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If Dallas Had Taken A More Positive Approach

Discussion in 'Dallas - The Original Series' started by Kenny Coyote, Jun 26, 2020.

  1. Kenny Coyote

    Kenny Coyote Soap Chat Enthusiast EXP: 12 Years

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    It's very difficult for a show to remain as successful as Dallas did for as long as they did. There's an idea now that if you manage to keep a series on the air for one hundred episodes, that's a huge accomplishment. Dallas lasted for 357 episodes. It's a level of success for a drama series that hasn't been seen since.

    It's been discussed here numerous times that the decrease in the quality of the scripts were a major contributing factor in the demise of the show. No matter how talented the actors are, a drama series needs to give their actors quality material to work with. It's also been discussed that the decision to have one producer call all the shots was probably something that hurt the show. Dallas had previously operated with both Leonard Katzman and Philip Capice at the helm. Then Katzman took over all the duties of running the show. If you try to do everything yourself, you're going to burn out eventually. It's good to have other people helping because one guy trying to run everything can become so closely involved in what he's doing that he can't see the forest for the trees.

    The idea of what would have happened if they'd taken Dallas in a more positive direction rarely if ever comes up. It's a show about a family of characters who are flawed to varying shades of gray, but even the less flawed characters have serious issues. All those characters also had some very redeeming qualities! Dallas was a blend of light and darkness. That worked great in seasons four through eight when Dallas was consistently either the most watched show or the second most watched show on TV. They probably gave people about as much of what they'd been giving them, that the public was bound to grow tired of it after well over 200 episodes, and move on to whatever they considered the next big thing.

    Faced with that situation, the only way to even have a chance of staying on top would be to give the audience a change in the direction of the show, one that would hopefully be viewed as a new exciting change, significant enough to keep Dallas exciting enough to where people would feel like they couldn't miss an episode of it.

    They did provide change but it was always negative change and I'm not referring to the quality of the scripts. Their idea of change was to have increasingly unfortunate things happen to the most watched family on TV. Besides the Ewing family itself, the two centerpieces of the show where Ewing Oil and Southfork. In season 10 a show already suffering from the loss of one of its most popular characters then lost Ewing Oil. How can you have Dallas without Ewing Oil? It's like Dallas without Southfork. There are certain intrinsic elements that made Dallas what it was and without them, you no longer have Dallas.

    From there it became a show depicting loss after loss. There wasn't much for the fans to be happy about anymore. JR Ewing, an iconic TV character, was no longer allowed to do what he did best. Pam and Bobby reuniting in season 10 was something for the fans to be happy about and that was taken away. Since Victoria Principal stopped working for the show, that had to happen, so why also take away Ewing Oil, and take away from JR what he did best - the thing that had made the character the most talked about character on TV and made Larry Hagman the most highly paid actor on TV? Why then proceed to disassemble the Ewing family piece by piece? They had made the worst mistake - they had stopped giving the fans anything to be happy about!

    The Ewings were a problematic family, with some characters having much bigger problems than others. The show had two choices at the end of season ten - to show their problems get worse and worse, have the most watched family on TV crumble, which is the easy approach, or they could have had the family struggle to fix its problems. That's the hard approach; that's the approach that requires creativity. They had built the most successful show of the decade. It's much easier to destroy something than it is to fix it. It doesn't take any talent or creativity to take something that had once been great and destroy it. To take the most successful TV show of the decade and instead of destroying it, build it up into something better is one hell of a challenge. Apparently it was seen as such a challenge that they didn't even want to try to take it on. They went the easy, predictable route of taking what they'd built and then broke it apart, piece by piece.

    Wow! Won't that be dramatic for the fans to see the ruination of an empire? Maybe, but is it gonna be any fun? Do you expect the fans to enjoy tuning in every week to see something they loved be destroyed? Why would they? People watch TV to have a good time. Some might even watch it as a form of escape. After all the problems they deal with all week long, it's nice to have something positive and exciting as a temporary escape from all the problems they're dealing with. If you just want to see problems you can watch the news. That's their specialty. Nobody is gonna outdo the news at that. Why not offer people something that after watching it,they'll feel better instead of worse? Don't you think they'd be more likely to watch again next week if they liked the way the show made them feel the last time they watched it? In TV you have the unique ability to make whatever you want to happen, take place. You have the ability to make characters triumph over seemingly insurmountable odds and do tremendous things! How many TV shows today take advantage of that? How many of them are using that unique ability to their best advantage?

