Striking it rich, again: A new Dallas for a new generation

“Dallas” originally aired on CBS from 1978 until 1991. The show, already popular, became iconic in 1980 when JR Ewing, portrayed by Larry Hagman, was shot in his office. Throughout the summer of that year people were left wondering: “Who shot JR?” Fans finally got the answer in November 1980. The conclusion drew over 100 million people to tune in on a Friday night. Just about every main character was questioned, including his alcoholic wife, Sue Ellen. It was his sister in-law Mary—whom he was having an affair with—that shot him. She ended up dead in a pool not long after that.

Throughout the 1980’s, “Dallas”, along with “Dynasty” (and, to a lesser extent, “Falcon Crest” and “Knots Landing”,) came to represent the excess of money and idolatry of power that came with the decade. It also became quite bizarre, borrowing a few tactics from daytime soap operas.
Another classic cliffhanger came in 1986 when, Bobby Ewing, portrayed by Patrick Duffy, was killed by a hit and run. One day, his wife Pam, wakes up and goes to the shower. Guess who’s lathering up…you guessed it…it was Bobby. Bobby didn’t really die; his wife just had one of the longest dreams in television history!

This storyline was quite controversial because it interfered with sister show, “Knots Landing”. “Knots” centered on black sheep brother Gary Ewing (Ted Shackleford), and his wife, Valene (Joan Van Ark), who moved to California. The shows crossed over occasionally. Ms. Ellie, the family matriarch, along with Bobby, helped Gary and Val move to California. When Bobby “died”, Val and Gary went to Dallas to attend his funeral. Since Pam dreamed this all up, it meant that a full season of Knots would have been a dream as well. Knots Landing kept Bobby dead and, there were no subsequent crossovers for the rest of the shows’ runs.

“Dallas” finally ended its historic and memorable run in 1991 with another classic cliffhanger…JR shoots himself!

The nostalgia that kicks in after something has been off the air for a period of time settles down on people. In my own family I remember hearing about Patrick Duffy’s character Bobby, long before I knew who he was. I knew him as Frank, the character he portrayed on Step-by-Step. I remembered that when my grandmother would watch the show with me, she would smile and say, “There’s Bobby.” She told me about “Dallas” but I didn’t understand why she always had to bring up his name and that show. This was Step-by-Step, not “Dallas”.

I got my answer years later when SoapNet began re-airing shows like “Dallas”, “Dynasty”, “Knots Landing”, “Another World”, and “Ryan’s Hope”. Initially, I was drawn in to the cul-de-sac craziness of “Knots Landing” and the tragedies and triumphs of the characters on “Another World”. Eventually I got to meet Bobby Ewing, figuratively. Now I understand why she couldn’t get him out of her head. Bobby was handsome and charming. Compared to his bad boy brother JR, he could appear the weaker of the two, but he could be just as strong and powerful if he needed to be.

After a while, SoapNet stopped airing these iconic shows from and gagged viewers with endless repeats of Beverly Hills 90210, “One Tree Hill” and “The OC”. While I loved these shows when they aired, seeing them on so much was overload. I wanted my other shows back. Wasn’t there room for them all?
It wasn’t long, though before my appetite for “Dallas” dealings would be satisfied again. In 2012, after a failed attempt at a movie deal and buzz around Hollywood of a remake centering on the children (now adults), TNT and producer Cynthia Cidre brought “Dallas” back to life. The show began airing in June 2012.
“Dallas” began its third season on Feb. 24th. The reason this it’s working, unlike some of the other reboots and remakes of the last decade, is because they brought in original characters from the original show: JR (Hagman), Sue Ellen (Linda Gray) and Bobby (Duffy). The show is working because these characters are not on the back burner. They have just as much story as their adult children.

The show, while still critically acclaimed, is not receiving the ratings it was years ago. Put any top show from 1984 on and see if it will garner thirty five million viewers a week on a broadcast network. Times have changed, there’s so much more out there on television (basic and premium) and the internet, but the interest is still there. “Dallas” may not have thirty five million people watching a week anymore, but two to three million viewers on TNT on a Monday night is nothing to complain about.

I end this post acknowledging the passing of Larry Hagman. He died five episodes in to season two, and while his presence is missed, the actors and actresses are definitely making him proud. I’m sure he’s looking down from his dude ranch in the sky with a sinister grin and a few southern belles by his side.

Dallas airs every Monday at 9 p.m. on TNT.
To learn more about the original series, go to the website

Rinse, Wash, Revive: Are soap operas poised for a comeback?

