The Dynasty That Could Have Been

Discussion in 'Dynasty' started by Richard Channing, Apr 15, 2019.

  1. Richard Channing

    Richard Channing Soap Chat Enthusiast

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    Nice article about season 1.


    The Dynasty That Could Have Been
    The legendary primetime soap’s surprisingly arty debut season.


    By ALEX MAR

    MAY 25, 20112:28 PM

    1981 gave America its first female Supreme Court justice, its first test-tube baby, a resolution to the Iran hostage crisis, and, most important of all, Dynasty. At first only modestly popular, the series eventually became the top-rated show on television, and its excesses became synonymous with those of the decade. It endured for nine seasons—220 episodes rife with catfights, amnesia, look-alikes, and even a wedding disrupted by terrorists from a country called Moldavia.

    Thirty years afterthe series premiere, it’s possible to look back and see the unrealized promise of its less-than-blockbuster first season—the Dynasty that couldhave been, before ratings pressures and the introduction of diva Joan Collins put an end to challenging story lines. As improbable as it sounds, the series’ first 13 episodes represent what might be called Dynasty’s “arthouse” era, a brief period before its characters were flattened into the caricatures that came to define the prime-time soap genre.


    Dynasty debuted in the shadow of CBS’s Dallas—also about an oil baron and his family, but, you know, in another state. At least during its debut season, however, the series was more than just a cheap imitation of a rival’s success. The pilot alone managed to touch on class tensions, gender inequality, the impact of Middle East instability on American oil prices, and even homosexuality—all while showcasing Linda Evans’ impeccably blow-dried hair. Though always unabashedly a soap at heart, Dynasty, in its first season, established a number of compelling narratives that broke free of genre convention.

    Initially, the series followed two families from different socioeconomic strata: that of oil baron Blake Carrington and that of middle-class striver Matthew Blaisdel. Through Blaisdel and his wildcatting partner we learn about the scrappier side of the oil business, and with surprisingly gritty realism. (The Blaisdel plots tended to unfold at glamour-free locations, from the rig to the crew’s dive bar to the boxing gym.) The Blaisdels’ story line was meant to give the series the epic scope and struggle of Giant, but primetime viewers didn’t respond. “The audience told us almost immediately: All they wanted to do was be in the mansion,” Esther Shapiro explains on the DVD of the first season. “[They] couldn’t care less about the oil fields. They didn’t want to see grubby rooms.” By Season 2, a caricature of upstairs-downstairs life complete with butler and housemaids (but absent any real class resentment) replaced the middle-class world of the Blaisdels.


    The anguished Season 1 story line of Matthew Blaisdel’s wife Claudia suffered a similar fate. Claudia is first introduced in an artful, extended sequence: Matthew drives their teenage daughter to pick up her mother, who is checking out after 18 months in a sanitarium. In a delicate talk in the parking lot, he prepares his daughter for a fraught reunion, only to discover that Claudia has checkedherself out unannounced weeks earlier. Ultimately, the family comes together at the diner where she has quietly been waitressing. All of this is handled with a naturalistic touch, free of the expected histrionics and melodramatic musical cues. (In their own prime-time way, Claudia’s family scenes evoke A Woman Under the Influence.) Claudia struggles through her transition back into suburban home life with convincing pathos and impressive spirit. (At one point, she recites Dorothy Parker poems as a pick-me-up.) But by Season 2, with the writers pandering to viewers who wanted to be “in the mansion,” the Blaisdel family could not survive. By the middle of the second season, Matthew and Lindsay had been written out of the series with a handy car crash and by Season 3, Claudia had gone from struggling painfully with an illness to being full-on, soap-operatically crazy.


    The foil to vulnerable Claudia was Blake Carrington’s razor-sharp daughter Fallon. Whether intimidating the household staff or greeting an entire football team of former lovers, Fallon was the classic spoiled bitch. But in the show’s early episodes, she has our sympathy, thanks to her completely unrecognized intelligence—she’s as ruthless a risk-taker as her father, and a natural talent at business and backroom dealings. During her father’s wedding reception, she has a fantastic monologue, berating a moderate Republican suitor for criticizing big oil: “Some people would say this country should be divided up into collective farms and run by a politburo. … There ought to be dancing and singing in Washington over oil-company profits!” But a role in the family company is not in the cards for her: “There are no blacks, no Jews, no Eskimos, and no women,” she explains. And so she applies her talents to destructive pursuits, whether it be seducing her father’s business partner or competing with her stepmother, Krystle (Evans). The idea of Fallon as a stifled modern woman had no place in the series once Joan Collins joined the cast. With the introduction of Collins as Blake’s exuberantly wicked, two-faced ex-wife Alexis, potentially nuanced female characters were reduced to a Madonna/whore dichotomy: You can either be a Krystle (gentle, soft-spoken, essentially good) or an Alexis (scheming, sexual, essentially evil).


