After my reporting of TV Land’s cancellation of The Dukes of Hazzard Tuesday kicked off a national media frenzy a day later, the suddenly-controversial TV series has jumped to the top of the Amazon sales charts. DVDs of the 1979-85 CBS series now occupy the six top slots on the DVD Best Sellers list, with a collection of two reunion movies charting at number 12.
For fans who disagree with TV Land’s decision to pull the show – and, based on the traffic this site has gotten in the last few days, there’s a lot of them – this is great news. Now for the bad news: season 1 and season 4 are already out of stock, and you’ll have to wait as long as two weeks for the e-tailer to ship the other five.
Perhaps sensing an opportunity, Amazon is streaming the 1979 Dukes pilot episode free of charge. You’ll have to endure some commercials in return for a free lunch at the Boar’s Nest, but the episode is uncut and in its original 4:3 aspect ratio (unlike the remastered, widescreen versions TV Land had been airing).
In fact, Amazon streams all seven seasons of the series, but unlike the thousands of TV shows and movies included with their $99 Prime membership annual fee, a visit to Georgia’s fictional Hazzard County is gonna cost you a little something extra. Digital copies of individual episodes are priced at $1.99, or you can buy a full season for $19.99 (most of which goes to Boss Hogg, I assume).
Now let’s run the numbers.
Collecting the complete series of The Dukes of Hazzard on DVD (which will require paying a mark-up to a third party seller for the first season) will cost you at least $215 (plus shipping). Buying the series electronically from Amazon nets out at about $140.
Best of all, you can watch the episodes on your TV using an easy-to-set-up Internet streaming player. (I’d recommend a Roku, which is the most transformative piece of consumer electronics I’ve ever owned.) The shows are commercial-free and you can watch them whenever and wherever you want, using Amazon’s apps for your iOS or Android tablets and phones.
As a 10-year-old in 1979, the automotive slapstick of cousins Bo, Luke, and Daisy, their Uncle Jessie, and chief antagonist Sheriff Rosco P. Coltrane was a weekly ritual for me. Is the show silly? You bet. Intentionally so. Is it racist? I watched it for years and that thought never occurred to me. It still doesn’t, and I’m about as liberal as they come. But as I’ve learned over the years, affection for classic TV and film can make strange political bedfellows.
This country needs to engage in a serious national dialogue about race, but that conversation has very little to do with The Dukes of Hazzard. I respect the perspectives of those who take issue with use of the Confederate flag in any context, but I’d encourage folks to revisit The Dukes of Hazzard before they dismiss it as a racist relic. There’s a line the narrator (country music legend Waylon Jennings) says in the pilot episode that I think sums up seven years of storytelling:
The Duke family was in the whiskey business 50 years before the Declaration of Independence. They fought everybody from the British to the Confederacy to the U.S. government to stay in it.
It’s that rebellious spirit that appealed to me a kid, and still resonates for many audience members today. Focusing only on the roof of a car misses the forrest for the trees and it demeans a vital issue with a nonsensical sidebar.
But perhaps more importantly, this sort of revisionist censorship runs the risk of having a chilling effect on access to all classic film and television. Because anything that’s old is going to include portrayals and perspectives that may be problematic to contemporary sensibilities. Instead of burying beloved classics on the Internet or in museums, let’s watch and learn from them.
The fight to save classic film and TV has begun, and that fight may just have started in Hazzard County.