// you’re reading...

Solo Looks Back

1 Remembering Dallas

When it comes to the cult of ’80s soaps, it all kicked off really with Dallas in 1978. OK, so that’s technically not the glamorous decade in question, but it was on the cusp of it and by the time it was indeed 1980 the prime-time TV show that was all about Texas, oil, cattle-ranching and sex had reached dizzying heights. Dallas was one of the most successful drama series ever made, and also one of the longest-running shows in American prime-time television history.
Here in Ireland, Dallas introduced us to a whole new, and utterly spellbinding, world. As an audience we were captivated and we ranged from age eight to 80, depending on the strictness of your parents. (In fact you were one of the cooler kids on the block if you were able to go to school the morning after an episode aired, armed with information about the latest storyline). Who could forget the theme tune and the opening sequence, which then led us into an hour of pure, shameless indulgence? And the way your heart would sink when the credits rolled up at the end, indicating that it was bed time and you had to wait another full week to see what happened next? It was almost as bad as the devastation you felt on a Sunday night when Glenroe would finish, signalling the weekend was over and Monday had to be faced again.
So what was it all about? Well, central to the plot was the main character JR Ewing (Larry Hagman) – eldest son of the wealthy Ewing family and a greedy, scheming power seeker to boot. Married to aspiring alcoholic Sue Ellen (a lip-quivering Linda Gray), he was the love rat of his time and probably slept with half the female characters that graced the series over the years. And while JR was borderline evil, his younger brother Bobby (Patrick Duffy) was his antithesis, happily married (initially at least) to saintly Pamela (Victoria Principal), who also happened to be a member of the Ewing’s arch enemies, the Barnes family. Then you had the matriarch of the family – Miss Ellie (Barbara Bel Geddes) – who, unlike the rest of the shoulder-padded cast, always appeared frumpy in a sort of housecoat, spending most of her time offering people coffee and asking Teresa the maid to serve dinner. They all lived in Southfork together, drinking like fish and fighting like cats, and other characters included head of the family Jock (who was later killed off when actor Jim Davis died) two-foot-nothing niece Lucy (Charlene Tilton), JR’s fellow schemer Cliff Barnes (Ken Kercheval) and a host of other high-powered men and women who all happened to be swindling/having sex with one another at various points.
In any case, Bobby was the man everyone loved to love, JR was the man everyone loved to hate, but it was when the latter was shot in 1980 that Dallas really entered the upper echelons of soap opera drama. Introducing audiences to the concept of the ‘cliffhanger’ episode, we were all left wondering ‘Who Shot JR Ewing?’. In fact someone even wrote a song about it and released it on an unsuspecting public.
Nevertheless, JR survived and Dallas continued to be a ratings success in the ensuing years. It was at the end of the seventh season in 1985, however, that things took something of a turn. After Bobby had been divorced from Pam for some time, the couple reunited and resolved to remarry. Bobby had to go and break this news to his then-fiancée Jenna (played by Priscilla Presley) and naturally got hit by a car and killed en route. The actor Patrick Duffy, who played Bobby, wanted to leave the show so it was decided that this would be his tragic exit. So far, so good. Well, sort of. By the time the eighth season had begun, viewers were tuning out. Perhaps JR’s antics were simply not plausible enough without his full-of-integrity younger brother to balance things out? The producers’ solution to this ratings problem was an astonishing one, even in soap land, and the season finale saw Pam waking up of a morning to find Bobby in the shower. Turned out that she – and the entire audience – had ‘dreamt’ the whole of season eight. It was, perhaps, a step too far for Dallas lovers, although for the era in question it wasn’t all that inconceivable as plots go – just two years later in 1987 Fallon in Dynasty spin-off The Colbys was abducted by aliens.
Dallas survived until 1991, however many noted it lost its sheen before the inevitable end. Of course it was up against much stiffer competition at that stage as similar and equally glamorous shows vied for the viewers’ attention. The latter years saw the Ewings continue with their many struggles – Bobby, having ‘come back from the dead’ didn’t find everlasting happiness when two years later Pam had a terrible accident. In true dramatic style she was returning to Southfork after phoning Bobby to tell him that after the troublesome years of trying to conceive, she could finally be pregnant. And then she crashed the car. In the world of soaps extreme happiness must always be followed by profound tragedy. Pam actually survived the accident but was left with third degree burns and disappeared from the hospital, without a trace. It later transpired that she was dying and chose to let her family believe that she had left, thus sparing them the trauma of watching her pass away.
The end of season 13 was the series finale (watched by 33.3 million viewers), which saw JR being shown what life would be like without him and being egged on by the devil to kill himself. He fired a gun in his room and when Bobby entered and exclaimed ‘Oh my God!’ the audience was led to believe that JR had indeed committed suicide. It was later revealed in the first reunion movie that he actually shot the mirror and left Southfork that night for a stay in Europe, where he remained for five years.
Of course we all know Larry Hagman and Linda Gray are alive and well as, to our delight, they were cavorting around Punchestown in April, assisting with the judging of the Best Dressed Lady competition. They might have a few more wrinkles but they’re looking good and will always be JR and Sue Ellen to us.

Discussion

Comments are disallowed for this post.

Comments are closed.