    Fallon’s brother, Steven, is the prodigal son, leaving Denver for a decadent life in New York’s East Village only to return to his father’s arms and his role as heir apparent. As the first openly gay central character in a prime-time drama, Steven struggles with his sexuality in a way that book-ends the first season, which opens with his coming-out to his father and culminates in Blake’s trial for the murder of Steven’s lover. In the pilot, Steven and his enraged father have an impressively honest eight-minute confrontation (exceptionally long for television) in which Blake reveals that he knows of his son’s boyfriend. Flailing, he tries to bridge the gap with Steven, awkwardly espousing his own view of gay sex as a temporary, curable “sexual dysfunction”—before demanding that his son “straighten [him]self out.”

    As played by Al Corley, Steven is right out of another James Dean film, Rebel Without a Cause, harboring a sensitivity and inner life that he can’t share with his father. These qualities inspire surprising moments that would make no sense in the later iteration of Dynasty: Steven and his boyfriend, Ted, trade lines from Ben Jonson and Jonathan Swift; Claudia Blaisdel, with whom he unexpectedly begins an affair, tells Steven that he has “a tenderness that transcends gender.” Steven ultimately witnesses Ted’s death at the hands of his father: the network’s coda to his life as a gay, or bisexual, man. With the hope of a second-season ratings boost tightening ABC’s grip on the show, Steven straightened himself out with an affair (and eventual elopement) with racy blonde Heather Locklear. Corley, who protested this reversal, was soon replaced by another actor, with the only-in-a-soap excuse of an “accident” having led to emergency facial plastic surgery.


    Season 2’s embrace of revenge scenarios and saucy zingers from Collins saved the show from its ratings purgatory, but creators Esther and Richard Shapiro have been open about their disappointment with the direction the series took as it grew in popularity. “Had the series been left to us, and been a less huge hit, I think we would have seen these characters realized pretty much the way they are [in Season 1],” Esther says in the season one commentary track. “When Alexis came into it, it changed the tenor. … And that’s the way they are now on television: you have your traditional villain, and I think that plays to a different denominator.”

    The legacy of Dynasty can clearly be seen today in the primetime soap Desperate Housewives, which revitalized the genre, and even in the hysterical pitch of the Real Housewives reality franchise. But Dynasty’s first season stands apart. It was an over-the-top melodrama, sure, but one that, against all odds, had an honest, emotional core. Lurking beneath the facade of monochrome pantsuits and epic shoulder pads were convincing glimpses of failed American ambition. At least, until 1982 rolled around.
     
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  2. Willie Oleson

    Willie Oleson drilling for soap

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    This is new to me.
     
  3. Michael Torrance

    Michael Torrance Soap Chat Dream Maker

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    Esther Shapiro was asked to deliver a mega-soap like Dallas (in a genre it essentially created), and she instead delivered a meticulously plotted drama more along the lines of her previous work. The network's expectations and the budget made it impossible for the show to keep the same position in the ratings (#28 for the season). I don't think she is wrong or even insincere in her claims (and she has made them decades before). But I don't think THAT show, the much superior season 1 drama, would have been the kind of show people from around the world would be discussing in a forum 38 years later. And I know @Alexis would not have liked it. :D

    I don't actually think it is over the top at all. As @Snarky's Ghost has said, season 1 dynasty has the sensibility of 70s entertainment, much more toned down than 80s loud volume. Now, season 2 is over the top right from the get-go.
     
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  4. Snarky's Ghost

    Snarky's Ghost Soap Chat Oracle

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    Yes, I don't think DYNASTY betrayed Season 1, even though they moved away from it; after all, Season 2 worked, too, albeit on another level. DYNASTY just betrayed its future potential -- it exchanged hyperbolic and clever for hyperbolic and whatever.

    [​IMG]
     
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  5. Rove

    Rove Soap Chat Enthusiast

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    And yet Dallas was doing this rather well. But I wonder if this was more to do with location. Dallas had set the tone with location shooting from the get go. Who would have known it snows in Texas? This aussie was surprised. The producers of Dallas were smart in allowing Southfork to become a character itself, much like Ewing Oil. It was a blend of cattle ranching and the oil business.

