Imagine, for a moment, an alternate universe where Canada is the dominant entertainment production force on the planet rather than the United States of America. Everything about the two countries is exactly as it is now the only exception is that Hollywood is in Vancouver and the major television networks dominating North American television since its inception are CTV and CBC and based in Toronto. Now imagine that these twin towers of Canadian broadcasting produced the exact same television programs the American networks did only they did so in their quintessentially Canadian way. What would those historic TV shows have looked like?
First up for this Canuck Frankenstein fantasy is a childhood favourite of mine and arguably (by very small groups of troubled, middle-aged men) the greatest television show of all time, The Dukes of Hazzard. One could argue this has already been done. A convincing thesis could be made that Corner Gas is exactly what a Canadian version of The Dukes of Hazzard would look like. Others might argue that Trailer Park Boys is exactly what a Canadian version of The Dukes of Hazzard would be like. It makes for a funny premise, but you’d certainly not have seen it on CBC.
But to see what the show would have been like on CBC in the same 1979 to 1985 time period in which The Dukes of Hazzard aired, we must look past Brent Butt, past Bubbles, and start thinking Beachcombers and The Littlest Hobo. This is what I imagine The Dukes of Hazzard would have been like on CBC if my imaginary alternate universe was a reality.
- The Balladeer
The opening song is one of the most famous parts of The Dukes of Hazzard. Written and sung by the legendary Waylon Jennings, it’s going to be hard for the CBC to track down a similarly statured Canadian country singer, especially in that late Seventies to early Eighties time period. Luckily they won’t have to look long because Canada had someone even better that is perfect for the role of The Balladeer; Stompin’ Tom Connors.
- The Location
The setting of The Dukes of Hazzard was integral in its success. Steeped in the nostalgia and mythos of the rebel south, the show was dripping with good ole boy, ridge runner NASCAR mystique. My first instinct is that this screams Alberta. Take away the oil wealth, and there’s a definite similarity in the rebellious pride between Albertans and Georgians. But it’s that whole moonshiner hook of the Dukes of Hazzard that doesn’t quite mesh with the wide-open prairies. You could argue that Moose Jaw might be a spot with its tenuous connections to Al Capone but that too feels more gangster/FBI than bootlegger/Sheriff. There is one Canadian entity, though, that does have an illegal booze history and that’s Seagrams, the onetime largest distiller of alcoholic beverages in the world. They became such by running illegal booze into the United States via St. Pierre and Miquelon (French Islands off Newfoundland) during prohibition.
This is exactly the kind of anti-government, anti-corruption bent we need for our CBC version but there is once again a small problem. The Seagram name and founding distillery is from Waterloo, Ontario while the Bronfman family, the ones doing the booze smuggling, hails from La Salle, Quebec, a suburb of Montreal. I’m partial to Waterloo since it’s my childhood stomping grounds and I remember driving past the old Seagram Distillery buildings.
But this is a CBC show and we’re talking 1979 to 1985, the tail end of Pierre Elliot Trudeau’s reign as Canadian Emperor, so you can bet a canoe load of beaver pelts this show would have been set in Quebec. With Montreal taking the place of Capitol City, a place the Duke Boys spoke of often but rarely, if ever, visited and is presumed to have been Atlanta, the Eastern townships seem an ideal Canadian replacement for rural Georgia. It’s an area with a large English speaking minority in la Belle Province so the show will resonate across the country. Plus there’s even a historical racing ties to this region. Though it’s open wheel Formula One racing rather than NASCAR stock car, the notable Villeneuve family hails from Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu which just so happens to be located between Montreal and the Eastern Townships. Perfect, Quebec it is.
- The Car
The most popular character on The Dukes of Hazzard wasn’t a person at all, but rather an orange 1969 Dodge Challenger with 01 on the side, a Confederate Flag on the roof, and lovingly dubbed the General Lee in honour of the Confederate General.
The easy thing to do is simply use another Charger or similar type of muscle car, but this is a CBC production which means Canadian content is a must. Now, a truly Canadian automobile is impossible to find from this time period or any. Oh there were a handful of genuine Canadian automakers during the inception of the industry, but nobody is going to want to watch a show with motorized carriages crawling around the backroads of Quebec.
There is another option though. The Bricklin. Though the brain child of an American and only produced for two years, the Bricklin has a decidedly Canadian flavour in its pedigree having been entirely assembled in New Brunswick. A sporty monstrosity, it came in many spritely colours including the all-important orange. The unique gull-wing door design is a fantastic alternative gimmick to the welded shut doors of General Lee fame.
As for decoration and naming, it’s obvious to me that a Canadian flag would have been on top though I suppose in homage to the rebel nature of the original Dukes of Hazzard, a Union Jack on top of a car in Quebec would have been on par with the Confederate Flag. With separatist sentiment running at peak heat in those days, there is no way the CBC would have stirred the pot like that. Even a Quebec flag would likely be truer to the nature of a rebel, but again, CBC would have stuck with the Canadian flag which was actually still pretty new to the country in 1975.
