1 9 7 8 – 1 9 9 1 (USA)
355 x 50 minute episodes
1 x 75 minute episode
When the popular soap closed its second season with the fiendish J.R. taking two slugs from an unseen shooter, it stepped up from TV hit to worldwide obsession. The show made the cover of Time magazine and “Who shot J.R?” became the slogan on everyone’s lips.
Thanks to several decoy scripts, even the Dallas stars were surprised by the culprit. The success of the plot made cliff-hangers a standard TV device and inspired a host of decade-defining greed-fests such as Dynasty and Falcon Crest.
The saga began when the partnership between two wildcatting oilmen, Jock Ewing and Digger Barnes, dissolved and Jock ended up with the lion’s share of the business and Digger’s true love, Ellie Southworth. Forty years later, Ewing Oil had grown into an empire, and Jock and Ellie had produced three sons.
The first son was J.R, who, after marrying the feisty, former Miss Texas, Sue Ellen Shepard, and assuming his father’s place as head of the company, drives hard for success, no matter what the cost.
J.R. was the man viewers loved to hate. He was unscrupulous, power-hungry and conniving in his business dealings. He was also habitually unfaithful to his wife. The second son Gary bolted the Ewing spread, Southfork, but left behind his precocious teenage daughter Lucy.
The third (and favourite) son was Bobby, whose marriage to Pamela Barnes, daughter of Ewing nemesis Digger Barnes, re-ignited the famous feud between the two families, and was further fuelled by the unscrupulous J.R. and Pam’s half-brother, Cliff Barnes.
Dallas had started almost by accident. Lorimar Telepictures had had the actress Linda Evans under contract for some time, and ‘Untitled Linda Evans Project’ was gathering dust on a shelf. It was passed to David Jacobs, a New York writer of children’s books, who’d moved to Los Angeles purely to be close to his 12-year-old daughter and needed a stop-gap scriptwriting job to pay the new bills.
Lorimar wanted Big and Brash, so he gave it to them – five episodes of Dallas – without ever having set foot in Texas. When he went there for filming he found he didn’t have to change a thing. Texan Larry Hagman merely commented that he hadn’t made the characters corrupt and power-crazed enough . . .
By then Linda Evans wasn’t on the scene. Lorimar released her from her contract. The feeling was that she was too old to play Pam – the part went to angel-faced Victoria Principal who’d had the sense to come to the audition in a tight sweater – and too straight-looking for sultry Sue Ellen, J.R’s suffering vodka-loving wife, a role for which Linda Gray deserved an Oscar.
The end-result ranked as one of the top ten most popular shows during almost all of its ten seasons, capturing the top ranking for the 1980-81, 1981-82 and 1983-84 seasons.
As it entered its 13th season, Dallas found itself facing another exciting multiple “cliff-hanger” question: “How will J.R. answer to the fact that his former wife Sue Ellen has produced a revealing and potentially damaging film about his nefarious ways?”, and “Who is the person or persons behind the threatening phone calls that April Stevens is receiving?”, and “What mystery lies ahead for Miss Ellie and Clayton surrounding the strange key that was mailed to Southfork patriarch Jock Ewing, who has been dead for seven years?”
As the season opened Southfork was again bustling with activity. J.R. – newly wed to his young and innocent bride Cally and rested from their Austrian honeymoon – is searching for the film that could make him the laughing stock of Texas and is also scrambling with brother Bobby to return Ewing Oil to the powerful company it once was.
Bobby, meanwhile, has come to the rescue of his fair-haired maiden, April Stevens, by moving her into Southfork to protect her from the mysterious and frightening phone calls.
Miss Ellie and Clayton are off on a quest to search out the meaning of the enigmatic key that was mailed to the long-deceased Jock, and Lucy Ewing – living back at the ranch after the break-up of her marriage – takes an interest in Cally’s artistic talents and leads her to a somewhat unscrupulous group of art dealers.
Those living off the ranch are dealing with their own set of concerns as well. At the close of the last season, Cliff Barnes was left lying unconscious in a Baton Rouge hotel as a result of his trying to locate the woman he loves, Afton Cooper; and Carter McKay, chief of the mighty Weststar Oil, faced the loneliness of living without his beloved daughter Tracey and wayward son Tommy while trying to fend off the battling Ewing brothers in the fiercely competitive and ruthless oil business.
Joining the rich and powerful Dallas folk that year were April’s younger and seductively sly sister Michelle who comes to the city in search of the means – or man – who can lead her to her fortune; Alex Barton, an up and coming art gallery owner who takes more than a professional interest in budding young artist Cally Ewing; and the devious James Richard Beaumont, the supposed son of the only woman to ever break J.R. Ewing’s heart, Vanessa Beaumont.
