The I Think Archive

Things I thoughtin July:

Saturday, July 31

10. I think that it should be relatively safe for me to go back to ten things per week, despite the fact that there are only four episodes to discuss. The difference is that these episodes are good and the characters are worth talking about.

9. I think it's about time that I discussed the issue of contracts, credits, and some of the issues about the beginning of the series, for those who may not know the details and are unwilling to ask. [By the way, PLEASE don't be afraid to ask any question that's on your mind. Despite the fact that I get well over fifty e-mails every day, I try and take the time to answer EVERY SINGLE one of them, even if the answer is somewhere on the page. I have NEVER turned anyway anybody looking for information.]

For anyone relatively new to the show or to the site: the first five episodes of Dallas [consisting of the four we saw this week and the one we will see Monday] are referred to as "the mini-series". These five episodes comprised a pilot project which was aired during the spring and summer of 1978, to see if enough ratings could be generated to justify a weekly one-hour series. Believe it or not, the big names were really Patrick Duffy and Victoria Principal. Not much had been heard from Larry Hagman since "I Dream of Jeannie." The original idea was to have Bobby die as an indirect result of JR's shenanigans, leaving the widowed Pam to deal with him on a weekly basis; this idea was gradually modified into what will happen in Episode 5 on Monday.

Now, on to what I really wanted to say. If you take a quick look at the mainline opening credits for these five episodes, you will find that there are only six names listed. The names of Linda Gray, Ken Kercheval, and Steve Kanaly are not amongst them. There's a simple reason for this: these three were not under firm contract to be in the series if the pilot were accepted and a series was commissioned. Once it was accepted in the summer of '78, Linda and Steve were put in the mainline credits [as you will see on Tuesday] but Ken was not. Why not? Because his contract most likely specified that he was to appear only in a certain number of episodes, and moreover stated that when he appeared, his name would be in the closing credits.

Contracts for shows such as Dallas, during the seventies and eighties, were typically renegotiated every season. Contracts are why Ken Kercheval appears in the mainline credits in Season 2. That's why it took Howard Keel three years of regular appearances to make it in the mainline credits. That's why Jenilee Harrison NEVER made it. That's why Lesley-Anne Down, despite only appearing in a few episodes, made it.

It's a little bit more complicated for guest stars. When a person is asked to appear on Dallas in this capacity, a contract is negotiated. The normal things are agreed to, such as salary and number of episodes in which the actor/actress will appear. But
the other important thing is how the character will be credited. Some actors and actresses who are well known, such as Denver Pyle [Blackie Callahan] can demand an "Also Starring" credit. Barbara Eden, who must have been practically begged to be on the show, is billed as a "Special Guest Star". So was Barbara Carrera [Angelica Nero].

Other actors/actresses who are not so well-known and are looking to make a name for themselves, such as Annabel Schofield [Laurel Ellis] get only a "with" credit, or are put in the closing credits. The credits are completely independent of how many episodes you appear in and how much money you make. Sheree Wilson had to wait until both Vicki Principal and Priscilla Presley left the show before she could demand to be put in the mainline.

Here's a good example: Look at the credits for Melrose Place. The mainline cast is shown at the beginning in alphabetical order - with the exception of Heather Locklear, who is at the very end and billed as a "Special Guest Star". She's been a "Special Guest Star" for seven seasons! The reason for this is that her contract specifies that she is to be billed apart from the mainline cast, because she thinks she's all that. [Whether she is or not is a personal opinion.] But because the Melrose producers insist that the mainline cast be in alphabetical order, Heather agreed to remain as a "SGS".

So the lesson is that the key word here is CONTRACT. If an actor/actress's contract specifies that he or she is to be in the mainline credits, then he or she is.  If Barbara Stock's contract says that Larry Hagman must dress like a leprechaun in every episode, then Larry had better invest in some green suits.

