Going by DVD seasonal count: Season 1 (the 'mini-series'): With new violence restrictions pushing down the Nielsen ratings on the shoot-em-up cops shows of the 1970s, and the advent of the mini-series convincing TV executives that a serialized saga might in fact work in a weekly series format, David Jacobs created the story of the corrupt, oil-rich Ewing family of Southfork Ranch in fictional Braddock, Texas, just outside of DALLAS. A five episode pilot was ordered (what came to be called "The Miniseries" by fans and people connected to the show, but was never intended to be a miniseries per se) and by the final episode, airing on Sunday nights in April of 1978, DALLAS had entered the Top Ten. CBS immediately ordered a full season based on those numbers. Filmed on location in the winter of '78, the miniseries has a nice, shrouded, melancholy flavor to it in keeping with the era, and, although still a bit coltish and unsure in tone, there was one thing which became vividly assured: the eldest Ewing brother, "J.R." (played by Larry Hagman), was going to be the star of this thing. Season 2: As the first full season commences, the audience is introduced to a new house in the role of Southfork (the one still used today) and without explanation, consistent with how these switches used to be made in television in the '60s and '70s. The show itself offers an endearing, disco-era crassness to the viewer, a period tackiness which, at least in retrospect, doesn't always work. Also, the plotting is still only semi-serialized (as the network brass seems to have forgotten that PEYTON PLACE had already proven back in the mid-'60s that you could indeed do full-fledged soap in primetime and the audience wouldn't get lost). The result? The occasional episode like "Runaway" (when Lucy, played by Charlene Tilton, upset her black sheep parents wont be invited to her birthday party, takes off with her guitar and a napsack and is kidnapped by Greg Evigan) comes off as a tad foolish, amateurish. And yet, something is brewing here. Jock and Miss Ellie (Jim Davis and Barbara Bel Geddes) are convincing as the 40+ years married patriarch and matriarch, as is Sue Ellen (Linda Gray) as the wildly neurotic and self-absorbed alcoholic wife of J.R.; Bobby (Patrick Duffy) is the more-or-less good brother in the family, whose marriage to the family rival's daughter, Pam (curvaceous Victoria Principal), sets the stage for what's to come. By later in the 1978-79 Season, however, DALLAS is given the greenlight by CBS to fully serialize the plotlines, and the show is moved to Friday nights where it will remain -- at least in the States -- for the next dozen years. For a while, Bobby and Pam's relationship will be defined by Pam's impotent anxiety over the conflicts between her embittered and crusading brother, Cliff Barnes (Ken Kercheval) and her new inlaws, as well as by the new couple's petty squabbling about each others' work hours. But it's the nasty maritial bond between J.R. and Sue Ellen which really takes off immediately, especially when J.R. learns that his wife has been sleeping with Pam's brother on the sly and that Cliff may have fathered her unborn child. Tossed into an asylum, drunken sot Sue Ellen escapes, crashes into a telephone poll, and delivers the baby in the emergency room. This is uncommon material for a nighttime TV show up until that point in time. And it's done with a certain downmarket bravura, with Hagman's portrait of the grinning, scheming CEO of Ewing Oil its centerpiece. DALLAS finishes out the Spring of 1979 safely in the Nielsen Top 10. Season 3: As the new season opens, Sue Ellen's baby has been kidnapped. But once returned, the new mother shows little interest in her offspring. J.R. puts on a better act for the family, but he and his troubled wife will only truly embrace tiny John Ross once paternity tests demanded by Cliff Barnes prove once and for all that the child is indeed J.R.'s. Meanwhile, it's Cliff sister, Pam, who begins her own tour of torment as she learns that her father, "Digger" Barnes (David Wayne/Keenan Wynn) is dying of a rare neurological disease which is guaranteed to be inherited by their offspring. Suffering her second miscarriage in less than two years, Pam and Bobby begin rejecting each others' advances and bury themselves deeper and deeper into work, Pam terrified that even if she were able to carry a child full term, it would meet the same fate that her and Cliff's two dead infant siblings once did. J.R. then embarks on an affair with his wife's sister, Kristin (Mary Crosby, spawn of Bing), which develops quietly in the background all season. After Jock's heart attack