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 www.ultimatedallas.com

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