Larry Hagman, Patrick Duffy, Linda Gray, Victoria Principal and Charlene Tilton recently sat with Ken Kercheval and Steven Kanaly at Southfork Ranch, the setting for "Dallas," where they reminisced about the show that was a ratings phenomenon and profit center for CBS -- and a cultural touchstone for America -- for 13 seasons from 1978-91.
"Dallas" focused on the Ewing clan and their oil-business associates to tell stories of hunger for power, money and sex -- especially sex. It was widely credited with bringing the soap opera form from daytime TV to prime time, paving the way for such other prime-time soaps as "Dynasty" and "Knots Landing."
Created by producer David Jacobs, the show ran for 356 episodes, but it is most famous for "Who Shot J.R.?" The first episode of the two-part cliffhanger aired at the end of the 1979-80 season, and viewers had to wait all summer -- and several weeks into the fall season -- to find out who shot the scurrilous oil magnate J.R. Ewing.
The episode in which the culprit was identified remains one of the highest-rated programs in TV history. It was watched on 77 percent of TV sets in use in the United States and was seen by a worldwide audience estimated at 300 million.
Up until then, "Dallas" had been a respectable hit. The masterful promotion campaign built around the mystery transformed the show into appointment TV on a large scale and helped turn it into Hollywood's favorite kind of "gift that keeps on giving" -- a show that still runs today in syndication around the world.
"Dallas Reunion: Return to Southfork" was Tilton's idea.
"Larry Hagman, Linda Gray, Patrick Duffy and myself did a show called 'Soap Talk' on The Soap Network," Tilton said in an interview with United Press International. "We all hadn't been together publicly in a long time. The audience was just over the top with their enthusiasm, and then the press was so interested."
Tilton -- who played the youthful and seductive Lucy Ewing -- said the upcoming reunion special is the first time the cast has been together publicly in 18 years. Technically, the entire original cast is not involved -- since Jim Davis and Barbara Bel Geddes are not participating.
Davis -- who played the Ewing family patriarch Jock Ewing -- died of brain cancer at 71 in 1981. Bel Geddes -- who played Jock's wife Miss Ellie from 1978-84 and again from 1985-90 -- chose not to participate in the reunion show, said Tilton.
The show features clips from the series, as well as a gag reel, outtakes and footage from Hagman's personal home-movie collection. Tilton said the timing of the reunion show had nothing to do with promoting the recent DVD release of episodes of the show -- but she said she liked having the show around on DVD.
"I hadn't seen the show in years," she said, "so (when she watched the DVD) I was like, 'Oh, this is what all the fuss was about. This show is amazing.'"
She said her daughter and her friends told her "Dallas" was better than "The O.C." -- a hit nighttime soap now entering its second season on Fox.
Tilton recalled telling Hagman that "Dallas" still holds up, even if the characters have "big hair" and padded shoulders that were fashionable at the time.
"Larry said, 'Honey, good writing and good acting is never outdated,'" she said.
"Dallas" may have concentrated on lust and treachery for its story lines, but it also took on important social issues of the time.
Tilton recently told the CBS "Early Show" one of her favorite story lines involved Lucy's plan to marry a young man from another wealthy Texas oil family who happened to be gay.
"That was 25 years ago," she said, "and that was well before 'Will & Grace' or anything."
If Tilton has a little dissonance while watching the DVD, that would be understandable -- given that the actors do not share in the revenue stream generated by DVD sales and rentals.
"Who knew about DVDs (when contracts were negotiated in the 1970s)," she said, "back in the days when dinosaurs roamed the earth."
Tilton said the actors on Dallas didn't even get to renegotiate their contracts after the show became a hit -- which is a routine practice in the TV-series world today.
"Well, Larry did, obviously," she said, "and our salaries, of course, went up when it hit."
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