the previous year and Miss Ellie's recent mastectomy, the grandparents' marriage is tested and pulled to the breaking point, leading Ellie to flirt with swollen and aging Texas executives she doesn't have to sleep with. By season's end, a body is found buried on Southfork with Jock the suspected culprit, and Pam learns from a deathbed "Digger" that she's the bastard love child of his wife Rebecca and a ne'er-do-well cowpoke boyfriend whom "Digger" then murdered; she doesn't have to worry about neurofibromatosis manifesting itself in her prospective children, but now Pam no longer knows who she is. The season has gelled nicely, the pacing quite good. Melodrama aside, as the series has developed, there are times when the clouds of darkness seem to almost eerily envelop Southfork -- particularly at night, as the Ewing family would gather together for a drink in the livingroom or share strange jabs over dinner, the sense of catastrophe hovering in the air whenever the Texas sun dipped below the horizon. The viewer is beginning to feel as if these people were almost real, players in some lost chapter from the Old Testament... Cain & Carol & Abel & Alice... These folks are going to Hell --- at least some of 'em --- and you can tell as much by how it all feels as by what the characters do; the mood effectively enhanced by the frequent use of Bruce Brougton's background music, rich with plaintive portend. The show is now in the Top 5 for the 1979-80 year. But it's how the season ends which will change the medium of television for ever: a mysterious gunman wanders into the Ewing Oil offices late at night and plugs two slugs into J.R.'s body. At this point, just about anybody could be the would-be-assassin. Season 4: It was the hottest summer in a hundred years in many parts of America, and a long and bitter actors' strike would delay the fall 1980 television season. But that didn't dampen the "Who Shot J.R.?" hysteria which literally blanketed the globe. No one, including the producers, could have anticipated that the cliffhanger they'd essentially thrown together at the last minute of J.R. getting shot would become the international sensation that it did. But in an era where serialization, cliffhangers, wealthy core characters, and villains in key roles were essentially unheard of (if not verboten) for primetime, DALLAS and "Who Shot J.R.?" had become unprecedented phenomena around the world... "Who Shot J.R.?" was so big that it became one of the two or three biggest news stories of the calendar year of 1980, despite being fiction! It was everywhere. When J.R.'s assailant was named in the fourth episode of the season, airing on 21 November 1980 (and 17 years almost to the day after another real-life Dallas shooting), the installment garnered the highest rating of any primetime entertainment episode in the medium's history, pulling in 85 million viewers in America alone (the 1983 finale of M*A*S*H would later top it). Pundits predicted that after the outrageousness of "Who Shot J.R.?" and its excessive media coverage had waned, we could expect DALLAS to quickly become a mere Trivial Pursuit question within just a couple of years. This could easily have happened. But the producers were smart enough to understand that another "Who Shot J.R.?" was impossible. It was a once-in-a-lifetime event and couldn't be replicated. So the writers simply focused on telling their story, continuing the relationships among the denizens of Southfork Ranch. That's not to say there were no problems after J.R.'s shooter was safely shipped off to California to protect J.R. from scandal. The show's plotlines were adequate that season, with Jock learning he'd fathered ranch hand Ray Krebbs (Steve Kanaly) during a WW2 romance, convalescing J.R. scheming to cut Bobby out of Ewing Oil after his younger brother took the corporate reins, Lucy becoming engaged to a handsome car-hop/medical student, Pam in search of her long-lost mother, Sue Ellen embarking on new illicit relationships while being tracked by a former lover, J.R.'s cat-and-mouse romance with wily public relations agent Leslie Stewart, and Jock and Miss Ellie nearing divorce as her anger brews over Jock's inclusion of Ray in a trust fund while he continues to ignore their rejected son, Gary (Ted Shackleford), now in California and his own spin-off, KNOTS LANDING. Yet despite Texas tall ratings, there is a drabness to the season. Sure, DALLAS is still Number One (by a large margin) in America and around the world, but the storylines feel pedestrian, by rote. It's probably the execution more than the ideas, but Southfork is quickly becoming a pretty sleepy place to