In the middle of the six-year Dukes of Hazzard run, Warner Bros replaced its lead stars John Schneider and Tom Wopat only to reverse the decision one season later. And the reason the studio gave the classic TV actors the boot isn’t surprising. As usual, it was all about money.
The series, which debuted in 1979, followed the rowdy antics of Georgia-born cousins Bo and Luke Duke. With the help of their other cousin, Daisy, and their Uncle Jesse, the boys would foil the plans of the backward Hazzard county lawmen Boss Hogg and Sheriff P. Coltrane each week on CBS. And they famously saved the day while driving their 1969 Dodge Charger named General Lee.
The series was an instant hit. By the end of its first season, it was already ranked as the 9th most popular show in the country. By its second season, it rose to number 2. And between the episodes and merchandise, it was earning Warner Bros some serious cash.
Since John Schnieder and Tom Wopat were the reason that Dukes was so popular, they asked the studio for a pay raise and a percentage of merchandising profits. And they said that if Warner Bros didn’t meet their demands, they’d walk.
But the studio assumed that the actors were bluffing, so it refused to cut a new deal with Schneider and Wopat and said they could leave if they’d like. So they did.
With Dukes of Hazzard being such a hit, CBS and Warner Bros had no intention of pulling it from the air, so they started a nationwide search for actors to replace John Schnider and Tom Wopat. And after meeting with 2,300 guys, they settled on Bryon Cherry and Christopher Mayer.
‘Dukes of Hazzard’ Ratings Tanked After Studio Replaced John Schneider
Originally, the studio told the new actors that they’d only appear in 10 episodes while it worked out the contract dispute with the original stars. But the negotiations went on so long that they ended up sticking around for 19 installments. And all the while, ratings were plummeting.
Cherry and Mayer played long-lost Duke cousins Coy and Vance. The writers attempted to fill the shoes of the original stars with the new pair who looked creepily similar to Schneider and Wopat by having them carry out the same types of shenanigans. And the story explained away Bo and Luke by saying they went to try their hands at the NASCAR circuit.
But after Dukes dropped all the way to #34 in the 1982-83 season, Warner Bros stepped up its game to get Schnieder and Wopat back on screen. And luckily, everyone reached an agreement before the next season began filming.
The series ended up enjoying two more years on television. But it never did recover from the contract dispute. During the remainder of its time, Dukes of Hazzard never made it back into the top 20.