Dallas: What It Had And What It Lost

Discussion in 'Dallas - The Original Series' started by Kenny Coyote, Aug 23, 2019.

  1. Kenny Coyote

    Kenny Coyote Soap Chat TV Fanatic

    Message Count:
    1,267
    Trophy Points:
    690
    Gender:
    Male
    Occupation:
    Rock Guitarist
    Location:
    Maryland
    Ratings:
    +1,429
    Gender:
    Male
    Dallas has been called both a drama and a soap opera. Dallas started out as a moderate success in its five episode first season, became a phenomenon and ended after becoming something barely recognizable. Finding its direction helped lead to the tidal wave of popularity Dallas was riding in the early 80s. Losing its direction led to Dallas drowning in its excess.

    When you see an episode of Dallas from the first 7 years and compare it to episodes of that last 7 years of the series, it's quite noticeable that they had taken the show in a different direction. They apparently felt the need to try to make everything more glamorous, more spectacular, and to try to tell stories on the biggest scale imaginable. Where they once had a fairly good sense of realism, the arbiter of what they considered good television had decided realism had become expendable. "The audience will never expect this" seemed to be what they used to justify any story they aired, no matter how outlandish or unbelievable.

    When it started, Dallas wasn't a soap opera at all. The episodes were made up of stories that for the most part began and ended within that episode. I'd describe how it was then as a drama that had the style of a modern day western.

    Then they began having each episode continue where the last one left off. At that time, the only other TV shows that did that were all soap operas and then people started referring to Dallas as "a primetime soap." Today it's hard to find a primetime TV drama that doesn't use that serial style and I don't think they're all called "soaps."

    Dallas has had such a huge impact on the style in which primetime dramas tell their stories that I'm sure there plenty of people that don't even know that Dallas was the inspiration for all the primetime TV shows which later used that same style where each episode picks up where the last one ended. They might think that's the way it was always done, but before Dallas started doing that, all the other primetime TV dramas had self-contained episodes. The stories began and ended within that same hour. That serial style was so different for the time that there was nothing to compare that to except for soap opera.

    Using a serialized format was a brilliant decision for them. It was a risk too because nobody had ever been highly successful in primetime with it before. Peyton Place used it from 1964 to 1969 to some success but when it ended in 1969, nobody even tried it again until Dallas. It was a huge part of what made Dallas what it was during most of its best years. They took a big risk and it paid off for them extremely well.

    It's the other change they made, which is also associated with soap opera that was so costly. They tried to make their stories on a bigger scale, more spectacular, and more shocking. Unfortunately when that started to cost them viewers, their answer was to go even further in the same direction.

    When the show was in its earlier years, they could make a good story like Pam leaving Bobby because she was torn between her loyalty to her brother and her loyalty to her husband. She moved in with a friend who had been a call girl. JR used that situation to do something to try to keep Bobby and Pam apart for good but it backfired. It had the unintended consequence of reuniting them. It's not the most talked about storyline they ever did but its an example of what they did so well back then.

    They could tell a story without having to make it something spectacular. They kept things on a scale where people could relate to the characters in their stories. Their problems were mostly either with each other or with people in their community. It was, for a TV show, fairly realistic. The stories they told connected with their audience because they emphasized quality as opposed to emphasizing flashy, spectacular content. By season nine, they had to have international intrigue. The Ewings were dealing with some Greek billionaire we'd never heard of before, and who just happened to look exactly like Jack. He also just happened to be dead. The season after that JR payed BD Calhoun to blow up oil fields in Saudi Arabia.

    That direction they'd chosen cost them quite a large portion of their audience. Instead of going back to what had made them the phenomenon they'd been in their glory days, instead of listening to their audience they pushed back against the audience. They pushed further in that same direction which had been costing them so heavily. It was a risk that I don't even know they realized they were taking. They decided they knew what their audience wanted better than the audience did. Arrogance sometimes comes with becoming a star. A certain lifestyle almost always goes along with becoming a star. It's hard to make good decisions when you have so much liquor and coke in you that you feel invincible.

