J.R. Ewing and Dallas Live Again [Kicking Back with Jersey Joe]
Last week, I was speaking with my grandmother who told me that she didn’t have time to talk because Dallas was coming on. I said “Hello – 1980!” The classic television soap opera is back as TNT picks up the story two decades later. I decided to check it out.
Dallas reenergized the prime time television soap when it first aired on CBS as a five episode mini-series starting on April 2, 1978. In the late 70’s television was full of big name sit-coms, but a winning dramatic soap had been missing for almost a decade. Initially, the producers wrote the mini-series to be self contained, but once the ratings skyrocketed, the network immediately ordered a second season of 24 episodes that would begin airing the following September.
The series centers around the Ewing family and the battle for control of the Ewing Oil empire. J.R. Ewing, played by Larry Hagman, is the head of the family who schemes, double-crosses, and sleeps with just about any woman to advance his oil empire and rake in a profit. Lying, cheating, and stealing served him well.
The original series ran for 13 seasons from September 1978 – May 1991 for a total of 357 episodes. The show was appointment television at the time, especially after a move to Friday night during the second season.
The original series is known for two of TV’s most classic moments:On the very final seconds of the third season finale A House Divided, while working late in his office, J.R. is shot by an unseen figure. The event skyrocketed the summer finale ratings with everyone guessing “Who Shot J.R.?” This was the first time a cliffhanger was used on TV to keep the audience hooked during the summer reruns.
The hysteria was so great, Las Vegas and International odds makers were taking bets on which cast member was the shooter. Here were the odds:
Dusty Farlow (Sue Ellen’s lover) 6:4
Vaughn Leland (a banker J.R. swindled) 4:1
Kristin Shepard (J.R.’s mistress) 4:1
Sue Ellen Ewing (J.R.’s wife) 25:1
Miss Ellie (J.R.’s mother) 25:1
The episode was so well received; it was ranked #69 of the 100 Greatest Episodes of All Time by TV Guide. Entertainment Weekly has named it the number one most unforgettable cliffhanger in television.
The Simpsons parodied this episode with their almost as famous Who Shot Mr. Burns? 1995 season cliffhanger.
As the third season of Dallas came to an end, actor Larry Hagman’s contract was up. He staged a protest and held out for a raise to $100,000 per episode. When the studio declined, he walked. Shooting on the fourth season premiere had to begin. The scene where J.R.’s body is being removed, the actor’s face is covered in bandages, despite being shot in the abdomen.
Anxious viewers would have to wait until November for the answer as a Writer’s Guild strike delayed production on the fourth season even further. Clues were given in the first three episodes, with Sue Ellen’s fingerprints being found on the gun (reducing her odds to 3:1). Finally in the fourth episode of the season, Who Done It?, we know the shooter.
Those who chose Kristin Shepard were the winners. She paid off at 4:1 for any gambler who chose her.
The episode was the most watch television event ever at the time. It would be surpassed by the M*A*S*H finale a few years later. The episode is still the most watched episode of any show globally at 360 million viewers.
To keep the resolution plot a secret, the shooting scene was recorded over and over again with multiple cast members pulling the trigger with the intended shooter edited into the episode to conclude the story.
Actor Patrick Duffy, who played J.R.’s brother Bobby, is responsible for a second classic television moment that has become another part of the series’ lore.
At the end of the eighth season, Duffy wanted to leave to pursue other acting opportunities. When they didn’t happen, he was coaxed by Hagman back on the show, but the producers had killed the character off after getting hit by a car in the season finale.
Their answer, was to have his wife wake up from a dream to find him in the shower and the events of the entire eighth season having never happened. Fans hated this, but they were happy to have Bobby back on the show.
Two made for TV movies followed with Dallas: J.R. Returns in 1996 and Dallas: War of the Ewings in 1998. There were rumors of a new big screen production starring John Travolta as J.R., but the plan never materialized.
In 2010, TNT announced they were producing a pilot for the continuation of the series. Three of the original cast members: Hagman as J.R., Duffy as Bobby, and Linda Grey as Sue Ellen signed on. The pilot was well received and TNT ordered 10 episodes for the first season.
The first two episodes premiered on Wednesday, June 13th.
Reboots of classic TV series are all the rage in Hollywood right now. After having loads of new ideas fizzle out, reboots of classic shows we all know and love, seem to be a safer bet for Hollywood execs. Most of these reboots bear very little resemblance to their originals, and only one blockbuster movie Star Trek, seems to have been super successful. Other classics such as Lost in Space, I Dream of Jeannie, The A-Team, The Chipmunks, and The Smurfs all underperformed at the box office.
TNT, thankfully, is not doing a reboot; they are doing a continuation, with the storylines of the series picking up 20 years after they left off. Now, J.R. is no longer the head of Ewing Oil and Bobby is considering selling the ranch in support of mining methane as the fuel of the future. When his son strikes oil on the property, it sparks a family feud as J.R. wants to rebuild Ewing Oil with the large strike.
I had seen the original series off and on when it was originally on the air. My family were huge fans. I had seen a few of the reruns here and there over the years. I got caught up in the excellent marketing campaign TNT created for the new series. TNT dropped loads of cash on a series of character driven promos, print ads and interactive online experiences.
On the show’s website, fans can even create their own version of the series legendary opening credits with the unforgettable music theme. They can also play interactive games with the characters and check out behind the scenes videos at www.dallastnt.com.
What: prime time dramatic soap opera
Aired: 1978-1991 – new episodes 2012
Number of episodes: 357 (original run) 10 (2012)
JERSEY JOE RECOMMENDS:
My hats off to TNT for the excellent quality of the new series. Continuing the storylines and adding new characters while keeping our old favorites was absolutely the way to go. The writing is very sharp and the multiple plot lines are extremely interesting. I also love how it’s been updated for the times with use of the internet and alternatives to fossil fuel. I won’t spoil any more for you than that.
The opening credit sequence, with the best theme song ever produced for television, has been perfectly updated for our time. More and more TV series are now ditching their credits for more advertising time, but you lose the opening mood that credits and the song give to a show.
These 10 episodes will be a hit and I predict TNT will order more. We saw episode 3 this week, so we only have 7 more left this summer. That’s not that as much of a commitment. While this show is not really for the kids, I used to watch as a child of the 80’s.
Reruns of the current episodes are playing heavily all over TNT’s schedule. Classic episodes still appear from time to time on SoapNet and are available on DVD.
So, sit back and relax with the drama of the Ewing family, because this time Hollywood got it right!
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