Monday, June 22, 2009

Wanted - Dallas: The Next Generation

They say everything old is new again and apparently that goes for television shows. In the past few years, we have seen the successful revival of a show that failed the first time around (Battlestar Galatica), and a new version of Beverly Hills 90210. Now the CW has a new version of Melrose Place on its fall schedule starring Ashlee Simpson-Wentz. Seriously, a new version of Melrose Place? A show that is chiefly remembered for two things: the shortness of Heather Locklear’s skirts and Marcia Cross as Kimberly pulling blowing up the building on Melrose Place where everyone lived.

I say that it’s time to bring back Dallas. Yes, I’m talking about the series that made Larry Hagman an international star, the show that wiped out one whole season by claiming it was a dream, that Dallas. Dallas was one of the most successful and longest-running shows in American prime-time television history, and was also hugely successful across the world. The episode where J.R. Ewing was shot was one of the most highly rated episodes ever. Long before we had the Bush family from Texas, we had the Ewings. For 13 years, viewers remained glued to their seats on Friday nights to find out what the Ewings, a wealthy dysfunctional Texas family in the oil and cattle-ranching industries, would do. The show accurately reflected the 80’s mentality of ‘Greed is good,’ and the fascination that people had with the rich and powerful.
The 80’s was also the Reagan years, and the rise of Donald Trump, Bill Gates, and Warren Buffett.

Dallas was so successful that Susan Lucci, an icon in her own right as Erica Kane on All My Children, joined the show to play a pyschotic kidnapper who killed Bobby’s new wife April. While the Ewings, like the Carringtons of Dynasty, were in the oil business (or oil bidness as they say in Texas), the show was more about the family dynamics between J.R. the rapscallion older brother, and Bobby, the youngest brother who was good and noble. There was also Gary Ewing, the middle brother who was an alcoholic (Gary and Valene even got their own show Knots Landing), and Ray Krebbs who turned out to be the illegitmate son of Jock Ewing. And then there was the star-crossed love of Pamela Barnes and Bobby Ewing. The Barnes family blamed the Ewings for stealing oil rights from them. Cliff Barnes spent the entire series trying to bring J.R. down with mixed results.

While Dynasty was good, campy fun complete with the yearly cat fight between Alexis Carrington and Krystal, Dallas for the most part was relatively sane. Although the Ewings were rich, they didn’t flaunt their money like the Carringtons. Sue Ellen never wore over the top outfits like the Nolan Miller designs on Dynasty, and the Ewing ranch was not ostentatious. The Ewings seemed like real Texans, particularly since Larry Hagman actually was born in Texas. The show was so successful that it spawned two TV sequels, Dallas: J.R. Returns and Dallas: War of the Ewings. There has even been talk of a big screen version of the movie with John Travolta as J.R. (miscast completely) and Jennifer Lopez as Sue Ellen (again miscast, she should be playing Pam with Matthew McConaughey as Bobby).

Now that the series has been released on DVD, a new generation of fans has sprung up, along with older fans who are getting the chance to relive a show that they enjoyed. A new version of Dallas would also allow audiences to see a newer side of Texas, a more multi-cultural state that since Dallas has been off the air has elected a female Governor, and sent another Governor to the White House. A Texas that it is more than just the oil business. It would help if the show was actually filmed in Dallas, instead of just doing a few weeks of location shooting.

Goodness knows CBS needs a show that skews younger than the shows they already have on the air. Right now, the CBS schedule is a mixture of sitcoms, CSI spin-offs and other police procedurals, and the supernatural shows Medium and The Ghost Whisperer. What it needs is a good night-time soap, and Dallas: The Next Generation would be perfect. The show has immediate name recognition. Even if you never saw the show, you know the name and J.R. Ewing. To bring in older viewers, the show could sprinkle in guest appearances by J.R., Bobby and Sue Ellen, but the focus would be on John Ross, Christopher, Bobby and Betsy Ewing, and whatever spawn Lucy and Mitch Cooper gave birth to.

The TV show would pick up 12 years after the last TV movie Dallas: War of the Ewings ended. John Ross is now the head of Ewing Oil and Christopher Ewing has started his own company to provide clean sources of energy to poor people (sort of like Citizens Energy, the company Joseph Kennedy II runs in MA), which makes him as much of a bleeding heart as his dear old dad Bobby. Meanwhile Pamela Barnes (daughter of Cliff and Afton Cooper) is the lead singer of a Sugarland type band in Austin (this would give the show a chance to show the Austin music scene). Lucy Ewing is the head of a Mary Kay cosmetics type company, and her daughter Amber is a debutante/model. This would give the show a chance to really show Dallas high society. Perhaps, she was tossed out of the Miss Texas pageant for nude photos and got drunk at the Crillon Ball in Paris. Bobby Ewing(son of Valene and Gary) has his own technology company or is involved with new media which he keeps arguing with John Ross about. Since Gary was an alcoholic, let Bobby be a drinker, a young George W. Bush as it were, screwing up and getting into trouble. Betsy Ewing could be frenemies with Amber, but strike up a friendship with Pamela Barnes. I see Betsy as a Nicky Hilton/Ivanka Trump type, someone with smarts and ambition, perhaps owning a boutique hotel in Dallas. Very down to earth compared to Amber, someone who although she grew up in Los Angeles was never part of that Hollywood socialite lifestyle.

One of the differences with the new Dallas and the old Dallas would be the introduction of some characters of color. Texas is a multicultural state, with a large Latino population, not to mention African-American. Let’s give John Ross a sexy Johnny Cochrane type lawyer and let him have an affair with Lucy’s daughter. Perhaps the foreman on the Ewing ranch can be Latino, the husband of Charlie, Jenna’s daughter.

Of course, the show would need to have guest appearances by the original stars. Let's say that J.R. has now retired but he can't keep butting in to what John Ross is doing at Ewing Oil, making deals behind his son's back, undermining him etc. Perhaps, J.R. has been spending a lot of time in Dubai as a consultant. Bobby might be member of the Texas legislature in Austin. Sue Ellen, who married a movie director, is now divorced and married to her third husband, a Euro-trash aristocrat with little to recommend him but his title and his pecs. Perhaps he's Italian, much younger or French even. The producers could cast Gilles Marini in the role.

Of course, we need to have some of the Barnes family on the show, the traditional enemies of the Ewings. Perhaps Cliff now co-owns a sports team that John Ross covets (remember that Bush once wanted to be baseball commissioner). He still blames the Ewings for Pam's death, and April's death (remember Cliff and April were once a couple). This would be a chance for a star-crossed love triangle between John Ross, Bobby and Pamela. They never did anything with the movie that Sue Ellen made of J.R.'s life. Perhaps now is the time to premiere that movie during the series, particularly if J.R. is messing with John Ross's relationships and career at Ewing Oil.

The nighttime television scene could use a little glitz and glamour that doesn't come from the so-called reality TV series. CBS should jump on this before Bravo churns out The Real Housewives of Dallas and steals their thunder.