Most of the conflicts revolved around J.R. as usual. He sold worthless Asian oil leases to the family banker Vaughn Leland and a number of other investors, mortgaged Southfork without telling his parents, attempted to get Sue Ellen committed to an institution for alcoholism, fought off the efforts of unscrupulous Alan Beam to marry Lucy and get his hands on part of the Ewing fortune, and left a trail of disillusioned mistresses discarded like yesterday’s old news.
It was one of these mistresses, his wife’s sister Kristin who became the centre of attraction for the major TV story of 1980.
In the last original episode of the 1979-80 season, J.R. was shot by an unknown person and rushed to the hospital in critical condition. All summer the question raged on through much of the world – “Who shot J.R.?”
Finally on 21 November 1980, the world found out: Kristin had pulled the trigger.
Pregnant with J.R.’s child, and about to be framed by him for prostitution because she refused his order to get out of Dallas, she shot him for revenge. The episode in which her guilt was revealed was seen by more people than any programme in the history of TV up to that time.
Nearly 80% of all viewers watching TV that night were tuned to Dallas.
However, J.R. lived on and Kristin was never prosecuted but she did finally leave town. J.R. recovered and waged a new war to unseat his brother Bobby, who had taken over Ewing Oil during his rehabilitation.
There were also two Ewing marriages that season. Lucy married young pre-med student Mitch Cooper and Ray Krebbs (who was revealed to be Jock’s illegitimate son, and therefore a Ewing) married politically powerful widow Donna Culver.
J.R. was as mean and vengeful as ever, engineering a foreign coup to regain some of his holdings as well as hiring a sexy public-relations woman to promote a new image for himself as an “All-American Businessman.”
As time went on, marriages alternated with divorces. J.R. and Sue Ellen divorced and later remarried, but neither remained faithful to the other. Lucy and Mitch also divorced and she had an ill-fated romance with Mickey Trotter.
Mickey was seriously injured in a car accident caused by a drunken Sue Ellen. While he was lying brain-dead at the hospital, Ray Krebbs pulled the plug on his life-support system. The jury called it manslaughter.
Meanwhile, Pam had a nervous breakdown, separated from, and eventually divorced, Bobby. She kept custody of their adopted son Christopher (Kristin and J.R.’s child).
Pam’s brother Cliff went to work for his mother and his manipulations became more complicated as the stakes got higher. When he became president of Barnes/Wentworth Oil, he had hopes of besting J.R. in the world of dirty business transactions.
His conniving and beautiful half sister Katherine Wentworth first tried to befriend J.R. to break Cliff, and then fell in love with Bobby – who was back together with an old girlfriend, Jenna Wade.
Miss Ellie found a new romance after Jock died in 1981 (actor Jim Davis had passed away), marrying the wealthy Clayton Farlow. Bobby and J.R. continued to fight over control of Ewing Oil. Eventually, they ended up running the family business together, constantly trying to outmaneuver the other to gain total control.
In the 1984-85 season, another troublemaker, cousin Jamie, was added to the cast. She teamed up with Cliff to fight J.R. for a piece of Ewing Oil. She and Cliff were eventually married.
Donna struck oil in an independent venture, causing a strain in her marriage to Ray. J.R., in between battles with everyone, found time to pursue hard-to-get Mandy Winger.
Brother Bobby didn’t have a very good season that year. First, he was shot by an assassin who was gunning for J.R.; then he broke up with Jenna – who married and then was convicted of killing – Marchetta, and finally, he was killed in a hit-and-run accident.
Bobby’s demise left a major hole in Dallas. During 1985-86, his two loves tried to find happiness in new relationships – Pam with Mark Graison and Jenna with Jamie’s brother Jack Ewing. Marinos Shipping executive Angelica, was the new manipulator who sided with Cliff while flirting with Jack.
J.R.’s alcoholic wife Sue Ellen – who was committed to an asylum and bailed out by her mother – had a fling with Dusty and wound up in a really bad custody battle with J.R. over son John Ross.
When Bobby’s childhood friend Matt showed up looking for an extension of the financing Bobby had given him for an emerald mine in South America, renewed memories of Bobby were brought back to the forefront. Pam gave him the extension and a series of adventures in the jungle ensued.
With ratings sagging, fans wanted not ghosts from Bobby’s past, but Bobby himself. Star Larry Hagman made a personal appeal to Patrick Duffy to return to the cast. But what about the fact that his character had been killed and buried in an elaborate funeral?
Not to worry . . . In one of the most celebrated returns in TV history, the 1986-87 season opened with a very alive Bobby taking a shower at Pam’s house. How did he get there?
Pam had dreamt the entire 1985-86 season and Bobby had not died at all . . .
And so it began again with Bobby torn between Jenna and Pam. Pam, however, was seriously injured in a fiery car accident and then just disappeared, while Jenna was preoccupied with her trouble-prone teenaged daughter Charlie.
