Wonderful Town

May 07, 1991

Once upon a time on the Anatolian plateau, an American found himself being upbraided by a Turkish village patriarch. "Your 'Dallas' is ruining my children," the villager said. "All those fancy clothes and carryings-on with women -- what do you think my children learn from this?" Trying to sympathize, the American suggested that the patriarch simply turn off the TV set. "I can't do that," the Turk grumbled. "My children want to watch."

Everybody thought "Dallas" was either a cause or a symptom of moral decline, but everybody wanted to watch. The world became a true global village on Nov. 21, 1980, when some 350 million fans in 91 countries are said to have tuned in to find out who shot J.R.

For 356 Friday nights spread across 13 years "Dallas" reflected the themes of America in the Reagan years: greed, glitter, dysfunctional family ties and the primacy of imagination over reality. David Jacobs, the Baltimorean who invented "Dallas," had never visited the city when he created the show. A building that provided some of the exterior shots became "Southfork," the Ewing family seat, is now one of the leading tourist attractions in the city of Dallas.

Not only was "Dallas" one of the most popular shows of all time, it was one of the most influential. It brought soap opera to prime time, and it also demonstrated that story lines don't have to resolve in a single episode, thus opening up television drama to such continuing-story programs as "Hill Street Blues," "L.A. Law" and "thirtysomething."

For its final episode, "Dallas" ripped off Frank Capra's "It's a Wonderful Life." As J.R. Ewing flashed his infamous "ain't I awful" smirk, what he took for "an angel" showed him how "Dallas" would have been different without him. Better to wonder how different the world would have been without "Dallas." Different, and -- for Turkish children and the rest of us -- much less marvelous.

Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.