    When you become so infatuated with your own success, you begin to believe you can do no wrong. Dallas had a story where the Ewings possibly had made a terrible mistake five years earlier when they determined that their father had died when his helicopter crashed into a lake. There was a man who arrived at Southfork who looked nothing at all like Jock but claimed to be their father. He explained that by saying he'd been burned so badly that the plastic surgeons had to construct a whole new face for him. He didn't have a scar on him and looked to be about ten years younger with a completely different build but nobody seems to notice any of that. They lost their perspective.

    By the end The Ewings were dealing with a German man who turned out to be offering to buy their oil in a deal which was a front for OPEC. This put them in a quandary. What do they do when they found out about that? Naturally they go to the Soviet Union and get advice from the Russians. If they were thinking "The audience will never expect this" they were right. They were wrong on the matter of "Would the audience believe this or even want to see this."

    When anyone tries to use that strategy, it can't work for more than a short period of time. How do you surprise and shock the audience after that? How could they keep getting bigger and bigger after JR and Bobby are involved in a story involving OPEC and the Soviet Union?

    You reach a point where you can't keep topping yourself and when they did, what had been the most successful TV series of the 1980s wasn't pulling a rating anymore that even justified airing the show anymore. That's a sad epitaph for what had once been a show that 90 million Americans and 360 million people worldwide watched to find out "Who Shot JR."

    Dallas had not yet found its direction when it began. It was a show that was off to an interesting start. They told good stories. They had a western feel to it with the ranch, the horses, the barroom brawls, the beer, the liquor and the guns. Then they decided to make the stories continue from week to week and the stories got better and better. They had what was TV's most beloved couple: Bobby and Pamela Ewing. They had all that going for them and one more thing too.

    They had learned they hadn't quite realized what they had. When they did, when they learned how to fully utilize Larry Hagman in the character of J.R. Ewing, people got hooked on Dallas! Dallas was a show that you could not stand to miss. Dallas would make you stay home, even on a Friday night. It was the hottest thing on TV. People would have parties where they'd all get together to watch Dallas. As @Lastkidpicked likes to say "Dallas was one helluva ride"!

    Dallas had all of that. They had all those things going for them but nothing can burn that hot for too long without burning out and Dallas did. Being the highest rated show on TV is a high place from which to fall. In a fall as spectacular as any of its wildest storylines, Dallas ended its 14th year as only the sixty first highest rated show on TV.

    Dallas lost its direction, Dallas lost lots of the actors in its original man cast, and Dallas lost its perspective. There is something very appropriate about it though: Dallas was a show about people who had tremendous things in their lives, who took tremendous risks which payed off a lot of the time, and who didn't realize just how good they had it. Until they lost it. Only then did they realize what they'd had. They realized it too late and found themselves left in the stillness of remembering of what they had....and what they lost. What they had...and what they lost.
     
    Last edited: Aug 23, 2019
    • Like Like x 3
    • Winner Winner x 3
    • Agree Agree x 1
  2. Lastkidpicked

    Lastkidpicked Soap Chat Well-Known Member

    Message Count:
    604
    Trophy Points:
    984
    Gender:
    Male
    Location:
    United States
    Ratings:
    +1,249
    Medals:
    2
    Member Since:
    2008
    This is a very thoughtful post, just like we have come to expect from Kenny Coyote.

    I know that lots of us will enjoy commenting on his ideas. May I take Kenny's observations of Dallas the show, and hold them up against the timeline of events in Dallas the city?

    When Dallas started, it came at a perfect time. The television of the time were "reality" shows. Meaning they were trying to capture real people in real lives. Think of One Day at a Time, All in the Family, and Good Times. Yes, this was quality television showing real people, but we needed a distraction!

    Along comes Dallas, with its good looking and wealthy families. Watching wealthy and powerful J.R., along with beauty queen Sue Ellen was just the distraction we needed. And people started tuning in.
    And this is a perfect analogy for historical events at the time. We didn't know which direction we were going. Especially in Dallas (the city) we didn't know if we should hold on tightly to our Cowboy past, or grab on to our future.

    And this is a very good point. Jock drove a Lincoln, very similar to the same Lincoln the bank manager down the street drove. Sue Ellen drove the wood sided Country Squire, just like the station wagons lining the driveways of suburbia. We could look at the Ewings and think, "They are rich, but they go through many of the same things we go through."