A bitter Sue Ellen found a new way to embarrass J.R. by manufacturing a line of “Valentine’s Girl” erotic lingerie – which became an instant hit with Mandy as the model.
A ranch hand named Parmalee showed up, claiming to be the long-dead Jock Ewing, causing great turmoil in the family. The Krebbes’ marriage was completely torn apart when Donna went to Washington as a lobbyist and started sleeping with Senator Dowling. Jack’s ex-wife April was the latest newcomer scheming to snag a piece of Ewing Oil.
The Ewings suffered a major setback in 1987 when proof of J.R.’s illegal dealings finally caused him to lose partial control of Ewing Oil. But slick and cunning J.R. worked with Casey Denault to regain some of his lost power. He also tried his bedroom tactics on Kimberly Cryder, the beautiful wife of his new enemy Winston Cryder.
Jenna and Ray were married; Bobby was pursued by Lisa (who wanted custody of his son, Christopher) and April, and Miss Ellie threw Clayton out of the house.
There were three major stories in the 1988-89 season. J.R., on a hunting trip to Arkansas, seduced a rural woman named Cally and was imprisoned on a work farm by her vengeful brothers and their friend, the local judge.
He escaped only after agreeing to marry her, then spent the next two seasons trying to get rid of her while she managed her way into his affairs and even gave birth to a son.
Sue Ellen bought a movie studio and hired screenwriter Don Lockwood just to make a filmed expose about J.R. that would surely “destroy him.”
Colorado rancher Carter McKay teamed up with Weststar Oil chairman Jeremy Wendell to rage a full-scale war against the Ewings, as well as to take over complete control of Ewing Oil, which was now controlled by Bobby. McKay had his own family problems with wife Rose, drug-addicted son Tommy, and daughter Tracy, but Weststar (which he eventually took over) and Ewing Oil battled it out in Washington, D.C., Dallas, Austria and Russia with episodes being filmed on location.
At the start of the 1989-90 season, a Weststar and a Ewing tanker collided, resulting in a huge oil spill (Aww come on this is just getting silly now).
< Deep breath > . . . A government investigation took place headed by none other than Cliff Barnes, who had launched a political career as a new way to get back at J.R. Assisted by public relations expert Stephanie, he won (and then lost) the position of national energy Tsar.
Bobby, despondent over the death of his beloved Pam, became obsessed with Pam look-alike Jeanne, but married April instead. J.R. learned that he had a second son by former flame Vanessa.
The now 20-year-old James proved to be a junior J.R., wheeling and dealing, sleeping with many women and ganging up with the disillusioned Cally against his dad.
By the end of the season, they had J.R. confined to a mental institution which was part of a plot in which J.R. had entered the facility to try to finagle Weststar stock out of Clayton’s crazy sister Jessica, who had earlier tried to kill half the population of Dallas.
J.R. managed to escape the following season but what little control he still had over Ewing Oil slipped away from his grasp. Bobby, tired of the battles and grieving over the sudden death of his new bride April (she was kidnapped by Hillary during their Paris honeymoon!), sold his controlling interest to newcomer LeeAnn, whom J.R. had jilted in college (oh for crying out loud, who writes this stuff?).
LeeAnn in turn sold it to Michelle (married to J.R.’s plotting son James), who, after killing her sister April’s murderer, Hillary, turned half interest over to J.R.’s old rival – now alcoholic Cliff. Cliff soon reaped the other half as well. McKay had left town so J.R. made a play for Weststar Oil. But when that failed, he was locked out of the oil business forever.
In the series’ final episode, J.R.’s entire world came crashing down around him.
His business was gone: Ewing Oil now belonged solely to Cliff. His family was split up: Ellie and Clayton had moved to Europe; son John Ross left him to live with Sue Ellen in London; his other son James and his wife Debra Lynn left with grandson Jimmy and ex-wife Cally now lived happily in Palm Beach, Florida with his other child.
Even Southfork had been turned over to Bobby by Miss Ellie. J.R. was left with a bank account and the promise of his forgiving brother that he could stay in the big, now-empty house for as long as he wanted to.
As J.R. drank and contemplated suicide, an apparition named Adam appeared to show him what life would have been like if he had never been born. It was like It’s A Wonderful Life turned downside up!.
Some of the characters were seen with much better lives, others with even worse ones. Finally, Adam’s eyes flashed red (was he the devil in disguise?) and J.R. raised the gun and a shot rang out and Bobby burst into the room and only he – not the viewer – saw what had happened. Bloody typical!
Larry Hagman died on 23 November 2012 after a battle with cancer. He was 81.
JR (John Ross) Ewing
Sue Ellen Ewing
Bobby James Ewing
Pamela Barnes Ewing
Eleanor “Miss Ellie” Ewing
Barbara Bel Geddes
John Ross “Jock” Ewing Sr
Donna Culver Krebbs
Lucy Ewing Cooper
Sheree J. Wilson