    It ought to be some indication to them that when show after gets cancelled after 10 or 20 or 30 episodes that the easy approach - to destroy - is not the best approach. These shows learned from Dallas that a serialized format can be fascinating. That's why they all do it now! What these shows should have learned from the mistakes Dallas made in their last four seasons is that people don't want to see that. People weren't watching the Ewings every week because they wanted to see their favorite family destroyed.

    When Dallas was doing well, there was always hope within the story that things could improve for this family, that they could find a way to start improving their marriages instead of losing all their marriages, that they could start improving their relationships with their relatives and that each of them could choose to put forth the effort towards self-improvement.

    What if instead of ultimately destroying everything they'd built for the sake of the sheer spectacle of it, they'd taken the road less travelled. Suppose that instead of turning to the left, they'd turned to the right. That could have created fascinating internal conflict within each character - do you keep doing the tempting things that are easy to do because they're what you've always done or do you act courageously enough to try to grow as a human being and risk making mistakes on the road to becoming a better person? There was a always a good mixture of both positive and negative elements in Dallas in its best years. There was good and there was evil. There was hope and there was fear. When you take the hope away, you take the fans away.
     
    Last edited: Jun 26, 2020
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  2. Swami

    Swami Soap Chat Supreme EXP: 16 Years

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    To be fair, in many ways Dallas was a victim of its own success, it resulted in several rival shows appearing and inevitably with so much similarity between many of them, original storylines do start to get a bit thin of the ground.

    Dallas was always going to run out of steam at some point, but if they had retained the quality actors/actresses they let go, and completely ignored the talentless fools who they subsequently hired, the show might have exited in a better fashion.

    Swami
     
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  3. CeeCee72

    CeeCee72 Soap Chat Active Member EXP: 3 Months

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    Such a great post.

    For me, watching Dallas was fun because there were well developed characters with well constructed relationships. The final seasons were a complete betrayal of both.

    As you mentioned, Ewing Oil was gone. That removed a huge dynamic between JR and Bobby.

    We also lost Miss Ellie and Ray to ridiculous, contrived storylines in which those characters made decisons that want against everything we knew about their characters. They destroyed Sue Ellen with a bulldozer. JR became a weak shell of his former, glorious self.

    They made it hard for me to even care what happened - even to Bobby and JR.

    The final straw for me was JR in the mental institution. Outsmarted by the dim witted Cally and James and THEN bringing Dusty in to rub salt in his wounds. And he just took it. He gave into Cally's demands like a weak puppy. The JR I had grown to know and love would have handed her her butt and took his child by force. He would have never accepted John Ross's decison to stay with Sue Ellen. And he never would have stopped fighting for Ewing Oil.

    The bad things that happened to the Ewings would have been tolerable of the characters we knew and cared so much about stood up and fought. Then at least we would have had something to root for.
     
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  4. Kenny Coyote

    Kenny Coyote Soap Chat Enthusiast EXP: 12 Years

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    I didn't see the value of having Ray and Jenna move to Switzerland, did you? With Lucas having just been born and Bobby being the father, but Ray adopting him would have been interesting. Watching Bobby and Ray work something out as far as how to deal with that awkward situation could have been interesting. Besides, how does Bobby find it acceptable that they're going to take his son somewhere he won't ever see him?
    Steve Kanaly was a fine actor. Why would they want to lose him, especially since he was one of the Ewing brothers - the mainstays of the show? Susan Howard was a fine actress. Why let her go? I know for a fact they had plenty of money to keep them because when Victoria Principal was leaving, she said they offered her a massive contract that would have made her the highest paid woman on TV! She turned them down, so if you can't keep Victoria Principal,use the money you're saving by not having to pay her anymore to keep these other important actors!