8. I think I also want to take a moment or two to pontificate about the very different nature of these episodes. Most of us are used to Dallas as a serial drama with storylines that carry on from episode to episode; but the episodes in the mini-series, and the vast majority of the ones in the first season, are discrete episodes, which means that the goings-on of one episode may be completely independent of the events of the previous one. From a nitpicking standpoint, this generally makes things easier, because the writers forget [or choose to forget] premises that were established in an episode to create another story.
I was going to create a Poll of the Week with regards to how people feel about discrete episodes versus storylines, but I decided against it because I really think that a show like Dallas, in order to endure with credibility, HAS to start out this way, for many reasons:

  • It gives the audience a sense of closure. Yes, there's something to be said for keeping the audience guessing what will happen next. But first you've got to get them comfortable.
  • It's easier to establish character interrelationships. Look at these episodes: we already have very entrenched ideas in our heads about these characters. JR is a scheming womanizer; Pam is a noble Juliet-like character and smart as a whip; Lucy's a spoiled brat; and so on and so forth. Yes, there's something to be said for making characters dynamic and multi-dimensional, but first you've got to get the audience interested. Audiences like simple. Audiences like to know who the "goodies" are and who the "baddies" are. If you don't believe me, believe anyone else who enjoys pro wrestling.
  • It makes it easier for the audience to look at individual characters. On Tuesday, we got into Lucy's head. On Thursday, it was Sue Ellen. Over the course of the next two weeks, every character gets the focus in one or two episodes, and it makes for some great watching. Then, we've finished with the get-to-know-you stuff, we can do the drama thing.
  • It gives the show an identity. By now, the direction the writers want to take should be very obvious: the Ewing family has lots of issues, and outsider Pam is going to straighten them out. This is a great formula if the producers take care of the other points.

Shows that begin with discrete episodes tend to last longer, be of higher dramatic quality, retain happy cast members, and rely less on wacky gimmicks than shows that do not. Compare Dallas to Dynasty: while the former lasted thirteen seasons and 356 episodes, Dynasty fizzled after nine seasons and 191 episodes. While Dallas consistently produced solid storylines for a good ten seasons, Dynasty ran thin after six. While Dallas was able to keep its core cast [with the exception of the dead Jim Davis] for eight consecutive seasons, Dynasty couldn't keep things in check for more than two years at a time. And while Dallas took steps to explain all of its wacky plot twists and turns, Dynasty was forced to grasp at straws by constantly invoking seasonal catfights, half-siblings lurking around every corner, everyone having sex with everyone else, and guest stars playing themselves.

Melrose Place lasted seven seasons; Models Inc, only one. Star Trek: DS9 lasted seven seasons, despite being in the shadow of its predecessor. The Simpsons are still on the air; South Park won't be for much longer. Moral of this story: when you've got a good idea, don't tinker with it. And don't sell out your idea for the quick fix. Get good people and use them. Then sit back and watch the result.

7. I think that I better stop being so pedantic and get to what's real here. I'm not the least bit bashful to say that I am ECSTATIC to see Victoria Principal on my TV screen again. I've gotten over it since this my third time running through the series, but I'll go on record as saying that the only other TV siren that has EVER knocked me for a loop the way Vicki did was Jaclyn Smith. Anybody who knows me will tell you how big a compliment that is.

[Speaking of Jaclyn, I'm reminded of her ex-husband who she left about ten years ago. Here's a guy who got to sleep with her every night for ten years, and then after their divorce he got three million bucks from her. Life is just not fair, damn it.]

6. I think that I'm really interested to see how the Battle Royale is going to shake out. So far, I haven't had too many surprises, other than the success of Mandy. It's very interesting how a lot of the matches have been rather lopsided; poor old Harry McSween got only one vote of confidence against Jock, from someone who commented that Jock was at a disadvantage because he's dead! Interesting spin on it.

An early note for the second round: two results seem to be already decided; one is deadlocked; and there appears to be one upset in the brewing. I'm not saying which one it is, of course; but if the trend continues...well, let's just say I'm hoping for another similar upset which will create a VERY interesting semi-final.

