Will Dallas return prove to be another bad dream?
Larry Hagman set to return as the amoral oil baron JR - but is it such a good idea?
The first ever super-soap, the one by which all others from Dynasty to Desperate Housewives are judged, is to return to television, courtesy of the American cable channel TNT, who have ordered up a modern-day remake.
They have persuaded Larry Hagman to reprise his role as the scheming oil baron JR Ewing - now confined to a mental asylum - while the actors who played his wife Sue Ellen and younger brother Bobby - Linda Grey and Patrick Duffy - have also discovered they have time on their hands and are happy to make the big comeback too.
The new show will centre on JR and Bobby's offspring, John Ross and Christopher, who will no doubt be at each other's throats five minutes into the pilot.
Josh Henderson from Desperate Housewives will play John Ross and there is talk of a role for Kiefer Sutherland from 24.
But will anyone under 45 want to watch it?
The original show, which ran from 1978 to 1991, was a delight and a groundbreaker. The everyday story of an oil-rich Texan family, complete with over-the-top rows, outrageous sexual shenanigans and the occasional death, was watched by everyone on both sides of the Atlantic and in many other countries besides.
The drunken Sue Ellen's quivering lower lip passed into folklore. Victoria Principal, as Bobby's wife Pammy, was American TV's First Babe. And there wasn't a chat show in the world that didn't want Larry Hagman as a guest.
Hagman's acting style, too, was innovative. His quasi-ironic manner meant it was okay to laugh at the melodrama and enjoy it immensely at the same time.
Southfork - the name of the Ewings' ranch - became a byword for the garish taste of the super-rich. When the Queen had an extravagant house built in Ascot for the Duke of York and his new wife Sarah Ferguson in the late 1980s, it was immediately dubbed 'Southyork' by the press, and everyone got the joke.
During the summer of 1980, after JR was shot at the end of Series Three, Americans wore 'I shot JR' T-shirts and Time magazine put Larry Hagman on the cover.
When the identity of the killer was resolved in Series Four, in November of the same year, 83 million Americans tuned in, giving Who Done It the highest rating of any television episode in history, a record it held until the final episode of M*A*S*H was broadcast in February 1983.
The killer's identity - JR's mistress, Kristin Shepard, played by Bing Crosby's daughter Mary - even made the Nine O'Clock News headlines in Britain.
But a comeback? Now? In the age of superbly crafted TV drama at one end of the US scale - The Sopranos and Mad Men - and reality and talent shows at the other?
Dallas's popularity - and the media frenzy around the big episodes - was based on it being "appointment TV". Everyone watched, everyone talked about it the next morning.
As Loraine Depres, tasked with writing the 'Who Done It' episode, wrote in a recent account of the Dallas summer of 1980, "Today, plot lines are stolen and bandied about the internet. Appointment TV is a thing of the past. Shows are recorded and watched when convenient."
Another argument against the comeback is that younger viewers will have little understanding of the Dallas pedigree. Who is Larry Hagman, anyway?
He looks like an old man in an absurdly large hat. As one drama producer I spoke to this morning put it, "The scripts will have to be fantastic. They cannot rely on the show's past."
Also, Dallas was a serial - the story lines progressing from one episode to the next, just like a soap. Most successful peak-time dramas are 'closed-end' series, each episode a story in itself. Viewers don't need to know what happened last week to enjoy it this week. 'Closed end' drama is easier to sell and easier to schedule.
Still, if the Dallas comeback fails, TNT can always write it off as a bad dream.
In one of the most famous episodes of Dallas, some bright spark decided in 1985 to kill off Bobby Ewing in a car crash. But without the handsome Bobby, ratings fell and a year later the producers decided to take drastic action.
Pammy walked into the bathroom and found Bobby in the shower. It was explained to incredulous viewers that his death had been "a bad dream". It was one madcap plot line too many. Viewers, until now prepared to forgive Dallas almost anything, began tuning out in their thousands. ·
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