    And again, it is interesting to look at this against the backdrop of history. On the news, we were hearing about failed negotiations for this, failed attempts to accomplish that. And here is J.R., that magnificent bastard who even if you hated him, you had to admit he got things done!

    And this, coupled with shooting on a sound stage instead of on location, caused the show to lose its "grittiness". The whole thing started to look fake. As @Rove said, "When you look at the sky in the background, you can see the seams of the vinyl sheets."


    And lets place that against the backdrop of history at the time.

    Wealthy executives had car phones and companies were starting to use computers on a daily basis. The producers tried to shoehorn some of this in to show that Dallas was a modern show, but it just looked out of place. It is funny now to watch Bobby or J.R. pretend to hit a few keys on a computer to show that they understand modern technology. It was also around this time that Dynasty was taking the wealth angle way over the top, and for some reason the producers of Dallas felt they had to follow.

    I agree that there is something very appropriate to the way Dallas ended. In Texas, family dynasties come, and family dynasties go. They have a life cycle to them. If you look at the entire series, it has a Shakespearean flavor to it-- Young love and optimism trying to overcome the establishment with a firm grip on the world. Add to it the protagonist who starts out having the world on a string-- he is already wealthy and is heir apparent to a profitable oil company. He successfully wooed and married Miss Texas.

    What could go wrong?
     
    Last edited: Aug 23, 2019
    • Like Like x 5
  3. Rove

    Rove Soap Chat Enthusiast

    Message Count:
    2,492
    Trophy Points:
    1,323
    Location:
    Newcastle, New South Wales, Australia
    Ratings:
    +4,123
    Perhaps my answer might be simplistic but I'll say it anyway. Those first several seasons which everyone agrees were the best of Dallas also had Phillip Capice at the helm as Executive Producer. Leonard Katzman (Producer) may constantly receive the accolades for the success of Dallas but let's not forget he orchestrated the removal of Phillip. I'll be brave and step out onto the plank by saying it was Phillip who kept the series grounded in reality. It's my opinion he understood the dynamics of showcasing a series about family drama.

    Leonard, upon his return and left to his own devices, took his position on the Throne and impaled Dallas on the stake. There is something poetic about the rise and fall of what was once considered...MUCH WATCH TELEVISION.
     
    • Like Like x 1
    • Agree Agree x 1
  4. Willie Oleson

    Willie Oleson SoapLand Battles Moderator

    Message Count:
    10,912
    Trophy Points:
    9,250
    Gender:
    Male
    Occupation:
    marriage counselor
    Location:
    the vacated Armstrong mansion
    Ratings:
    +20,085
    Medals:
    12
    Gender:
    male
    Member Since:
    April 2002
    But it's the continuous multiple-drama-structure that makes it a soap opera and, let's be honest, B-grade entertainment (as opposed to a movie or a mini-series that tells a story).
    It doesn't really matter how good or bad it is, they can have Meryl Streep and Marlon Brando and the best production values in the industry, but the very idea that a character - no, a group of characters - goes from one extreme situation to another, non-stop and year after year, is downright hilarious. And that's what (sort of) degrades the genre, and I guess the reason why they call it guilty pleasures.

    Peyton Place, Valley Of The Dolls, Dallas, they're all designed to intrigue, shock and seduce the audience. The focus is on human drama but they can borrow from most movie genres, excluding supernatural and science fiction.
    Stuff happens to us in real life too, but it happens randomly.
    You mention Greek tycoons and whatnot, but that's just the package. Being set up by a brother-in-law time after time, dead girlfriends popping up out of nowhere, paternity issues flirting with exciting staircase moments - that's bizarre and unbelievable. And that's how drama becomes melodrama, yes, even Dallas' golden years.

    A larger-than-life storyline requires a larger-than-life scenery (and budget) and a far more complex and detailed set up, and I think that's why most of those storylines look tacky by comparison - although I'm not saying that there wasn't any effort at all.
    But it's in our nature to want and do more, so in a funny way it kind of make sense.