    One thing you learn in business is you've gotta spend money to make money. If they weren't willing to keep the Steve Kanalys and the Susan Howards of the cast, they were inevitably going to lose the viewers who had grown to love seeing their characters, and then their ratings go down. Then they're making less money,which obliterates any savings they made in cutting costs by firing those actors. They let William Smithers go! I would have moved him up into the main cast and have made him the Ewings' primary nemesis. Cliff had battled the Ewings forever, and had done everything he could on his own, but have him team up with Westar and you create a new dynamic that keeps things fresh.

    Suppose they'd gone with the positive approach I outlined above. While JR is struggling to change his ways and become a better man, while Ellie is dealing with her favoritism issues, and Bobby is learning how to control his temper and not use that physical bluff of intimidation he liked to use to get his way, the Ewings have less conflict within the family, so now that conflict has to come from outside the family. Who was better capable of bringing the threat to the Ewing family Jeremy Wendell and Westar could? Unlike Cliff, Wendell was a character who not only wanted to ruin the Ewings, but had a ton of expertise and money behind him.

    Since Pam is gone, the Barnes-Ewing feud is less relevant anyway, so why not give the Ewings the enemy who not only wanted to, but could bring the level of danger Jeremy Wendell was capable of bringing to them? I think William Smithers was the most underutilized character in the cast. They made Dack Rambo a member of the main cast! How much did he contribute to the show? Every scene William Smithers was in he played his role perfectly and above all, he was convincing as that cold blooded, ruthless businessman that wanted to get the Ewings out of his way and had the intelligence and the wherewithal to be their most dangerous adversary.
     
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  5. CeeCee72

    CeeCee72 Soap Chat Active Member EXP: 3 Months

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    As much as I liked Dack Rambo as Jack, you're right, Wendell was a much more compelling character.

    He would have bee the perfect adversary for JR. And the Ewings could have united to fight him off.

    Ray moving to Switzerland was completely contrived. He wouldn't even let Donna have a career in DC, but he followed Jenna out of the country no problem?

    Dallas was suffering from a lot of different ailments. The negative storylines was one. The loss of characters and good actors and actresses was another - and that was mostly self inflicted. Aside from VP, Dallas chose to cut everyone else loose. (I suspect even LG would have stayed if they had done something productive with Sue Ellen's storyline).
     
  6. southfork88

    southfork88 Soap Chat Addict

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    Wow, Kenny !
     
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  7. pete lashmar

    pete lashmar Soap Chat Well-Known Member

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    (Excuse the pun) but this is a bit of a conundrum. Dallas became so big and so popular that after a few years it started buckling under it's own weight.

    The longer a cast member stayed the more they demanded better pay and contracts, so instead of agreeing to most of them, the actors were let go and written out with the old "we can't do anything else with the character" line.

    I agree that there were many negatives in the latter years. for me, the loss of Ewing Oil was more like a red rag at a bull - you knew they would get it back, and watched to see how. But JR's descent was very bad for the series, he just went lower and lower and for me that weakened the series hugely.

    We can't discuss negatives though without the dream season and the writers turned what could have been a huge positive into a negative and it damaged the show in such a massive way that it never recovered.

    Had they brought back Patrick in a positive way - ie: It was his dream in a coma and small droplets of clues were dotted throughout the season, they could have really stunned the viewers with something no other show had - instead we got a "WTF" response and it was downhill from there.

    If only they had ended the show at season 10 and really revved it up to the point where viewers were still hooked - instead all the negative storylines happened, characters walked away or survived car crashes into fire bomb petrol tankers. It was dramatic, but hugely negative.

    It seemed that after season 10 every season lost something or someone else, leaving the audience with terrible characters played by very mediocre actors and they lost interest.
     
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  8. Swami

    Swami Soap Chat Supreme EXP: 16 Years

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    Yes, it's hard to imagine the JR of the show's peak seasons being made a fool of like that. If nothing else, McSween would have dealt with Cally and James.

    Swami
     
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  9. southfork88

    southfork88 Soap Chat Addict

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    I never understood this story of Pamela's dream converted into Bobby's nightmare, comatose after the accident. What would have changed in the future events?
     