As for naming, this too comes with contention due to show location. There are two obvious choices, General Wolfe or General Montcalm (General Brock being a third alternative). An orange Bricklin sporting the Union Jack and named General Wolfe is pretty awesome. An orange Bricklin sporting the Fleur-de-lis and named General Montcalm is equally brilliant. An orange Bricklin sporting a Canadian Flag with both Generals’ names on top is exactly what the CBC would have done making it both distinctly Canadian and frustratingly compromising. Maybe putting this show in Ontario would be best and take away all these problems?
The number on the door will be 67 commemorating Canada’s birth as a nation. That’s an easy one. And I’ll reveal a personal secret here. I loved The Dukes of Hazzard but I always thought the 01 was rather stupid.
- The Cast
Casting can make or break a show. It’s hard now to picture anyone else playing those infamous roles on The Dukes of Hazzard. A fully Canadian cast of Seventies/Eighties vintage actors doesn’t immediately give me a yearning to watch this show. I mean, Boss Hogg and Roscoe P. Coltrane and Uncle Jessie are legendary characters, not to mention Daisy, Cooter, and Enos. And we all saw the debacle that occurred when the suits felt they could easily replace Bo and Luke with Coy and Vance (shiver). Then again, few of stars of The Dukes of Hazzard were household names prior to the show’s airing.
But make no mistake, a Canadian cast there would have been on a CBC Dukes of Hazzard and this is what I suspect it might have looked like.
1. Bo and Luke Duke
Their car may have been the star of the show, but these two cousins were definitely the focus of it. Cousins, but more like brothers, there are only two Canadians who have ever embodied a similarly close familial bond as the Duke Boys. I speak of none other than the greatest Hosers ever to have lived, Bob and Doug McKenzie.
Now, as much as the Dukes of Hazzard was a comedy and certainly a bit ridiculous, it wasn’t an SCTV level farce. So I’m not suggesting that literally Bob and Doug McKenzie play these roles, but Dave Thomas and Rick Moranis most definitely. One’s even blond and the other brunette and, much like Tom Wopat and John Schneider, Dave and Rick have dabbled in the recorded musical arts. They’re perfect for the roles.
2. Daisy Duke
Next to the General Lee, easily the second most seductive character on The Dukes of Hazzard for any pubescent boy was Daisy. If I recall, she was uncomfortably seductive to her two cousins too, but I digress. Choosing a period appropriate Canadian siren is a challenge. Unlike comedians, this hasn’t necessarily been our nation’s strong suit in television, Pamela Anderson notwithstanding. We need someone as equally appealing in a bikini as they are believable driving a muscle car or jeep and kicking ass in six inch heels.
The Dale sisters come to mind but there’s one Canadian vixen from the period that fits this bill perfectly. She would gain stardom in 1981 as a Playboy Playmate, B movie actor, and eventually Gene Simmons’ wife, but in my alternative universe her big break would come a couple years earlier on a breakout hit CBC television show. I’m talking, of course, about Shannon Tweed.
3. Uncle Jesse Duke
Ah the patriarch of the Duke clan. Everyone loved Uncle Jesse. Even Boss Hogg begrudgingly respected him. He represented the wise, aging, noble rebel who knew absolute right from wrong and guided the youngsters in their daily battles with life and the crooked law. He even got involved in the mischief once in a while.
Our Canadian version needs a kindly but firm soul; one who looks his age but still commands respect. And he’s gotta have a great beard and greying at the very least, preferably shocking white. Thankfully Canada has the perfect actor for this pivotal role.
In 1979 he would have been a few years removed from his last major television role and ready to step forward as the father figure in our new, soon to be hit show. A lighthearted comedy/action affair, it would be refreshing change from his historically serious characters. I’m talking of Raymond Burr, the legendary Perry Mason and Ironsides actor. The Dukes of Hazzard would be a momentous return to prime time television for the legend and add some star power to the fledgling show.
4. Jefferson Davis “Boss” Hogg
Every great show needs a great villain and few television villains have been as perfect, or perfectly cast, as the blustery, gluttonous Boss Hogg. But holy shit, try to recast him with a Canadian! Fat, villainous, older Canadian actors aren’t exactly a dime a dozen. John Candy is an obvious choice but at the time he was way too young. And loveable. William Shatner is plump now but in the late seventies he was still fairly trim. Besides, it’s doubtful he’d have ditched the wig for the role.
Frankly, I’m having a hard time even thinking of a great Canadian villain. It’s not a role we aspire too, apparently. The most ruthless Canadian TV villain I can think of is Cyril Sneer of The Raccoons and, well, he’s a cartoon. Fishka Rias would have been the absolute perfect Boss Hogg. You remember him as Igor on the fantastic Hilarious House of Frightenstein. Unfortunately, he died in 1974 which leaves him somewhat indisposed for television work in 1979.