5. I think that, given what I said above about contractual situations and what not, I would really like to know why Jock and Ellie have been so depushed during the mini-series. Barbara Bel Geddes and Jim Davis are both in the mainline credits, so why aren't they more involved in what's going on? Surely there's more for Jock to do than grouse around the ranch and be Bobby's sidekick during their ride through the hurricane.

4. I think I must retract a bit of what I said last week, about the producers being undecided about when to end the series. Quite a few people have graciously pointed out that everybody involved with the show had planned for "Conundrum" to be the end of the series run. I stand by the rest of what I said, though. 

3. I think that, given the abuse she gets for her pathetic [and I use the term loosely] contribution to the show at times, Charlene Tilton deserves some kudos for what she's done so far. She was given the task of playing a spoiled teenage brat who's thoroughly incorrigible but shows signs that she can be redeemed. I'd give her an A+ for that - for now.

2. I think that, after much deliberation, I still cannot see why so many people think that "Digger's Daughter" was such a fantastic episode. Sure, it's a huge breath of fresh air given what we were subjected to in the last few seasons. But on it's own, was it really that great? I personally found it kind of slow-moving at times, even graciously granting that the writers have a lot of exposition to do and relationships to establish. I'd like to hear people's thoughts as to why it's so great.

1. I think that next week's episodes are going to be a lot of fun. There's "Barbecue One", which I feel is the first really great storyline-establishing episode, featuring the miniseries cliff-hanger of sorts; "Reunion", a two-parter focusing on the return of Gary and Val; and then "Old Acquaintance", which brings Jenna Wade into the picture. More emotional roller-coasters than Six Flags [or Canada's Wonderland, for those north of the border].

Saturday, July 24

8. I think that I had better make some things clear from the get-go. First of all: YES! The series starts again, from the very beginning, with the "Digger's Daughter" episode, on Monday. And YES! We will continue to nitpick, tote, poll, and discuss the show as long as TNN decides to continue airing it. I've already nitpicked all of these episodes, but there's always more stuff to be found. I certainly have no intention of stopping any time soon.
And by the way, in case it isn't clear for some reason, you can always check out the upcoming Dallas schedule which will tell you exactly when Dallas will be aired or not. I update it every week so that you can plan your tapings well in advance.

7. I think that, in light of what I said above, I can't wait for the series to start again. Unlike a lot of people, I never considered the series to ever become bad enough not to watch; but there's no doubt that these early episodes were much better. There were a lot of dead spots and lame plots, but the quality of acting and the "real" nature of the characters more than made up for that. It's going to be REALLY nice to see Pamela again, and I think everyone knows that I think Jock is DA MAN. But I think the real highlight of the first few seasons, for those who haven't seen them, is the non-jellyfish nature of Miss Ellie. For anyone who doesn't think that Miss Ellie rocks, make sure you watch Episode 14. And give your head a shake.

6. I think it's really a shame that the producers had JR fall so far so fast. I have no objection to the way it happened; but it all seemed so forced. In one episode, he lost everything? That's just too far-fetched.

5. I think that I'm genuinely surprised at the number of people who have e-mailed and in one way or the other wished that we had not been subjected to that "monstrosity" called Conundrum. I, for one, considered it rather neat, if full of risky ratings-chasing gimmicks like the return of past guest stars and the whole "It's a Wonderful Life" idea. I'd really like to know whether or not the producers had any idea that this would be the final episode of the series run. I'm sure they could probably see the writing on the wall, but I've never found any evidence that they planned to shut down production.

4. I think that, surprisingly, Kimberly Foster did a great acting job in the last few episodes. She faced the burden of being the only forthright female character on the show, and I'd say she more than rose up to the challenge.

3. I think that, speaking of rising to the challenge, the writers deserve a mention here as well. For the first time in a while, they actually managed to bring characters and their plots together towards the end of a season. Granted, there were only about five mainline characters and three plots, but it's still commendable.