    Dynasty - supposedly copied on the established juggernaut Dallas - appeared to suffer from an identity crisis. Instead of pushing the envelope of Steven they confused the character and the audience. Is he gay? Is he bi? I mean it wouldn't have mattered but stick with your convictions. I'm one of the few that enjoyed the first season. I even liked the introduction of Alexis - if they had stuck with her panther/snake like character traits. What ultimately failed with Dynasty (in my opinion) was allowing recast after recast and it becoming centered around Alexis. Not that there was anything wrong with that but it appeared every character had to evolve around her. I know the same can be said of J.R. Ewing but the stories on Dallas had a more organic flow to them. These were characters I could easily relate to - not so Dynasty. It became all show, no substance. A real shame because I think Dynasty had a different story to tell than Dallas.
     
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  6. Snarky's Ghost

    Snarky's Ghost Soap Chat Oracle

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    Yes, we have a thread somewhere that the "camp" elements of DYNASTY (depending on how one defines it) hurt the show rather than helping it, in that it soon lessened the impact of Alexis' sociopathy because everyone seemed to be almost as bizarre.
     
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  7. Michael Torrance

    Michael Torrance Soap Chat Dream Maker

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    The recasts were awful. And you are right, Dynasty did have a different story. Frankly, it did not even need to be centered around oil, since in the end there were no serious oil stories. Oil mattered in Dallas because of the oil/ranch dichotomy of Southfork with the Southworth/Ewing families representing different futures, and Ellie and Jock trying to strike a balance between the two with the ranch as occasional battleground.

    The Dynasty story really was, as its name successfully implied, a generational story of succession: the children (Steven, Fallon) who grew up without a mother around and a father who believed in shape up or ship out (metaphorically, out of his heart) and had to decide whom to leave the reigns to: Fallon had the brains and the inclination, but his sexism did not allow him to imagine her in that position. Steven was a disappointment for him, but he believed he could reshape him, Pygmalion-like. In that story there was Krystle, a flawed woman who wanted to start a new life with Blake and found an ally in Steven, and Claudia who also wanted to restart her life with Matthew after her psychological problems. The conflicts (Steven against Blake, Blake against Matthew, Fallon against Krystle, Claudia against Krystle) and the alliances (Steven and Fallon, Steven and Claudia, Steven and Krystle, Krystle and Matthew) played against the agendas of Cecil and Blake, who were sometimes competing and sometimes complimentary (as in the mutually beneficial wedding of Fallon and Jeff). I think the former wife was obviously casting a shadow in season one, and when Alexis appeared her panther/snake traits as you eloquently put it augmented the relationships. Alexis could indeed have worked in that universe without the uniqueness of Dynasty changing. Instead, the writers decided, as I said in an earlier thread, that

    Interestingly, when the show introduced another sociopath, Adam, he was eventually deemed so evil he had to be redeemed with the drug abuse lame excuse. But somehow the show felt that Alexis firing a rifle to scare Krystle's horse, watching in determined satisfaction as Krystle was being violently dragged by the horse and then checking to see that her scheme succeeded required no redemption. That was apparently Alexis having a bad migraine day. In that sense, the show lessened the impact of the character with its slight of hand misdirection away from the character's despicable act. This was also done in season 2 (and onward) with Blake's rape of Krystle.
     
    Last edited: Apr 15, 2019
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  8. Snarky's Ghost

    Snarky's Ghost Soap Chat Oracle

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    A lot has been said and written over the decades about the camp factor on DYNASTY, whether it was a help or a hindrance.

    I'd argue that it was both.

    During the first season, the show was a straight drama -- no catfights, no bitchy barbs (except those delivered from Fallon) and no haute couture. And not yet a major hit.

    In Season 2, here comes Alexis, the show's pacing speeds up, and there are catfights, bitchier barbs and the entrance of high fashion. But, whether one considers the occasional slap or barb or bauble to be "camp" (and I don't, necessarily), the rest of the show was still not all that outrageous.

    Alexis was outrageous.

    But from Season 3 onward, the rest of the show around Alexis seemed determined to become as over-the-top as Alexis herself was.

    Was this a mistake? I always thought it was...

    It's not that you couldn't do the specific plotlines DYNASTY did from Season 3 thru Season 8 --- the issue seemed to be tone and detail: once the producers had settled on a "camp" paradigm for the show, they apparently decided that that meant that the show no longer needed to build a storyline and that the dialogue only had to be provocatively hyperbolic, but that really fleshing out any kind of complexity to the plot or the characters wasn't needed.

    At first, in Season 2, Alexis seemed outrageous because she was occurring in an environment of relative reality. But once the entire show went increasingly "camp" beginning with the third year, Alexis' outrageousness somehow seemed less effective because everyone else was acting just as bizarrely.