    I believe there was a demand for grandeur and excess in novels and tv productions, hence the raging success of the 70s and 80s mini-series. Not surprisingly, both formats died out together.
    You could randomly pick a popular Jeffrey Archer/Sidney Sheldon/Judith Krantz story, and chances are it has royalty and international intrigue in it. FALCON CREST already did it in its second season.
    To cut a long story short, DALLAS was "guilty" of responding to pop culture. In hindsight, it was a perfect vehicle to escape repetition. It was still the same old ridiculous soap, but with an impostor or emerald mine in the middle of everything they could make things look different.
    I'm not sure if I can buy the argument that it all backfired and drove the audience away, after all, DYNASTY became the #1 hit show because of the Moldavia cliff hanger.
    I can inform you that DYNASTY's season 5 doesn't look like a hit show at all.

    What caused the decline of the super soaps has been discussed ad nauseam, I think it was a lot of things happening at the same time.
    The last instalment of PEYTON PLACE was still marvelous soap (imho) and yet The Audience lost interest. Not because it sucked, but just because.
    There is no guarantee whatsoever that DALLAS would have retained its immense popularity if it had been done differently, although I'm sure that the hardcore fans would have appreciated it.
    DYNASTY was cancelled after one of its most exhilararting seasons, while KNOTS LANDING managed to survive with its last and (comparatively) mediocre seasons.
    Could it be because people are notoriously fickle?
     
    • Like Like x 2
  5. Snarky's Ghost

    Snarky's Ghost Soap Chat Oracle

    Message Count:
    5,921
    Trophy Points:
    6,136
    Occupation:
    INFJ
    Location:
    Haunting that cozy cellar under Falcon Crest
    Ratings:
    +7,692
    Medals:
    7
    Member Since:
    September 2000
    So true. So true. 24/7 hype nevertheless made it #1 despite bizarre structure and terribly lackadaisical storytelling. That's probably part of why Season 5 of DYNASTY is so very '80s.

    I would argue, however, that soap opera is viewed as being particularly unrealistic specifically because it is actually more realistic (comparatively). Episodic drama with no continuing plot threads is often just as OTT, but everything starts all over again with the next installment so we don't really compare it to reality. But because a soap shows what happens the next week and the next month, it's seen as being "more melodramatic" because it doesn't pretend last week never happened (even though that's exactly why soap opera is, technically, more realistic).
     
    • Agree Agree x 1
  6. Kenny Coyote

    Kenny Coyote Soap Chat TV Fanatic

    Message Count:
    1,267
    Trophy Points:
    690
    Gender:
    Male
    Occupation:
    Rock Guitarist
    Location:
    Maryland
    Ratings:
    +1,429
    Gender:
    Male
    Hey, Lastkidpicked, I enjoyed your timeline of events. You always have an interesting perspective to add to the forum.

    You did hold onto a little of your Cowboy past, I hope!

    That's a good point. Whatever else you might think of him, it's hard to not to be impressed with that degree of competency JR had in respect to getting things done. You can take a look at how many people were watching when JR was as we've both described and then watch how those numbers fell as they made JR less and less capable. That stayed pretty consistent. The less capable JR got, the less people watched.

    That's a great word to describe the feel of early Dallas. It had "grittiness." The production as you've just mentioned was a good part of that.

    Jim Davis also brought a lot of grit to the show. What a wonderful job he did in his portrayal of Jock Ewing!

    The atmosphere gave it that as well. Dallas, whatever name they had given it, was a show that had to take place in Texas. You've described that larger than life quality that Texas has in other posts. I love how Texans are so proud of their home state. That's great.
     
    Last edited: Aug 24, 2019
    • Like Like x 1
    • Winner Winner x 1
  7. Taylor Bennett Jr.

    Taylor Bennett Jr. Soap Chat TV Fanatic

    Message Count:
    1,208
    Trophy Points:
    690
    Gender:
    Male
    Location:
    one of them high rises down in Venezuela
    Ratings:
    +2,129
    Gender:
    male
    They could have made a Sopranos-like drama out of the original setup, though - but that simply wasn’t done back then. I think especially the decades before 1978 could have worked that way, with Jock ruthless and in his prime and all the dark business with Gary and Valene.

    Mafia and New Jersey isn’t inherently more interesting than Texas oil, is it? Maybe it is, or else we’d see as many movies and shows about the latter...
     