2. I think that, after watching The Phantom Menace this week, it's given me a new insight as to why Dallas went downhill in the last few seasons. [By the way, if you haven't seen it, get out there right now! It's a great movie!] But it's not like the old Star Wars, not by a long shot. Just like the new Dallas isn't like the old Dallas. And here's why:

  • Too many mainline characters. Sure, people like Jack, April, and Jenna made great contributions to the show; but it becomes hard to sustain momentum when your show [or movie] balloons like this. It became JR and everybody else, just like The Phantom Menace was Qui-Gon and everybody else.
  • Lack of plot focus. When characters have to cabbage every plot at the beginning of every episode, something is wrong. TPM didn't have this particular problem, but they had a similar one: having to make the plot fit future events that we had already seen.
  • Lack of a credible heel. In the early years, we loved to hate JR. But then we learned to cheer him on, and it didn't matter because the producers came up with great bad girls like Katherine and Angelica. But then suddenly, everyone became a babyface except for lame characters we didn't care about, and you can't sustain a drama with just that. The one thing that was really missing from TPM was the presence of a Vader-like character. And don't say "Darth Maul": he got, what, five minutes of screen time?

1. I think February 10, 1998. That was a long time ago [or so it seems]. That was the day that "Digger's Daughter" last aired on TNN. And that means that it would have been September of 1996 when I first started flipping channels one fateful night and caught the opening credits of Dallas on Channel 30. I'll never forget it: "Winds of Vengeance" aired that night. And from then on, I was hooked. Since that night, I have only missed the show eight times. For four of them I went on vacation, but I watched them on tape after I returned; one night there was a power outage; and of course, there were those three episodes a month ago when my cable was out, but I plan to watch those episodes again this weekend, thanks to Jason's gracious sending of a tape.
But I digress. What I want to say is...well, I don't know how to put it exactly. As many of the AHNs know, there were a few nights when I just felt like chucking it and closing the shop down. There were MANY nights where I stayed up till 2 AM or later to get all of the nits in order. There's been three or four style changes. A lot of blood, sweat, and tears. So the question is: was it worth it? Click here for the answer.

Friday, July 16

10. I think I'm not sorry I held off last week's column. I feel much better having ten things to say about seven episodes, rather than have not much to say about three. As for my "State of the Site" message, here it is: I'm REALLY glad I thought of the Battle Royale idea. Certainly the concept isn't original, but applying it to Dallas is, and it has worked out rather well. As always, more input would be welcome, but I'm not going to look a gift horse in the mouth.

9. I think I want to know what's up with the "just hold me" complex that the Stevens sisters have. Under most circumstances that we have seen, they come on really strong to make first impressions, to the point of being annoying. Even once we got to know them, they've made little to no effort to actively seek acceptance or forge loving relationships, and yet they whine about how they just want to be loved. And, no I haven't forgotten about April and Bobby. It's actually a case in point if you think about it. Amy Stevens should have picked up some parenting books those many years ago. Or else Springdale High should have some courses in developing self-esteem.

8. I think that it bears mentioning that filling air time with scenes from a cattle drive is the height of lameness.

7. I think I have little to say about the whole deal with Jory. Even with characters that I don't like or don't particularly care about, I can find something to say about him or her; but not the esteemed Miss Taylor. The only comment I would have is that somehow she doesn't strike me as really being a match for Bobby. All of the other wacky women in Bobby's life [since what's-her-name] have seemed to have some compatibility with him, even Hillary. But not Jory. I'm not quite sure why that is.

6. I think that I feel just the opposite about Debra Lynn. She is an outstanding character, more so because she is getting a lot of mileage out of a horrendously recycled gimmick. Contrast her to other fifth wheels such as Vanessa, Kay, or Kimberly - no comparison. In fact, I haven't been this interested in a triangle since JR, Sue Ellen, and Mandy back in 1987. The only shame of it is that she has to be inserted in the middle of such a boring couple.

5. I think it's a real shame the way Liz Adams was misused as a character this season. She's like the Donna Krebbs of the final season; it totally sucks when a character has nothing to do but latch on to someone else's lame gimmick, especially when that character could probably do something worthwhile on his or her own.