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  10. CeeCee72

    CeeCee72 Soap Chat Active Member EXP: 3 Months

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    Probably nothing. Honestly, the whole dream solution to bringing back Bobby was ill conceived, no matter who was doing the dreaming. That was really the beginning of the end.
     
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  11. Chris2

    Chris2 Soap Chat Fan EXP: 3 Years

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    I like the idea of Wendell as the main villain. I also thought the idea they floated in 1988 - where JR would mellow out and Sue Ellen would be the new villain - was an interesting one as well.

    Or how about something more radical: phasing out the Ewings and bringing on a new family with a new set of conflicts. After all, the show was called “Dallas”, not “The Ewings”. Maybe move the storyline ahead five years after season 10: Miss Ellie is dead, and the Ewings sold the ranch to a new family. The focus is now on the cattle business rather than the oil business.
     
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  12. Kenny Coyote

    Kenny Coyote Soap Chat Enthusiast EXP: 12 Years

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    Thank you @CeeCee72!

    Where to begin? Yes, the characters were well developed and the relationships well constructed. Describing the final seasons as "a betrayal of both" is an excellent description. The way you described it makes me think there were fans who were thinking: "We've watched Dallas build a story that is remarkable and to now relegate something that was once so great to this? What a betrayal"!

    They carefully built something that literally became a phenomenon. I think when you are fortunate enough to have built something that has become that successful, there is a certain amount of responsibility to your audience that has made you such a success! They were a groundbreaking show in terms of utilizing the serialized format as expertly as they did and creating cliffhangers to which the shows that had preceded Dallas had nothing comparable. Those were bold, creative decisions to make and we should remember the serialized format was a risk they took. It had not been proven to work on primetime TV. Only daytime soaps were using it then.

    The biggest creative risk of all was deciding to make their most prominently featured character a character who was by most people's standards a bad guy. Yet, they portrayed JR in a way that the audience could like him and that was unheard of in primetime TV! Yes, he cheated on his wife and there was no excuse for that. Yes, he was willing to go to almost any extremes in business, revealing a very compromised set of ethics. Despite that, he loved and respected his parents and always tried to make his father proud of him. He loved his son dearly and would do anything for him. In fact, after Jock died, because JR no longer had a father be did his best to be to John Ross what Jock had been to him. JR exuded charm and charisma to a degree that made it very difficult not to like him!

    Regardless of his methods, as @Lastkidpicked has often said: "JR got things done"! The 1970s were a time when there was almost a malaise in the air in America. The steelworkers and the auto workers were suffering from unemployment as they saw their jobs either disappear or shipped overseas. The Iranians were holding our citizens hostage and nobody seemed to know how to free them and get them back home safely. Interest rates were 18 percent! The Soviets had amassed a frighteningly large arsenal of nuclear weapons and the Cold War seemingly had no end in sight. Then along comes JR Ewing who when his family, his home, or his business is threatened not only is willing to do whatever is necessary, but is incredibly competent at achieving his goals. Afton told him: "The first time I ever saw you, I could tell you always get what you want." People wanted a JR Ewing to come along; they just didn't know it yet until Dallas showed them they were.

    When people find a show that they become as enthralled with as they did with Dallas, to where people would stay home on Friday nights to watch Dallas, hold Dallas parties, and spend a whole summer talking about "who shot JR", they develop certain expectations for it. Dallas did a remarkably good job on delivering on those expectations with things like the contest for Ewing Oil, Cliff striking oil in Gold Canyon 340, and Bobby and Pam's against all odds, Romeo and Juliet type romance.

    This wasn't a show that would suddenly tell people: "Nothing you saw last season happened." It wasn't a show that would have Ray Krebbs take Jenna and Lucas to Switzerland to live. It wasn't a show where JR got stuck in a town that could be straight out of the move Deliverance, where he was convicted of rape by a justice of the peace with no due process, no jury, no lawyer, and gets sent to prison, and somehow he never retaliates when he finally escapes. At least it wasn't supposed to be a show where those things would happen.