    When Alexis killed Krystle's baby early in Season 2, you not only felt Krystle was truly tortured by the miscarriage, you also felt Alexis was a jaw-dropping sociopath. The yin-yang dynamic between the two characters was palpable and almost believable: Krystle was a substantive, good person you genuinely liked who was being targeted by her husband's jealous ex-wife, Alexis, a mysterious, sophisticated, stunning-looking, criminal personality who must have God-knows-what in her shadowy background and for whom normal standards of moral behavior simply didn't apply -- at least in her own mind.

    That made Alexis slightly creepy.

    But after the show itself decided to go as campy as Alexis, she suddenly seemed like everybody else, because everybody else was suddenly like Alexis... Or kinda. Everybody was now a bit loopy and acted loopy, so Alexis was only different in that she was dressed a little more exotically and delivered the most insults.

    To me, this was deadly for the show. And, with the static acting directive added at around the same time, Krystle became a squealy, squeaky stock character you no longer felt anything about (much less sympathy).

    This eliminated the metaphoric, almost biblical, two-sides-of-everywoman aspect of Season 2 (even though the show seemed to still think it was doing this) and, afterward, nothing really quite worked, as if the series was about nothing anymore other than sequins literally.

    Should DYNASTY have kept its camp elements mostly constrained to Alexis, while not necessarily shying away from Adam's own original, wounded criminality and Fallon's original sarcastic bite (both of which were also lost in the series' quick slide into total camp)?

    And the trademark fashions, put-downs and feminine fisticuffs could have bloody-well continued.

    [​IMG]

    In the beginning, Krystle was kind of regal and poetic -- and the perfect counterbalance to Alexis' grasping sociopath.

    But before long, Krystle began shrieking and living out The Perils of Pauline to Alexis' Wicked Witch of The West.

    And everyone began acting as loopy as Alexis. So the whole thing soon become a tired cartoon.

    Certain characters and corners of the show should have remained grounded. That way, Alexis would have remained kind of creepy in contrast just as she should have, the viewer not quite knowing what she was capable of.

    [​IMG]
     
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  9. Rove

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    If only the writers had Alexis continue on this path. The moment she entered the courtroom - Dame Joan that is - she had captured the audience. Who is this ex-wife? The first meeting between the two Mrs. Carrington's was choreographed to perfection. Then the writers created something extraordinary, they had Alexis fire that shotgun. "Bloody hell," was possibly my first response....

    ...and well, the rest is history.
     
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  10. Rove

    Rove Soap Chat Enthusiast

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    If only they showed Fallon as a strong willed young woman, fighting to be taken seriously by Blake to be part of the Carrington Company. If only they stood by Steven being gay and displaying Blake's old fashioned tendencies towards his son - beyond season 1.

    Dallas was being viewed by both sexes. Despite JR's disgusting behaviour towards women I bet a lot of women felt an attraction to the character. Dynasty (I bet) was mostly viewed by women so why not steer the series towards that end? This is the point of difference Dynasty should have explored. I mentioned in another thread Blake Carrington should have been killed off leaving a grieving widow Krystle desperately trying to keep the family and business together only for that muckraking ex-wife Alexis to turn up and contest the Will.

    A Dynasty that could have been, not what it became.
     
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  11. Alexis

    Alexis Soap Chat Champion

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    I actually very much enjoy season one. It's one of my favourite seasons but the show badly did need Joan Collins. There were other stranger, weirder things that happened as the seasons went on that had nothing to do with Joan. Things that slowly killed the show. It became idiotic, and there seemed to be a contempt for the mostly talented cast. As if they were being tortured by bad direction, bad scripts, and awfully bad decisions. ABC were no doubt at fault, the sponsors were, and of course the Shapiros were for not being as meticulously involved as they were in season one. Also the Pollocks should never have been given as much control.
     
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  12. Willie Oleson

    Willie Oleson drilling for soap

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    I think it was mostly the popularity of "Alexis" - not the character itself - that changed the show. Or what made them change it.
    I don't see why Alexis couldn't have been in a season 1-style Dynasty.
    There's the idea the Blaisdels were sacrificed, but I feel that part of the story had been told and climaxed spectacularly, and Alexis was the punishment that Blake deserved for killing Ted.
    The transition seemed pretty seamless and I think Matthew and Lindsay were "killed off" to keep Claudia in the story, that had nothing to do with Alexis.
     