4. I think that, speaking of lame gimmicks, it's also obvious how bad a lackluster storyline for Cliff is. Jeepers. I could stand his sombre self-pity when he had people around him that it affected adversely. When Cliff's misfortune affected Pam's relationship with the family, for instance, it was a great way to generate heat for Cliff and good character development. But over the last week he's done nothing but create bad heat. It certainly doesn't make any sense to me that getting dumped by Liz and losing the Energy Czar post would have prevented him from joining forces with Michelle to try and get a piece of Ewing Oil. Just another example of how disjointed things seem.

3. I think it's also kind of a shame the way John Ross is being turned into an unbearable pre-teen. Surely Omri deserves better than this. It's important for the series wrap-up, but really disappointing.

2. I think I can do without being beaten over the head with any semblance of similarity between Michelle and Pam. This started when James commented that Michelle is one of the few people who can really stand up to JR, which was, of course, Pamela's defining gimmick. Then came JR's comment about "to me, you ARE another Pam." As far as I'm concerned, the only thing these two have in common is anatomy - and even that's kind of a reach.

1. I think I can't believe that I have actually written all of these summaries and catalogued all of these nits. And there's more to come. Yikes. Anyway, it's been a hell of a ride. Only three more episodes left to go, and of course, the final is a two-parter that's been rather badly cut up. But that's okay. It's Dallas, and that's the bottom line. Everything winds down completely for all of the Ewings, especially JR. If you haven't seen the final episode, prepare yourself. It's really fun when you watch it for the first time, if only because of all of the returning guest stars. The first half [which will be aired on Wednesday] is kind of boring; but it picks up in a real hurry on Thursday.

Friday, July 2

6. I think I'm glad that I held out on the "Best Episode" Poll of the Week as long as I did. Now seems to be the perfect time, except for those of you who have not seen the final episode, "Conundrum", which airs in a few weeks. If you haven't seen it yet, please hold off your vote until you do. I'm going to keep this poll active, just as I have with the main Dallas survey. So far the balloting has gone much as I expected. I'm not going to give anything away just yet. Keep the votes coming!

5. I think the producers are really in an unfortunate situation. Especially in this last season, it's clear that "Dallas" became a victim of its own success. In order to try and keep people interested, they're rehashing old plots with new characters, hoping that it'll work again. Well, it's not. This week's case in point is the whole Lee Ann/Vanessa thing. It carries a striking similarity to the Holly Harwood/Sue Ellen thing, but with much weaker characters that we have an awfully hard time getting excited about. And that's why it doesn't work as well.

4. I think that, like most of you, I'm sick of Bobby's "getting over April crap". And yet, knowing Bobby's next storyline, I'm shuddering somewhat. Wait until you meet the wacky Jory Taylor.

3. I think the week of Lee Ann de le Vega was not bad. [It's not totally over yet, either, by the way.] Some people commented that JR fell into her trap a little too easily but I don't quite agree. Lee Ann offered JR everything he wanted - money, power, sex, the whole nine yards. And he bit. And got caught. Before everyone chalks this up to "bumpkinism", let me spin it this way: suppose JR held back. Wouldn't we complain that he wasn't willing to do whatever it took to get Ewing Oil back?

2. I think that McKay's murder trial has got to be the lamest one EVER. And I mean EVER. If this happened during a decent season of Dallas, it would be the focus of the show because the writers would find a way to work in a power struggle at Weststar as part of the goings-on. THAT would have been a good way to generate a modicum of interest in the show. Clearly these guys are flying by the seat of their pants here.

1. I think that next week will be pretty much the same as this week, except that Patrick Duffy will average more than one scene an episode [and surprisingly, none of them will have to do with visions of April]. JR deals with the surprising change of ownership at Ewing Oil; Cliff, Liz and Carter continue to fill air time; and James and Michelle's relationship is thrust into the spotlight. Trust me, though: it's not as bad as it sounds.


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