15 June 2012

TV’s ‘Dallas,’ and Mine

The cast of the new series.

The venerable CBS series Dallas is being revived on the cable network TNT, and while the show elicits a certain curiosity (and mixed reviews in the press), I doubt I’ll do more than dabble in it. That’s in keeping with my practice during the show’s original run, beginning in 1978, when I still lived in the eponymous city. In those days I was more interested in getting out of town than in studying its habits and mores — which Dallas the TV series may or may not reflect accurately. Who am I to say?

I do have some insight into the original series, because for a period of about three days one summer, I was hired out by the business manager at my father’s office, where I worked, to help her friend in the bookkeeping department of Lorimar Productions.* They’d been shooting around town for a few weeks and needed an extra hand or two as they closed down the location office.

Among my tasks was the destruction of scripts that had been used by the actors and crew during the shoot. Suddenly, all manner of astonishing plot twists and revelations fell into my lap. In such a circumstance today, I could have built a career for myself as a TV insider or gossip maven or celebrity sleuth, and who knows where that might have led me? Matt Drudge got his start by eavesdropping on conversations (and, it’s been whispered, by digging through wastebaskets) at CBS, and look at him now. Oh, the possibilities were limitless!

Who Head Shot? J.R.!
Larry Hagman as the Ur-villain of prime-time soaps.

Trouble was, there was no Internet in those long-ago days, so the means of distribution were beyond my reach. Worse yet, I didn’t follow the show and barely knew the names of the principal characters, much less the details of their intrigues. If Sue Ellen slept with Bobby, I’d never perceive the significance.

What I did see was that the dialogue for this show was terrible, the flattest, dullest, most wooden, most stilted stuff you can imagine. It was as if the scripts had been sent from some other planet, and they inspired in me a kind of awe, for in their complete lack of interest or sense, in their sheer worthlessness, they possessed a glorious majesty. They were like cathedrals of awfulness. There was nothing to do but kneel before them.

And this is my reason for writing now: in tribute to the actors of Dallas, who made those lines sound more or less like human speech, and who brought to their performances enough charisma that, for a time, half the planet hung on their every move.

Respect and never forget them.

The cast of the original series.

*NOTE: It’s hard to credit, but it’s true: the company that produced the Ewings also produced that family’s polar opposite, The Waltons.


Kris said...

The thing I didn't/don't like about the show is that is continues to stereotype the people of Texas and Dallas. I can't tell you how many times I ran into people who really thought that JR was typical of all residents. This was especially clear in Europe. I don't wear a cowboy hat and boots, I don't have an oil well and I don't talk like JR.

William V. Madison said...

I sympathize entirely! My solution to this problem was to stop telling people I grew up in Dallas. (They'd stopped believing me when I did confess, in any case.)