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STUDIO: Warner Bros.
RUNNING TIME: 1059 Minutes
• Hazzard County Stunt Team: Reunited and in Your Face!: the original stunt team pays tribute to coordinator Paul Baxley
• Cooter’s Place: Keeping the Dream Alive: Visit Ben Jones’ shrine to all things Hazzard
Frequently, the exact moment that a long-running television show jumped the shark can usually be traced to an episode or two. That one instance that occurs when a popular program turns the corner and begins the long slide into Nielsen oblivion. Many shows also have up and down seasons as they get along in years, but frequently as the show goes past five years, the quality starts to suffer. Rarely can the point in time when a show jumps the shark be attributed to an entire season. However, of all the shows to be on TV the last fifty years or so, there’s hardly a more glaring example of a program doing the fish hopping than Season 5 of The Dukes of Hazzard. And it can all be attributed to four little words: Coy and Vance Duke.
"Keep runnin’, Coy! It’s gainin’ on us!"
This is the third go-round for me and the Dukes. I’ve made a couple of return trips to TV series before, but this is the first time I’ve come back for thirds. I tried to lay most of what I felt about the show out on the line with Season 3 (here). For Season 4, I compared the series to the recent theatrical remake (here). Normally I’d be scratching my head as to how to cover a season of a TV series – especially one I was so fond of back in the day – for a third time without repeating myself. Thankfully, with this controversial season of Dukes as the topic, this review is practically writing itself.
"Don’t forget to write, ya’ll."
"What were those cousins’ names again?"
"I done forgot already. Let’s go jump somethin’."
So why was Season 5 – the entire season – that in which the show leapt mackerel? Simple: money. The two stars, John Schneider and Tom Wopat, thought that they weren’t being paid what they were worth so they walked at the end of Season 4. The producers of the show thought they could get away with swapping out the two main stars of a top 20 show with two look-alikes. Enter Byron Cherry and Christopher Mayer, aka Coy and Vance: the long lost other Duke cousins. So who were these two men, arguably the most reviled replacements in TV history? Before landing this once in a lifetime gig, Byron Cherry was a United Airlines flight attendant. Throw in a couple of other TV one-off appearances such as Battle of the Network Stars, Murder She Wrote and In the Heat of the Night, as well as a couple of forgettable movies, and you pretty much have his career. Supposedly he has a business called Byron’s Barkeep in Ventura, CA. Christopher Mayer had several more film and TV credits, including appearances on Silk Stalkings, Xena, Sliders and Renegade, as well as a two year stint on Santa Barbara. He’s done the quickie Hollywood marriage and divorce thing a couple of times and that’s pretty much his story.
Have replacements of major TV characters worked in popular shows before? Sure. Probably the most famous is the two Darrins – Dicks York and Sargent on Bewitched. There the switch was due to York’s chronic bad back, which essentially ended his career, and was made without explanation. Sargent just showed up as Darrin one day and audiences went with it. Sargent lasted in the role for three seasons until the end of the show. York’s and Sargent’s interpretations of the character were polar opposites, but they both seemed to work. In Dukes, the switch was actually made with quite a solid explanation: that Bo and Luke went off to satisfy their lifelong dream of racing on the NASCAR circuit. If you had watched the show, you knew that that wasn’t something that was just made up, that in fact they had talked about it before. Where the replacement failed miserably was that the producers made the mistake of trying to replace the characters with exact replicas, with a few minor changes.
"So you sure we’re at least gonna get our SAG cards out of all this?"
"Yeah, I talked to George Lazenby…"
They get previously unheard of and cookie-cutter cousins Coy and Vance to come and help Uncle Jesse out with the farm. By cookie cutter, I mean that these two guys were meant to be Bo and Luke exactly, without being Bo and Luke actually. Luke was the older, brunette cousin, who was in the Marines, Vance was the brunette cousin who was in the Merchant Marines. Bo was the blond cousin who did most of the driving and was also an aspiring NASCAR driver, Coy the blond cousin who was a test driver in Detroit, and did most of the driving. To give the producers credit, they did change the shirts that the cousins wore: Bo, the blond in the yellow shirt and Luke, the brunette in the blue shirt, to Coy the blond in the blue shirt to Vance the brunette in the yellow shirt….
Another reason that the concept of Coy and Vance didn’t stick is that they were not just exact replicas of Bo and Luke, they were even squeakier cleaner versions of them. Bo and Luke had a bit of dirt to them – not much – but a bit, and Coy and Vance were friggin’ choir boys. I mentioned in one of the previous reviews that I think that was where the show went in a bad direction for me in retrospect. When it first started out, the Dukes weren’t the selfless, martyring, 700 Club caricatures that they quickly became, but were former shine-running, poon-hounding, much more three-dimensional characters. Coy and Vance would blow off getting laid to go rescue a cat from a mineshaft because that’s just the kind of swell guys they were. And although I’m not a drama critic, Mayer and Cherry just weren’t very good actors, let’s be honest.
"So what are jumping here?"
Getting past the whole Coy and Vance thing for a minute, there was another big change going on in Season 5, and many things that didn’t change at all. The big change was that Deputy Enos Strate (Sonny Shroyer), who had left in Season 3 for his titular spinoff show, Enos, returned to Hazzard at the same time that Coy and Vance showed up. He shared deputy duties with Cletus (Rick Hurst) for awhile before Cletus disappeared into the same ether that Coy and Vance did. As far as things that didn’t change, pretty much the same goings-on in Hazzard County were occurring: Boss was running schemes and the Dukes were trying to stop them. It just happened to be new Dukes doing the stopping. There were a few plot retreads with Coy and Vance that had been done with Bo and Luke, none more glaring than the episode Coy vs. Vance.