    I would like to think that the people responsible for taking those risks that paid off, creating such a groundbreaking, incredibly well cast and well acted show with compelling storylines would have had a certain level of pride to where if they ever found themselves becoming complacent, would take a much more serious approach to protecting the legacy they had created. They had been the innovator in TV, and they had a great run. I just wish that when they started having problems, instead of being complacent and no longer breaking any new ground, would have tried something daring to restore the show to its former glory. Even if the show had still gone down in flames, at least people could say: "What a gutsy move that was to make. That was bold."
     
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  13. Kenny Coyote

    Kenny Coyote Soap Chat Enthusiast EXP: 12 Years

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    I don't think anything would have been received any differently whether it was Pam's dream or Bobby's dream. People were upset because they said: "It was all a dream" - not specifically because it was Pam's dream. Either way, a whole season gets erased.


    As long as they can now say: "You can't believe what you're watching because it might be a dream" they change the audience's whole outlook on the show. Nothing that takes place in the show ever again has as much of an impact because it might be a dream too.
     
    Last edited: Jun 27, 2020
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  14. Lastkidpicked

    Lastkidpicked Soap Chat Addict EXP: 12 Years

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    If you'd like to know why I enjoy these boards so much may I invite you to reread this page of posts. Very thoughtful and insightful posts.

    These boards definitely have some intelligent and creative people. I'm sure grateful that you all take the time to contribute the way you do.

    This is me, after reading all of your ideas.


    Jock18.JPG
     
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  15. pete lashmar

    pete lashmar Soap Chat Well-Known Member

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    By having Bobby having the dream it changes the whole dynamic.

    Bobby did go into cardiac arrest at the end of Swan Song - he saved Pam and Catherine was killed, nothing changes there, but by having Bobby wake from a coma it gives the idea just a little bit more legitimacy. It also means that SOME of the storylines, such as Ray & Donna's adoption can continue because they would have visited him in his coma to talk to him and it leaked through - instead of doing a complete re-set the show could continue some plots and dismiss others.

    It never made sense to me that Pam had the dream when the most obvious idea was Swan Song happened and Bobby was in a coma,
     
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  16. Swami

    Swami Soap Chat Supreme EXP: 16 Years

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    On the other hand it did get rid of Angelica Nero and her Eurovision Song Contest entry.

    Swami
     
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  17. Kenny Coyote

    Kenny Coyote Soap Chat Enthusiast EXP: 12 Years

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    It would change part of the dynamic in the ways you've described. The audience would still be upset that they'd shown Bobby dying and then told the audience "it was just a dream." They'd also be upset that part of the next season that they watched was something they would be told didn't happen. It makes people feel like they've been treated as if they were fools when you show them something and then tell them it didn't happen. It was a cop-out they used because they apparently couldn't trust themselves to decide how to best proceed after losing a major character and then stick to their decision. It sets a bad precedent for the show -that what you see might not be really happening; it could just be a dream. That takes away from the impact of anything that happens on the show from then on because they've set that precedent.
     
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  18. Seaviewer

    Seaviewer Soap Chat Enthusiast EXP: 18 Years

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    I never understood the advantage either. The only reason to retroactively put Bobby in a coma is to explain his absence for a year.
    But why erase any of them?
     
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  19. Swami

    Swami Soap Chat Supreme EXP: 16 Years

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    If those plots were part of the dream season, what else could you do?

    Swami
     
  20. GillesDenver

    GillesDenver Soap Chat Well-Known Member EXP: 3 Years

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    Making it Bobby's season would have prevented us to have Donna pregnant again, Mandy back with J.R., or people mentioning that Lucy has just left, for instance.

    While Bobby was in coma for one year (and not for one night like Pamela !), life would have moved on for everyone but him. When he wakes up, he has to figure what happened in one year.

    Also, the writers could have continued some storylines (like Ben Stivers/Wes Parmalee), explaining that various people came to see Bobby when he was in the coma, and what he "heard" could have been mixed with his dream. And they could have stopped some storylines (like Angelica Nero) in a way that we could not be sure if they actually happened or not.
     
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