The 1980s Super-Soaps

 

Dallas 1990s logo - CBSLate last year it was announced that a revival of Dallas was on the cards as TNT and Warner Brothers considered producing a new version of the classic 1980s soap for a whole new generation of television audiences. Dallas was one of several so called ‘super-soaps’ of the 1980s which captured mass audiences with a mix of over-the-top storylines and larger than life characters. We take a look back at Dallas and its fellow super-soaps of the 1980s such as Dynasty and Falcon Crest.

Late last year it was announced that a revival of Dallas was on the cards as TNT and Warner Brothers considered producing a new version of the classic 1980s soap for a whole new generation of television audiences. Dallas was one of several so called ‘super-soaps’ of the 1980s which captured mass audiences with a mix of over-the-top storylines and larger than life characters. We take a look back at Dallas and its fellow super-soaps of the 1980s such as Dynasty and Falcon Crest.

 

Dallas 1980s logoDallas

 

Broadcaster: CBS

Original Run: 1978 to 1991

Created By: David Jacobs

Key Principle cast: Larry Hagman, Barbara Bel Geddes, Patrick Duffy, Linda Gray, Howard Keel, Jim Davis, Victoria Principal, Charlene Tilton, Ken Kercheval and Steve Kanaly.

Highlights: Undoubtedly the most memorable storyline in Dallas entire run was the Who Shot JR storyline which had millions of viewers across the world hooked and the identity of the killer was top secret. Many soaps have since copied the storyline such as Who Shot Phil in EastEnders, Who Pushed Claire in Hollyoaks and Who Killed Fenner in Bad Girls.

Low Point: Actor Patrick Duffy decided to leave the series but when ratings went down after his departure producers decided to revive his character of Bobby. Only they had killed him off and so it was decided to write off an entire season worth of storylines as a “dream”. The show never recovered from this as viewers continued to abandon it due to the absurd nature of the story. Surprisingly it too has since been copied with the 2003 revival of Crossroads writing off two years worth of action as a dream!

 

Dallas was the soap that kicked off all the “super-soaps” of the 1980s with all that followed copying and adapting the format laid down by Dallas. When anyone thinks of the 1980s in many ways Dallas embodies everything about the decade from the fashion to the politics to the social change that was going on around the world. Television was a changing world and things that were perhaps not as acceptable years before now were and Dallas reflected that. However, the bringing a character back from the dead proved to be its undoing and although it limped on for several more years its ratings never recovered and finally in 1991 it was ended. However, that was not the end of the story as several “reunion movies” were produced which continued the saga of the Ewing family. The soap is now available to buy on DVD with all the seasons now released.

 


Classic Dynasty logoDynasty

 

Broadcaster: ABC

Original Run: 1981 – 1989

Created By: Richard and Esther Shapiro, executive produced by Aaron Spelling

Key Principle cast: John Forsythe, Linda Evans, Joan Collins, Pamela Sue Martin, Emma Samms, Al Corley, John James, Jack Coleman, Heather Locklear, Pamela Bellwood, Stephanie Beacham, Tracy Scoggins, Kate O’Mara and Michael Nader

Highlights: The entrance of Alexis Carrington [Joan Collins] at the start of the second season gave the soap a much needed boost and soon it became about the bitch-fights, plots, betrayals, long-lost relatives and bed-swapping rather than business, politics and oil has season one had been. The bitch-fights became something of a traditional for the soap with each one trying to top the previous one.

Low Point: The infamous ‘Moldavian Massacre’ season finale in which terrorists gun-down everyone at a wedding only for the start of the next season to reveal the majority of characters survived with minor wounds. This poor cliff-hanger resolved marked the decline of Dynasty as a series of poorly received storylines were introduced such as a double of Krystle and Blake losing his memory and Alexis convincing him they were still married. Eventually the soap was cancelled as it tumbled down the ratings chart.

 

Dynasty was the soap that really pushed boundaries in terms of how many over the top storylines one soap could go through in just a season. A series of long-lost relatives intent on revenge became a staple of the series as did bed-hopping, bitch-fights and shoulder-pads. The gay character of Stephen Carrington was one of the first gay characters in a prime-time programme but unfortunately his sexuality seemed to change on the whim of the producers marrying several times. British actresses Kate O’Mara and Stephanie Beacham [who also starred in the spin-off] were introduced as rivals to Alexis later in the shows run but by 1989 the series had lost its appeal. A reunion movie was produced but it didn’t rate very well. Dynasty is available to buy on DVD and the later seasons are slowly being released. So far five seasons have been released on DVD and more are expected to follow.  