  8. Rove

    Rove Soap Chat Enthusiast

    Message Count:
    2,492
    Trophy Points:
    1,323
    Location:
    Newcastle, New South Wales, Australia
    Ratings:
    +4,123
    I've also heard the prime time soaps of the 80's being referred to as Supersoaps. Not sure if that was just an Australian thing or if it was used overseas.
     
    • Like Like x 1
  9. Rove

    Rove Soap Chat Enthusiast

    Message Count:
    2,492
    Trophy Points:
    1,323
    Location:
    Newcastle, New South Wales, Australia
    Ratings:
    +4,123
    This argument could easily be applied to the recent failing of TNT Dallas and The CW Dynasty. Both shows are guilty of plot driven rather than character driven devices. With the latter I'm not sure if the producers were going for the guilty viewing aspect and if they were it's failed. Meanwhile back at Dallas..........
     
  10. Kenny Coyote

    Kenny Coyote Soap Chat TV Fanatic

    Message Count:
    1,267
    Trophy Points:
    690
    Gender:
    Male
    Occupation:
    Rock Guitarist
    Location:
    Maryland
    Ratings:
    +1,429
    Gender:
    Male
    OK, if we use that definition for a soap opera, is there any such thing as a soap opera which is A-grade entertainment?

    I think that problem is likely to happen anytime an artist is willing to let the audience tell him how to do what he does.

    That's an interesting thought. Do you find that concept of Dallas as a Sopranos-like drama inherently more interesting than Dallas as it it was?

    I think I may have heard that term "Supersoaps" used here in The U.S.A. as well.

    On the subject of what people label a certain show or type of show, why would The Sopranos have been not considered a soap, even though it was in a serial format? I saw enough of The Sopranos that I'm familiar with it, but I don't remember the specifics of it.
     
    Last edited: Aug 24, 2019
  11. Willie Oleson

    Willie Oleson SoapLand Battles Moderator

    Message Count:
    10,912
    Trophy Points:
    9,250
    Gender:
    Male
    Occupation:
    marriage counselor
    Location:
    the vacated Armstrong mansion
    Ratings:
    +20,085
    Medals:
    12
    Gender:
    male
    Member Since:
    April 2002
    But was there a Sopranos-like drama before The Sopranos? Every genre has to have its first example, well at least that's how Dallas is perceived by most fans.
    Of course. I've viewed TNT Dallas as a somewhat distilled, cut-to-the-chase version of Lorimar Dallas. That's why I feel that he essence of sinful Dallas was still very much there, but presented for a modern-day viewing.
    As for CWDynasty...I don't know. It's...something else!
    It's A-grade entertainment to me, because it happens to be my favourite genre.
    The serial format itself doesn't prevent it from delivering highbrow drama. Depending on budget, talent and devotion you can make it look as good or bad as you like.
    I have seen A-grade writing and performances in various soap operas, but in the grand scheme of things, the lives of these soap characters are ridiculous.
    I dare you to describe Valene Ewing's life on Knots in a nutshell without bursting into laughter.
    And that was the most intelligent soap.
    Of course, a soap opera could never upstage the outrageousness of real life, no matter how hard they'd try.
    If WWII was a fictional story it'd be classified as pulp, science fiction garbage. But it happened.
    And I guess that's what makes the soap genre such a paradox, as described by @Snarky's Ghost.
    I only know it as @Toni's website.
    Because a) it was more on-topic and b) it wasn't comfortable enough.
     
    • Like Like x 2
  12. Snarky's Ghost

    Snarky's Ghost Soap Chat Oracle

    Message Count:
    5,921
    Trophy Points:
    6,136
    Occupation:
    INFJ
    Location:
    Haunting that cozy cellar under Falcon Crest
    Ratings:
    +7,692
    Medals:
    7
    Member Since:
    September 2000
    But why?
     
  13. Willie Oleson

    Willie Oleson SoapLand Battles Moderator

    Message Count:
    10,912
    Trophy Points:
    9,250
    Gender:
    Male
    Occupation:
    marriage counselor
    Location:
    the vacated Armstrong mansion
    Ratings:
    +20,085
    Medals:
    12
    Gender:
    male
    Member Since:
    April 2002
    Why...what?
     
  14. Laurie Marr

    Laurie Marr Soap Chat Active Member

    Message Count:
    182
    Trophy Points:
    277
    Location:
    Manchester,UK
    Ratings:
    +309
    What Dallas had: a rich backstory to propel the drama.

