5 September 2012

Supervising Producer - Calvin Clements Jr

I've no real interest in the return of Dallas to our screens, though I was fascinated to see Larry Hagman in such good health considering his age and endless list of ailments and appearances in operating theatres. It's good that he is still willing to bum about talking to any presenter or hack with an interest in the revival of a show that, at its peak, was brilliant and ludicrous in equal measure.

Compared to some American dramas, as well as soaps generally from the world, I always thought Dallas was especially well acted, the pouting ham-ups from Linda Gray notwithstanding. Hagman was always tremendous and for as long as his health allowed, and as long as JR Ewing was within his motivation, the show had to keep going. As batshit crazy as the plots and storylines sometimes became, somehow JR was always reassuringly believable and bad.

I can still feel the thump of my heart reaching breakneck speed when, after months of teasing, we saw for the first time the return of Bobby Ewing in the shower. We all knew how mad it was to re-cast Patrick Duffy and pretend his death in the previous series was all dreamt by Pam, though then and now I still thought it woeful that Pam had the briefest of cries in front of her naked ex-and-soon-to-be-again-current-or-was-his-proposal-part-of-the-dream-too husband about how she'd imagined him being mown down in a car, and then everything returned to normal. Or as normal as it could be in Dallas. Years before, I remember my teenage babysitter shrieking "Oh my God, he's killed Pamela!" (he hadn't) when a Saturday night episode concluded with Victoria Principal lifeless in the Southfork pool, while I confusedly carried on shoving my Matchbox cars along the carpet.

The guff about Who Shot JR? passed me by as a piece of drama though I remember the madness that engulfed newspapers and TV bulletins and that famous shot of "the tapes" arriving in the UK that featured the episode which would tell all. We all knew by then, of course, as our charming press found out and chose to reveal it. During the same period, I remember the death of Jim "Jock Ewing" Davis being announced most sombrely by John Craven one teatime.

Beyond the characters and plots, I loved the way the show loved itself. The opening and closing titles combined rolled in at almost three minutes. There was clearly some serious posturing going on when it came to actors' and crew members' statuses, as proved by the appearance of Dack Rambo - acting's most mental name - in the prestigious three-way opening titles after just one series as Jack Ewing. And yet the character didn't last a great deal longer than that second season. After the three-ways had finished and the first scene began, we'd get some senior production crediting and then the crucial but short-term characters in name only ("also starring Deborah Shelton as Mandy Winger" ... and John Beck as Mark Graison") prior to the first words being spoken.

At the other end of the extreme, the actors who played regular but decidedly peripheral parts were relegated to the end credits, often after various production members and the theme music writer had been given their due. After JR, Sue Ellen, Ray, Bobby and Pam, there can't have been many more characters who appeared in the show more often than Teresa the Southfork maid (standard line: "Telephone call for you Mr Farlow") or JR's efficient fox of a secretary, Sly, and yet they were right at the foot of the rollcall. After the production bods, you'd get the "Guest Starring" list (people you'd never heard of unless it was Ian McShane), the "co-starring" list (jobbers on a one-off, playing bartenders and waiters at the Oil Barons Ball) and finally, the "featuring" list (those Teresa and Sly characters that glued scenes together week on week; also the point where the children that played John Ross and Christopher Ewing would appear). And then the remaining credits just went on for aeons, all soundtracked by that fantastic title music.

I did go off Dallas for a bit and missed the series when JR met Cally and married her, then ended up in an asylum. But I was back with it in time for that doolalley final series and the episode where the devil on JR's shoulder re-introduced him to everyone who he has conned over the years, prior to the final scene where he shoots himself (out of sight) and Bobby brings down the curtain with a final "Oh my God" as he opens the bathroom door to find his brother's "corpse" there. Though knowing Hagman's habit of trying to test the straight faces of his fellow actors during heavy scenes, Duffy probably filmed that final take while looking at Hagman showing his bare arse.

I hope it's good, the new Dallas, or at least pays homage to its history by being incomprehensible and daft. In its heyday, incomprehensible daftness made it what it was, along with skilled actors who could make incomprehensible daftness seem normal and sensible.

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