 


Classic Falcon Crest logoFalcon Crest

 

Broadcaster: CBS

Original Run: 1981 – 1991

Created By: Earl Hamner

Key Principle cast: Jane Wyman, Lorenzo Lamas, Abby Dalton, Ana Alicia, Margaret Ladd, Robert Foxworth, David Selby and William R Moses

Highlights: A murder mystery storyline which was a cliff-hanger to entice viewers back for the next season with bombs, plane crashes and earthquakes similarly ending seasons to entice viewers back.

Low Point: The ninth season saw the absence of actress Jane Wyman for the majority of it due to ill-health. This resulted in power-plays between the over characters for control over the vineyard and it seemed as though at some point nearly every character had taken over during the course of the season.

 

While Dallas and Dynasty were about oil and the money, power, politics and tribulations that came from owning an oil company Falcon Crest were centred around a…vine-yard. Yet the soap featured many storylines that Dallas and Dynasty also covered such as plotting, power-plays, betrayals, plane crashes, murders, long-lost relatives, earthquakes and a series of other storylines that would have been right at home on Dynasty. Yet audiences loved it and along with Dallas it was consistently in the top ratings until the latter half of the 1980s. By this time the big super-soaps had seen their glory days behind them and audiences were switch off in droves. A revamp to revitalise the show failed and CBS decided to cancel it at the conclusion of the 9th season. Actress Jane Wyman had been absent throughout the season due to ill-health but returned for the last three episodes against her doctor’s orders. Falcon Crest has yet to be released on DVD.

 


Knots Landing

 

Broadcaster: CBS

Original Run: 1979 – 1993

Created By: David Jacobs

Key Principle cast: Ted Shackleford, Joan Van Ark, Michele Lee, John Pleshette, Claudia Lonow, Patrick Peterson, Donna Mills, Kevin Dobson, Alec Baldwin and William Devane

Highlights: A spin-off from Dallas in which Gary Ewing moves to a cul-de-sac away from Ewing Oil and the family there. The soap then tells the story of Gary and his neighbours with the occasional crossover from parent soap Dallas.

Low Point: In 1985 as part of a crossover storyline with Dallas the death of Bobby Ewing [Patrick Duffy] was reference in the spin-off as Gary crossed over to Dallas for the funeral. However, the entire story of Bobby’s death was later written off in Dallas as a dream angering producers on Knots Landing who decided that the two soaps were no longer set in the same “world”.

 

David Jacobs originally came up with the concept for Knots Landing before he had created Dallas but the success of the series lead to CBS asking him to rework his idea into a spin-off from Dallas – and so he did. The series out-lived Dallas which was cancelled in 1991 and during the it’s run had even out-rated its parent show on some occasions. However, Knots Landing like its parent show did suffer from declining ratings during its run and several actors were fired over the years to save costs. The introduction of more dramatic storylines boosted its ratings in the mid 1980s. By 1993 though it was clear Knots Landing had run its course and creator David Jacobs called time on it as CBS drove down the budgets. In 1995 a special reunion movie was produced which reunited some of the cast. The first season is out on DVD in the UK while in America the first two seasons have been released.

 


The Colbys

 

Broadcaster: ABC

Original Run: 1985 – 1987

Created By: Richard and Esther Shapiro

Key Principle cast: Charlton Heston, Barbara Stanwyck, Stephanie Beacham, John James, Emma Samms, Maxwell Caulfield, Tracy Scoggins, Katharine Ross, Michael Parks and Ricardo Montalban.

Highlights: A lavish spin-off from Dynasty in which the characters of Fallon [Emma Samms] and Jeff [John James] are written off into their own show which revolves around the rich Colby family and their company. The soap had a bigger budget than its parent show and a lavish cast with film actors Barbara Stanwyck, who left after one season, and Charlton Heston amongst it.

Low Point: Ratings challenged The Colby’s tried to pull in audiences with its season two cliff-hanger which has now gone down in television history. Fallon is driving along a desert road when a UFO lands in front of her and she is seemingly abducted by its alien occupant. It was the highest rated episode but the show was cancelled.

 

Having seen the success of Knots Landing, the spin-off from Dallas, it was quickly decided that Dynasty should have its own spin-off which would revolve around the wealthy and powerful Colby family. The main players in the spin-off, those of which had not already feature in Dynasty, were introduced in the show before the spin-off launched and the two soaps regularly featured crossover storylines and characters – although Joan Collins refused to appear in The Colby’s. However, despite its lavish budget and strong cast the spin-off wasn’t a success and after two seasons was cancelled. Emma Samms and John James returned to Dynasty were, several years later, Stephanie Beacham and Tracy Scoggins reprised their Colby’s roles on the parent-show.  The spin-off has yet to be released on DVD but its likely and DVD release will be tied in to the releases of Dynasty and will follow after the relevant series of Dynasty which introduced many of the spin-off characters.

 

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