Soap fans rejoice! After years of declining ratings and cancellations, the remaining four daytime soap operas seem to have found steady ground. All four—CBS’s “The Young and the Restless” and “The Bold and the Beautiful,” ABC’s “General Hospital,” and NBC’s “Days of our Lives”—have increased their ratings from year to year. Two of the four, “Days of our Lives” and “General Hospital,” had the bleakest of futures ahead of them this time two to three years ago, with both networks ha dropping soap operas from their lineups for a number of years.

In less than a decade, NBC dropped “Another World” (1999), “Sunset Beach” (2000), and “Passions” (2006), among others. ABC cancelled “Port Charles” (2003) and, in 2011, infamously cancelled two flagship shows: “All My Children” and “One Life to Live” on the same day! CBS cancelled fewer shows in the last decade, but they were two of the longest running shows in television history: “The Guiding Light” (2009), and “As the World Turns” (2010).

There’s nothing wrong with cancelling a soap opera; however, what made these cancellations so frustrating for fans was a lack of viable replacements. Just about all the replacements on all the networks were talk shows and game shows. Again, this is nothing new, but in the previous decades, there was room for soap operas, talk shows, court shows, and game shows. There were a slew of daytime soaps cancelled in the 1980’s, but others were created: “The Bold and the Beautiful” (1987), “Santa Barbara” (1984-1993), “Loving” (1983-1995), and “Generations” (1989-1991), just to name a few.

When ratings for all soaps began to steeply decline in the mid-1990s, executives, writers, and producers became frantic. They threw long-time veterans to the wind and brought on young and beautiful actors and actresses who had no ties to characters currently on the canvas. Whatever the reason for the drop (the OJ Simpson trial, women becoming more active in the workforce, additional channels on cable and network, the expansion of the Internet, too many new unimportant characters, etc.), the changes did not help attract new viewers. Ratings for soaps kept dropping until they began leaving the air. The execs at CBS, ABC, and NBC all came up with the same excuse—reason—for cancelling these shows: they’re too expensive, people don’t want to watch them, and talk shows and reality shows are more popular.

So what has people tuning in again? There’s a good amount of speculation, but I believe soaps have been going back to their roots: taking chances with bold storylines, finding a way to incorporate veteran and new characters, and tying new characters into the families of veteran characters; and, especially important, the writers are trying to bring back a sense of humor, intellect, passion, and love. That hasn’t been around for quite some time.

For soap fans it’s about inter-generational storytelling. It’s one of the places on TV where women in their 50’s and beyond can still carry a storyline, much like Jeanne Cooper, who was a front-burner character on “The Young and the Restless” for forty years. Catherine Chancellor was definitely one of the reasons why that show has been at the top for so long (it’s been the number one soap opera since 1988). The great thing about “The Young and the Restless” is that even when the numbers began to fall, they managed to keep the focus on many of their veteran cast members. Could it be the reason for “General Hospital’s” rise in ratings? In the last two years, characters that have not been seen in the fictional town of Port Charles for twenty years have returned with riveting storylines of their own. As of late, the Quartermaines, once one of the core families of the show, have been given more airtime (but still not enough).

New characters must come on. That’s the only way to keep a soap opera going. What soap writers, producers, and executives need to remember is:

1.) Soap viewers are intelligent; they always have been. As long as there are strong characters and compelling storylines, viewers will tune in. Will there ever be a time when thirty million people watch a soap (like they did when Luke and Laura married on “General Hospital” in 1981)? Probably not. However, a decline in viewership should not mean that writers then dumb down characters, or producers feel obliged to cheapen the look and feel of a show. It will not keep older viewers watching, and it surely will not attract new viewers.

2.) We value our veteran entertainers. Even those of us who weren’t around to witness the height of Luke and Laura (“General Hospital”), Nikki and Victor (“The Young and the Restless,” and Erica and all of her husbands (“All My Children”), know who these people are. You need them to ground your show. They can also teach up and coming actors and actresses a few things. It’s not that the younger set isn’t talented, they just need help honing in their skills, just like the veterans needed help when they were in the same position. There should be a passing of the torch from one generation to the next on a soap opera, but it needs to be handled carefully.

Susan Lucci played Erica Kane on One Life to Live(courtesy of Wikimedia Commons)
Susan Lucci played Erica Kane on One Life to Live (courtesy of Wikimedia Commons)

3.) Read Douglass Marland’s How Not To Wreck A Show. It should be a mantra that the remaining four TV soaps live by if they want to stick around for a few more years. If ratings continue to rise, there may be hope that a new soap opera could end up on network television, the first time since 1999’s “Passions.”

Thanks for reading and feel free to share your opinions!