Consider that episode Carnival of Thrills-Lite, referring to the third season premiere two-part episode. In that one, Bo fell in love with a carnival owner who seduced him into doing a dangerous car jump that had almost killed several drivers before Bo. Luke had a problem with Bo risking his life for this jump and not being able to think straight about the whole thing when he felt the carnival owner was just using him. This led to Bo and Luke fighting and Bo going off and leaving the family. In Coy vs. Vance, take out carnival owner and insert carnival stunt bike rider, who happens to moonlight as a faux cop armed robber, and you’ve got exactly the same plot. Plus Hughie Hogg made his fourth appearance on the show in The Revenge of Hughie Hogg, when he comes up with a con job to become the new Sheriff of Hazzard County.
Bach’s concentration in this scene is mesmerizing, no?
The biggest episodes for Coy and Vance were their two runs-in with the Mean Green Machine, an armored tank-like truck invented by Boss to commit robberies, in the season premiere episode, The New Dukes and The Return of the Mean Green Machine. Of course, the pivotal episode of the season was Welcome Home Bo and Luke, when the contract dispute was up and Wopat and Schneider made their triumphant return to the show. Coy and Vance were gone by the first commercial break and forgotten about by the time people came back from their trips to the bathroom. This episode also gave Cooter a little drama to chew on when he was guilt-ridden over thinking that he caused a NASCAR driver’s car to crash because of shoddy engine repair he did (it wasn’t his fault thank goodness….)
"So, Catherine, you think after this is all over we could – "
"Not a chance in hell, Loser."
At the outset, I was planning to rip this season a new one just because it featured Coy and Vance for the majority. And make no mistake, Coy and Vance were the beginning of the end for Dukes. The show hung on for two more seasons, but by the end and several budget cuts, the General Lee was nothing more than a model toy jumping other models and Bo and Luke were trying to save a cute alien from exploitation by Boss and Rosco (Season 7’s Stange Visitor to Hazzard). But as I re-watched this season, I realized that except for Coy and Vance not being Bo and Luke, virtually nothing else had changed about the show. The showrunners were still going back to the well for the same show ideas as past seasons and they were pretty much sticking to what worked for them: having Boss and Rosco scheming and sometimes trying to pin the scheme on the Dukes, and the Dukes having to stop them to save their own skins along the way. Of course the show was becoming more and more about what crazy stunt they could pull off with the General.
Little did Coy and Vance know that the new Black General Lee they picked up during the Secret Wars had a sinister secret…
Except for the blatant rip-off Coy vs. Vance, I can’t really say that the writing of the episodes were that much different than any of the other seasons. In fact, compare the plots of Season 5 to Season 7 of the show. With episodes like the aforementioned Strange Visitor to Hazzard, Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Duke (Luke drinks contaminated water that turns him evil), Robot P. Coltrane (Boss replaces Rosco with a robot), No More Mr. Nice Guy (Boss gets amnesia after swindling the Dukes into accepting stolen goods), The Haunting of J.D. Hogg (the Dukes scam Boss into thinking he’s being haunted so he’ll donate his new inheritance to charity as intended), and the ludicrous When You Wish Upon a Hogg (Hughie Hogg returns for the 2,573rd time to swindle Boss, this time with a genie in a lamp scheme), and it’s a toss up as to which season was truly the worst. If you base it simply on Coy and Vance, then yes, Season 5 was definitely the worst. But I think back and I guess everybody involved did what they had to do at the time. Having the new Dukes was definitely a better thing than the show being cancelled, which would have been a disaster…at least it would have been for me back then. Now, well if you were a fan of the show, the Coy and Vance era were 18 episodes best left forgotten; and if you weren’t a fan, then you really don’t give a shit because the whole show sucked, right?
5.9 out of 10
Thankfully, focus groups didn’t quite go with the first replace-Bo-and-Luke idea: The Coltrane of Hazzard…
No different than the previous season box sets. Daisy Dukes: good, stock footage and bad stunt double work: bad. 1.33:1: always bad. Still some insane General Lee jumps to be seen in Season 5, but more and more it was becoming about the jumps than about the story. There’s some noticeable grain in many of the episodes and it appears as if some of them didn’t survive very well over the last twentysomething years. I must not have noticed it as much before because I was too busy looking for hot cousin in short shorts.
6.4 out of 10
The yea-hoos don’t sound quite as good this time, probably because there’s different Dukes giving them. Everything else – the jumps, Dixie Horn, fifty cars an episode being destroyed sounds the same. Only one performance by a guest country celebrity this season and that was Mel Tillis. W-w-w-which was a-a-a-alright with m-m-m-me.
7.2 out of 10
There’s two features in this set: Hazzard County Stunt Team: Reunited and in Your Face! and Cooter’s Place: Keeping the Dream Alive. The first is a nearly torturous 20-minute feature where all the original stunt team get together to reminisce about the the crazy stunts they did on the show, how many cars they wrecked, how little they were paid, blah blah blah. For what should have been one of the more interesting topics to riff on, the stunts of the show, this was one of the driest, most boring features I’d seen on a Dukes box set yet. Not nearly enough clips of the many great stunts they were talking about and too many anecdotes that only mean something to the six stunt team members and nothing to us. The second feature is a harmless six-minute offering by Ben Jones as he takes you on a tour of his shop in Gatlinburg, TN that has memorabilia from the show, including rare toys, posters and props. I myself had the Dukes rev-‘em-up-and -smash-‘em car set and it ruled.
4.2 out of 10
"Bo, you seen that last bag of cement?"
"It’s over by Coy’s disembodied head, Luke…"
Who cares where Bo and Luke are? Not me. Yowzah.
7.3 out of 10