Leading television viewers out of the 1970s and into the 1980s, NBC’s popular road comedy, “B.J. and the Bear” aired from 1979 to 1981. As an independent trucker, Billie Joe ‘B.J.’ McKay, played by Greg Evigan, crossed the country with his best friend ‘Bear’, a chimpanzee named after Bear
With the American highways drawing more and more family vacationers to find their own ways rather than fly from destination to destination, the nation’s freeways were packing up, and viewers wanted to imagine what else might be happening out there. NBC’s initial formula for ‘B.J. and the Bear’ had the buddies pulling into a new conflict each week, usually with the help of a local pretty girl who had no one else to turn to. Comedy, thrills, and romance would most usually follow…
Hitting the road with Bear
Thanks in part to the success of Clint Eastwood’s ‘Every Which Way but Loose,’ and the movie’s illogical introduction of an orangutan as a driving partner, along with the Snowman’s (Jerry Reed) basset hound ‘Fred’ from ‘Smokey and the Bandit,’ it seemed American audiences expected long haul drivers to always have an animal companion for the trip. With this in mind, it made perfect sense in TV land to have Bear be a chimpanzee. With the suspension of belief that a wild animal could sit still for long stretches on cross country trips didn’t seem to matter much.
The show used a classic Kenworth K-100 cab over semi in red for the truck for the show’s entire run, with various other models being driven by supporting truckers in the series. For classic truck aficionados, the show is a great way to travel down memory lane and is available on Hulu.com.
Nearing the end
As the show began to lose steam toward the end of its televised run, the writers had B.J and Bear settle down and start their own trucking company, trying out the catchy twist of hiring only young, pretty female drivers. The gimmick wouldn’t last and the show would go off the air in 1981. One lasting legacy of the show was it spun off the mildly successful ‘The Misadventures of Sheriff Lobo’ starring Claude Akins, no stranger to trucker programs after his own mid-70’s run in ‘Movin’ On.’
Read more trucking history in The Trucker's Library.