4 May 2006 | dgrahamwatson
"Keep your friends close, but keep your enemies closer!" (J.R Ewing)
Dallas has to be one of the greatest ever TV shows, because it had all of the attributes for entertainment. It had great characters, good writers and story lines that ranged from the ridiculous to the sublime. Oh how easy it was to run an an oil company! Watching Dallas was pure fantasy, it's simply what makes TV fun and relaxing, take out an hour from the real world and enjoy, for people who saw the show they know what I mean!
So there we were introduced to the Ewing's who were in a bitter feud with the Barnes. However it was the biggest mismatch since George Foreman pounded Joe Frazier into the canvas 6 times in two rounds in the 1973 heavyweight title fight. The Ewing's led by JR body-slammed Cliff Barnes around for the first two seasons. In reality it was not a fair contest, a multimillion dollar family with connections up against a small town lawyer were always going to come out on top! However, that was to change as the series progressed. Of course the show quickly centered on JR (played by Larry Hagman) and the writers created a character that people would really hate; he had no problem playing fast and lose with other peoples lives.
So what did JR do that upset so many people! Swindled and cheated the cartel on more than one occasion, blackmailed politician's and government officials into helping him with his crooked deals, had the police set people up on phony charges as he had much of Braddock and Dallas police dept in his payroll. However JR wasn't satisfied with just tormenting the powerful, his family were not spared either, he was instrumental in trying to break up both Bobby, Garry and his mothers marriage's on numerous occasions. Cheated on his wife so many times that he turned her into an alcoholic and had her committed to a sanitarium. Government regulations were also no obstacle to his ambitions. He defied a State department embargo and illegally sold oil to Cuba, instigated a military coup in some oil rich country in Asia and risked a middle east war by hiring mercenaries to blow up Saudi Arabian oil fields to jack up the price of oil, and finally had a run in with the CIA and the Justice Department.
It was not just Cliff Barnes he wreaked havoc on, other people were fair game too. He betrayed, conned and left many of his subordinates, business associates and former lovers twisting in the wind, either in jail, broke or on the run from the police. As a consequence of his meddling, reputations were ruined family relationships were left in tatters and ambitions shattered as he turned his back or double crossed some of his closest confidants. It doesn't get any better than this! Not surprisingly the phrase "I'll get you JR if it's the last thing I'll do" or "you'll pay for this JR" both became fairly regular clichés as they all vowed revenge! As I write this I can count at least 5 attempts on JR's life as they tried to get even.
Many would say that the golden years of Dallas were the 1978-82 seasons. That's probably true, all the characters were developed through those seasons and I think Dallas had it's highest ratings. However my personal favorites were the 1987-1990 (the last series was poor)! In 1986 with the series tottering on the edge, the writers took a chance and despite ridicule brought back the character Bobby by making the previous season all a dream. It was a risk but they resuscitated a series by binning the most boring and tired looking season in 1985/86 (and that's according to Larry Hagman too) as never happening and therefore having a fresh start to the series.
To start with not everything went JRs way he lost Ewing oil, Sue Ellen started to get her act together and fight back on equal terms, Pam left the series and Bobby became a more aggressive character without her. It was a brave attempt by the creators to revive the series and they certainly pulled it off, Dallas never would have lasted as long if they had not done it! They filmed in locations such as Austria, France , Russia and gave a higher profile to the skin crawling Jeremy Wendell head of Weststar and after his exit he was followed by the lager than life Carter Mackay, who kept up the pressure on JR and the Ewing's far more than the cartel.
Some of the story lines introduced scenarios from movies such as COOL HAND Luke when JR was sentenced to hard time on a chain gang , or ONE FLEW OVER THE CUCKOOS NEST when JR in bizarre scheme bribed a judge to commit him into a puzzle house to find out information from Clayton's mentally ill sister. Even Bobby was not spared, on his trip to Paris his wife April was kidnapped very much a story similar to the 1987 movie FRANTIC.
With the proliferation of satellite and cable TV the major networks sensitive to their advertising revenue delved into trash TV and the half hour sitcoms which are cheap to make. Just over the horizon audience participation shows i.e. Opra, Rikki Lake and Springer and dopey half hour sit-come's were awaiting and if you were to fast forward looming ahead were the so called reality TV shows of the late 1990's.
Dallas was the first of the glam soaps and the second last to be canceled (1991). Was it all more entertaining than what's on today, well you be the judge!