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  13. Richard Channing

    Richard Channing Soap Chat Enthusiast

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    Right, and not only a different story to tell but Dynasty was giving us a different kind of fantasy. The opulence and extravagance, these gods and goddesses roaming around in palatial grandeur. It was a different aesthetic. I watched the first episode of season 2 of Dallas the other day right after finishing season 3 of Dynasty and oh my how drab and dreary Southfork's interiors and inhabitants looked coming straight from Dynasty. Of course Dallas did catch up considerably in that department as time went on, but Dynasty really dazzled you with it's mansions, Rolls Royces, furs and diamonds. It's a different kind of escapism. Nobody was pouring champagne over their kumquats on Dallas.
     
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  14. Snarky's Ghost

    Snarky's Ghost Soap Chat Oracle

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    Yes, and we used to joke and snicker about how downmarket the DALLAS accoutrement were, given their financial station, even before DYNASTY came along. The DALLAS executives were either cutting corners originally, or simply weren't focusing on the physicality of the Ewingverse at all.
     
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  15. Willie Oleson

    Willie Oleson drilling for soap

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    Well, Southfork is smaller of course (the first one was far more majestic) but I think it also depends on how it's filmed. The colours of early Dallas are just as beautiful as Falcon Crest, it has a "rich" look eventhough it's not extremely opulent or anything.

    Greed works better for DALLAS: eventhough they are very rich they would still pick up a one-dollar bill because, ya know, money is money.
    On DYNASTY there was never any threat of financial loss - it's not like they would have told Nolan Miller to design some cheap-ass outfits. Who-owns-what was pretty irrelevant.
    Even if they had paid more attention to the business storylines it still wouldn't feel as significant as it did on DALLAS.

    But the Ewings were players, the successful version of the Walter Lankershims, and their power depended on the game they were playing and that's also what made it so exciting.
    The Carringtons had an air of self-imposed aristocracy, eventhough Blake Carrington was just a "dirty oil man" like Jock Ewing was.
    He build a castle and proclaimed it his kingdom and it's just such a very American thing to do.
    And all that pretence of American Blue Blood and Old Money worked better for DYNASTY, I think. And they needed to show the cars and palazzos to get the message across but -irony, irony - they stopped doing that and Dynasty ended up looking like a big budget daytime soap.
    This would happen to all the soaps, eventually, but maybe it hurt Dynasty the most since it used to be the very essence of the show - being bigger and better than everyone else, the ultimate American fantasy.
     
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  16. Michael Torrance

    Michael Torrance Soap Chat Dream Maker

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    Sometime in mid-80s there was an interview with a Dallas producer (either Capice or Katzman, don't remember the name and don't know enough about the two to tell the difference) who stated that in the transition from mini-series to series the network consultants told them they can write about rich people but they can't have them seem rich, because the audience would be turned off. He also stated that after Dynasty's success, the network had to admit that a different aesthetic had been accepted by the audience for rich people, and freed their hands.
     
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  17. Willie Oleson

    Willie Oleson drilling for soap

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    Another thing that sets season 1 apart from the rest is that the Carrington grandioso was (at least partially) defined by the family business, and its place in early 80s US economy.
    Jeff and Fallon's marriage was based on a business plotline, and it felt really dirty and exciting.
    But when they locked horns in season 3 - DC Blake vs. ColbyCo Alexis - it wasn't so convincing anymore, even more so because it made perfect sense to merge the companies.
    All the "I'll destroy you's" were still entertaining, but fairly lightweight compared to season 1.
    Actually they made a big deal out of who-owns-what, but on DALLAS it really mattered.
     
    Last edited: Apr 17, 2019
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  18. Michael Torrance

    Michael Torrance Soap Chat Dream Maker

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    Since the two companies would be inherited by the same group of people (Steven, Adam, Fallon, Amanda, and Jeff ) the rivalry should have been reason enough for the boards of DC and Colbyco to remove the two CEOs. It was two companies at each other's throats because of temper tantrums of those in charge. The Pollocks stated that they thought business was not a passion so they put business in the background, but in season 1 it was quite a passion. If anything, Cecil should have stayed at the helm of Colbyco and after Jeff deserted him he should have either brought Adam to his side together with Alexis, or maybe even brought some other Colby along to share the reigns with him.

    PS: I just realized "The Dynasty That Could Have Been" could be the unofficial title of the Dynasty forum
     
    Last edited: Apr 17, 2019
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  19. Willie Oleson

    Willie Oleson drilling for soap

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    Oh...gosh...like Fallon did to Blake on NuDynasty.
     
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  20. Snarky's Ghost

    Snarky's Ghost Soap Chat Oracle

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    Otherwise, of course, it would just be a forum about hairdos and fabrics. Which other forums elsewhere have done, and they're mostly gone.
     

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