be. It's all fairly competent, but the show feels a little bored with itself. To add insult to injury, due to a composers' strike at Lorimar productions, the first fourteen episodes of the season are forced to re-use deathly repetitive stock music over and over, which only serves to literally and figuratively underscore the show's present ambivalence. Season 5: With Jim Davis' death in the spring of 1981 and a Hollywood writers' strike that summer preventing scripts from being significantly re-written, the decision is made to delay the death of Davis' character, Jock Ewing, until midway thru the new season, opening the year on the mystery of The Girl in the Pool (and, more importantly, who may have killed her), while family members chat with an unseen Jock on the phone in an unnamed South American country. Now separated, Sue Ellen is living on the Southern Cross Ranch in San Angelo with her sexually dysfunctional lover, rodeo star Dusty Farlow, and his father, Clayton (Howard Keel). After several risky maneuvers to put the Farlows into financial jeapordy in order to get them to toss Sue Ellen out and to get his toddler son back, J.R. is pressured by Miss Ellie to go easy on Sue Ellen during the divorce proceedings. Meanwhile, despite having located her mother, Rebecca, last season, Pam's inability to have a healthy child sends her onto the rooftop of her job site and then into a mental institution. The family is crushed to learn from a phonecall received during the annual Southfork barbecue that Jock may be dead from a helicopter crash in South America, leading his three Texas sons, J.R., Bobby and Ray, to mount a search for the patriarch in the jungle -- that search yielding only Jock's medallion as evidence of his presence and his passing. Devastated by the loss, J.R. mounts a new campaign to win back his son, John Ross, and to destroy his rival in business and love, Cliff Barnes, who once again has been romancing his ex-wife Sue Ellen, setting up Cliff in a bogus land deal in order to destroy him and get him fired from Wentworth Tool & Die, the company his prodigal mother gave him to run. Just as bad, Ray's politically savvy wife, Donna Culver Krebbs, has written an expose of her late, first husband, Sam Culver. Only her research has turned up some ugly facts about his old dealings with Jock which displease immensely his widow, Miss Ellie, who has yet to process Jock's death. An unhappily married Lucy dallies with modeling and embarks in a brief but dangerous affair with a photographer who turns out to be a psycho-stalker. Once Lucy is predictably absconded with by the maniac, Auntie Pam, now out of the mental hospital and cuddling an adorably obese baby that Bobby had actually brought home to J.R. (thinking it's J.R.'s child via his ex-sister in law, the decedent Kristin), realizes that the photographer must be the kidnapper and all is saved. Again, this season is sufficient. And it's certainly more interesting than much of what was on TV at the very start of the '80s. But there's still something uninspired about its progression --- lots of helicopter shots of J.R. landing at the Southern Cross, lots of phonecalls about J.R. setting up the Farlows and then Cliff, lots of Sue Ellen's lip trembling even after she moves into her new townhouse and gets bored with singledom, lots of scenes in Miss Ellie's new architecturally nonsensical kitchen (which seemed to replace Jock's study), lots of scenes with J.R. and Ray tortured over Jock's death, lots of discussion about who can and should run Ewing Oil in Jock's absence and then death. Sure, all these things needed to happen. But it wasn't until about half-a-dozen episodes before the Spring 1982 cliffhanger (in which Cliff Barnes attempts suicide) that DALLAS seems to re-gain that gleam in its eye. Perhaps it's the increasing influence of new story editor David Paulsen. That seems likely. But DALLAS suddenly feels cohesive and motivated for the first time in a while. Even Victoria Principal's acting has woken up. She walked through countless scenes during the first four years of the show almost like a zombie -- a zombie who too often swallowed her own lines and wanted too much to be "liked" by the audience, only coming to life when Pam was angry. But now, after the dregs of her Meadowbrook Institute sanitorium stay (and perhaps acutely aware of the new competition from the already well-hyped ladies of DYNASTY, that show still in its second season and not yet sucking) Principal begins infusing her delivery with a certain contemptuous edge, even when the script doesn't require it. And it focuses her. And, as an actress, she'll never be lousy again.