    What Dallas lost: a rich backstory to propel the drama.
     
    • Like Like x 1
    • Winner Winner x 1
  15. Willie Oleson

    Willie Oleson SoapLand Battles Moderator

    Message Count:
    10,912
    Trophy Points:
    9,250
    Gender:
    Male
    Occupation:
    marriage counselor
    Location:
    the vacated Armstrong mansion
    Ratings:
    +20,085
    Medals:
    12
    Gender:
    male
    Member Since:
    April 2002
    It's not possible to successfully create new angles, motives and conflicts?
     
  16. Laurie Marr

    Laurie Marr Soap Chat Active Member

    Message Count:
    182
    Trophy Points:
    277
    Location:
    Manchester,UK
    Ratings:
    +309
    Yes - but in a way that’s anchored to the founding premise of the show. The story reached its natural denouement in the Spring of 87.

    I’m sure new angles, motives and conflicts could be manufactured for a continuation of Romeo and Juliet, but I wouldn’t be as engaged by Friar Laurence’s newly formulated erectile dysfunction medicaments or tales of the Nurse’s knitting circle.
     
    Last edited: Aug 24, 2019
  17. Richard Channing

    Richard Channing Soap Chat Enthusiast

    Message Count:
    2,451
    Trophy Points:
    3,348
    Occupation:
    Entrepreneur
    Location:
    Tuscany Valley
    Ratings:
    +7,223
    Medals:
    8
    Member Since:
    December 21st, 2013
    I think for a soap to have longevity it's also crucial to bring in dynamic new characters who themselves have longevity, and whose presence takes the stories in new and interesting directions. But unfortunately that Midas touch for casting that seemed to be going on when the Primetime soaps started out didn't last. Couple that with a decline in writing and repetitive plotting and you've got problems.
     
    • Agree Agree x 2
  18. Rove

    Rove Soap Chat Enthusiast

    Message Count:
    2,492
    Trophy Points:
    1,323
    Location:
    Newcastle, New South Wales, Australia
    Ratings:
    +4,123
    Absolutely...but as long as the writers have investigated their own history prior to dropping in a character unexpectedly. Here is a case in point. And forgive me if I have my timeline incorrect. Prior to Jamie Ewing arriving (1985) at Southfork unannounced did we know anything about Jason Ewing? For a series about the Ewing family we knew little of Jock's background.

    I would not have minded the introduction of another blood Ewing as it has the potential to move the story forward while reaching into its own past as Laurie Marr so eloquently states;

    The issue I took with Jamie and eventually Jack was it felt forced, especially so since well established characters like Katherine and Afton were sent packing. Now if the made for television drama, Dallas: The Early Years had aired earlier than it did (1986), or at least aired prior to Jamie arriving we would have this connection to the past but creating new angles, motives and conflicts.
     
  19. Willie Oleson

    Willie Oleson SoapLand Battles Moderator

    Message Count:
    10,912
    Trophy Points:
    9,250
    Gender:
    Male
    Occupation:
    marriage counselor
    Location:
    the vacated Armstrong mansion
    Ratings:
    +20,085
    Medals:
    12
    Gender:
    male
    Member Since:
    April 2002
    The DALLAS forum has taught me that there are various interpretations of that very premise.
    Yes, and I'll use Peyton Place's last chapter as an example again that it was possible. All new characters and storylines completely unrelated to the old ones, but they were good so it never stopped being fascinating.
    See? Backstories in Soapland are never carved in stone:D
     
    • Like Like x 1
  20. Toni

    Toni Soap Chat Star

    Message Count:
    2,673
    Trophy Points:
    4,535
    Occupation:
    Aspiring writer and factual webmaster
    Location:
    Fletcher Sanitarium, Barcelona, Spain
    Ratings:
    +4,838
    Medals:
    4
    Gender:
    Male
    Member Since:
    September 12, 2001 (poster formerly known as Pam's Twin Sister)
    Actually, I think it was TV Guide the one who invented the term of Supersoaps. Afterwards I´ve seen it in books and internet too. Miss Piggy is whispering to me that she was the one who made it up, but I doubt it...
     

Share This Page