunch, the Discovery Channel's "Raging Planet Marathon." Unless you can think of another Thanksgiving Day marathon where you can watch a hapless pedestrian being swept away in a flash flood as you digest that last piece of pumpkin pie?

But this year, the marathon that truly captured my attention aired the day after Thanksgiving. I was mighty glad that my Friday was relatively free, so I could devote as much time as possible to TNN's "Dynamite Dukes Day," an extravaganza featuring the finest episodes of The Dukes of Hazzard.

As a pre-teen, oh those many years ago, I lived for Friday night viewings of The Dukes of Hazzard. My whole week revolved around that hour spent hanging out vicariously in Hazzard County.

I felt like I knew all those good ol' folks: the Duke boys, Bo and Luke; their Uncle Jesse and cousin Daisy; and the dastardly Boss Hogg and his no-good sheriff/right-hand man Roscoe P. Coltrane. Waylon Jennings, who narrated the series, became the voice of reason to me. Even now, I have only to hear the opening chords of the folksy theme song to experience a rush of warm well-being.

Ah, home to Hazzard.

For years after its departure from CBS's prime-time line-up, The Dukes of Hazzard was largely unavailable, its syndicated run limited to a handful of UHF stations in the wee small hours of the morning. My brother swears it had to do with the contract dispute which kept John Schneider and Tom Wopat away from the series for a spell in the early 80s.

As the aforementioned dispute ushered in the short-lived and best-forgotten era of Coy and Vance -- previously-unknown Duke relations brought in as second stringers during season 5 -- the less said of it, the better. The missing re- runs eventually surfaced exactly where they belonged, on TNN, where they've been part of the regular schedule for two or so years now.

I was thrilled to rediscover my former favorite show, but whenever I checked out TNN, they always seemed to be showing the dud episodes. I kept seeing the sketchy shows from the middle of the series run, when earnest deputy Enos had been supplanted by the cartoonish Cletus, and Roscoe was obsessed with his aging basset hound, the dubiously-named Flash.

I never caught the episodes that had made such an impression on me as a kid. I'm talking about Luke being forced to arm-wrestle in dangerous proximity to a poisonous cactus, or the boys "coming back from the dead" to haunt Boss Hogg after he posthumously accuses them of bank robbery.

Now that was storytelling.

It was therefore with some glee that I tuned in to the marathon on Friday and saw that TNN had put a little effort into the production. Someone went to the trouble of reaching a little further back than usual into the storage cabinet, and I was actually seeing classic Dukes episodes.

I watched a sizable chunk of the marathon, and it got me thinking. Could The Dukes of Hazzard survive in prime time today? Probably not. There was an ingenuousness about the show that just wouldn't fly in our bitter decade. I was keenly aware, as I observed the Duke boys innocently appreciating the charms of yet another bounteous Georgia lass, that it would be next to impossible now to present this material without giving in to the urge to undermine it by adding a covert layer of satire.

A large part of the mentality of the '90s seems to be about taking nothing seriously, but making absolutely sure that everyone knows you are in on the joke. Mind you, I don't mean to wax nostalgic about the '70s at the expense of the here-and-now... only to say that our TV shows ultimately suit our times. After all, only the '90s could have produced the snarky paranoia that characterizes the best moments of The X-Files, a show which would have likely crashed and burned immediately if it had debuted 20 years ago.

The Dukes of Hazzard wasn't great television. It wasn't sophisticated, and it usually didn't present anything we hadn't seen on TV, in one form or another, before. By the end of its run it had deteriorated into outright goofiness (yeah, that's right, I'm saying it wasn't goofy at the beginning), and I had long since stopped watching. But I will watch it now, whenever I encounter those early episodes, because it's like connecting with a little part of my own past.

There's something cozy about slipping back into that world I used to love, where I picked up more knowledge about whiskey stills and moonshine than anyone north of the Mason-Dixon line really needs, and took as gospel the fact that if you leave the county, you violate your parole. Thanks to the Duke boys, I learned that I can make a fast getaway by sliding across the hood of a car, even if I'm an adult now, stuck driving an aging Honda Civic instead of the classic General Lee.

Well, heck, the spirit is still the same.


TeeVee - About Us - Archive - Where We Are Now

Got a comment? Mail us at teevee@teevee.org.

* * *