The best option I can come up with is Al Waxman. He’s five years younger than Sorrel Booke but that’s within acceptable margin of error. Shave the head, put on a white suit, and stick a plate of ribs in front of his face and he’s believable as Boss Hogg in my book. Plus he can do blustery, as we saw on Cagney and Lacey.
5. Roscoe P. Coltraine
Speaking of William Shatner, it just so happens that our Dukes of Hazzard show needs a police officer and a certain former Starfleet captain spent the early eighties playing just such a part. Who’s to say Shatner didn’t don the blue and sheriff’s badge a few years before TJ Hooker? His acting style is perfect and he would have absolutely owned the role of bumbling Sheriff Roscoe P. Coltraine.
I doubt very much his ego at the time would have let him take such a role. One can dream. Close your eyes and imagine an angry “DUUUUUUUUUUUKES” in place of “KHAAAAAAAAAAN” and you quickly appreciate the genius of this casting.
6. Cooter Davenport
Cooter was the Duke Boys’ loyal friend who always had their back when battling the devious Roscoe and Boss Hogg. He was also a master mechanic and creator of various ingenious mechanical devices used to thwart Hogg’s plots. There’s one, and only one, perfect option for this role and he’s a master handyman of sorts himself. I’m referring to Steve Smith whom we all know now as Red Green.
In the seventies Smith was starring in his own sketch comedy show, Smith and Smith, with his wife Morag. It coincidentally ran on CHCH from 1979 to 1985 and is where the Red Green character originated. The role of Cooter is a perfect fit for Steve/Red’s country bumpkin sensibility and who knows, a General Wolfe/Montcalm Bricklin held together with duct tape might have been an ingenious gimmick for the show.
7. Enos Strate
Oh how badly I want Patrick McKenna to play this roll. He played Harold on The Red Green Show, a character poured from the exact same mold as Enos Strate. Sadly we have an age problem since McKenna was only a teenager in 1979. That’s a bit too young.
Enos was Roscoe’s klutzy deputy. A sweet, honest, straight cop who was stuck between a rock and a hard place in Hazzard County’s crooked justice system. He also had a major crush on Daisy who never fully requited but adored and protected Enos. We need someone who embodies the loveable dunce.
Robert Clothier, better known as Relic on Beachcombers, is an option. Turn down the crustiness and Relic is basically Enos after retirement. But again, age is an issue. Robert was in his late fifties by 1979. That’s too old.
Here’s who I think could have pulled it off and more importantly, is the perfect age. Alan Thicke. He was on the verge of talk show stardom here in Canada and as we all learned in the mid-eighties thanks to Growing Pains, he can do sitcoms. He’s got an honest, good-boy look to him, though perhaps a bit too good-looking, and it wouldn’t have been a stretch to do the nervous, shy Enos shtick. And hey, he could have even helped Stompin’ Tom write the theme song.
8. Every Other Character
As with most ensemble television shows, there are dozens of minor characters that show up sporadically throughout its run or even just in single episodes. Typically these roles are filled by D list actors or, on the rare occasion, special guest stars. In a unique but ingenious move, CBC hired Billy Van to play all these roles based on his fantastic work on The Hilarious House of Frightenstein.
I can’t believe I almost forgot Flash! Flash was Roscoe’s beloved pet and constant companion. He was also a girthy, droopy-eyed Basset Hound. That’s why the name is so funny, see? Anyway, as much as I’d love to maintain continuity and have Flash continue as a hound, this role absolutely, unequivocally must be filled by a legendary Canadian canine who just so happened to also have a hit show running from 1979 to 1985. A German Shepherd might not be an ideal a four-legged companion for the goofy Roscoe, but The Littlest Hobo has GOT to be the dog on this show.
- The Bar
I’m going to take a little temporal license here. I’ve tried very hard to keep my imaginary Dukes of Hazzard true to its time period. But there is one staple of the original Dukes of Hazzard for which an ideal Canadian contemporary doesn’t exist and that is The Boar’s Nest. This is Boss Hogg’s honky tonk bar. His office is located here, Daisy works here, and it is the setting for plot progressions or twists in many episodes. The show just wouldn’t be the same without it.
And there is a flawless Canadian equivalent for The Boar’s Nest just dying to be used in my imaginary CBC The Dukes of Hazzard; Don Cherry’s Grapevine. Unfortunately, the first bar/restaurant using Grapes’ moniker didn’t open until 1985. Because it’s such the ultimate Canadian replacement for The Boar’s Nest I’m going to pretend it was a thing in 1979 and that’s what the bar in this Dukes of Hazzard was called.
There you have it folks. If the greatest television show in history had been a CBC production it still would have been the greatest television show in history.