Decoding ‘Dallas,’ 10 Years Later

Dallas, Dallas Decoder, J.R. Ewing, Larry Hagman

Still decoding

I started the Dallas Decoder website 10 years ago today. It was the beginning of one of the most exhilarating — and most exhausting — times of my life.

Seriously.

I got hooked on “Dallas” as a kid in the 1980s, but I never expected to continue my fandom into adulthood. By 2011, though, I was bored with my career and in need of a hobby, so when TNT announced plans to revive “Dallas” as a weekly series, I thought: What the hell? Why not spend my free time writing about a show that had meant so much to me?

From the beginning, I knew I wanted to take a critical look at “Dallas” — to celebrate it, yes, but also to dissect it and try to determine the secret of its appeal. My initial plan was to post a critique of a “Dallas” episode every weekday; after about a year and a half, I’d be done with all 357 hours and ready to move on to something new.

That’s not how things worked out.

My first critique went live on April 2, 2012 — the 34th anniversary of “Dallas’s” debut. Things were quiet for the first few months, but as TNT cranked up the publicity machine for the new “Dallas,” traffic to Dallas Decoder started climbing. The hype surrounding the new show seemed to be bringing people to my website. It occurred to me that I should probably write about TNT’s “Dallas” as well, so when those episodes started airing that June, I began critiquing them, too.

That’s when interest in Dallas Decoder really picked up. I soon found myself writing about the new show more than the original series — and not just episode critiques, either. I interviewed the TNT show’s stars and some of the creative people behind the scenes. I started live tweeting each broadcast and began hosting weekly #DallasChat sessions with my fellow fans and chatting with the regulars in the Dallas Decoder comments section, where we built our own little community. I even got to visit the set and see how the new show was made.

Before long, Dallas Decoder began to feel like a part-time job. Don’t get me wrong; I loved every minute of it. But there were more than a few occasions where my husband Andrew wanted to, you know, leave the house — go to dinner, see a movie, hang out with friends — and I begged off. I had too much “Dallas” work to do!

After TNT canceled the new show and the #SaveDallas campaign went bust, I shifted my focus back to writing about the original series. I critiqued my all-time favorite episode, “Swan Song,” and even published an oral history to go along with it, but after four years of writing about “Dallas” all the time, I was worn out. I hit the pause button on Dallas Decoder, fully intending to return in a few months and pick up where I left off.

That didn’t work out as planned, either.

Life, as it has a way of doing, had other things in mind for me. I took on more responsibility at work and at home. I discovered new hobbies. I even started leaving the house again with Andrew (although a global pandemic came along and took care of that soon enough).

But even though I don’t write about “Dallas” like I used to, the show is never far from my thoughts. I drink my coffee from a Southfork mug every morning. I pass my husband’s J.R. and Sue Ellen Lego portraits every time I go down the hall. I even spent several years working on a “Dallas” script — my vision for how the Ewing saga should continue. It was more work than I imagined, but it was also a lot of fun. And yes, I still watch “Dallas.” Just last month, Andrew and I began revisiting old episodes every Friday night. The show still holds up.

I think about Dallas Decoder a lot, too. I’ll always be thankful to the support I received from all the people connected with “Dallas,” including Rachel Sage Kunin, the wonderful costume designer from the TNT series, and Linda Gray, who really is the kindest, wisest person you’ll ever meet. I’m also thankful to all the regulars from the Dallas Decoder comments section and #DallasChat. I miss you all.

Will I ever get back to writing about “Dallas” regularly? I hope so. I still have 157 episodes left to critique, and as a compulsive list-maker, I don’t like leaving things undone. I’m also not getting any younger; when I look in the mirror these days, it sometimes seems like Wes Parmalee is staring back at me.

Besides, I still don’t think I’ve fully cracked the mystery of “Dallas.” In one of my first posts 10 years ago today, I expressed my hope that Dallas Decoder might help me “figure out, once and for all, why I love the show as much as I do.” I’m no closer to an answer now than I was then. What is it about this show that keeps me coming back? The nostalgia? The camp? Something else?

Truly, I don’t know. Maybe someday I will.

Why do you love “Dallas”? Share your comments below and read more opinions from Dallas Decoder.

Comments

  1. mjsmith says:

    It is great to hear from you, Chris. Life never stops. I remember my oldest child staying awake in the evening while I was trying to watch Dallas on TNT. Now she is 18! Watching “Swan Song” and “A House Divided” along with everyone here was so fun!!! I know all too well that things we need to do take us away from what we want to do.

    Dallas Decoder to me, provided a place where I could interact with other fans, learn more about the show, and get behind the scenes insight from people involved with the show. I was able to share my thoughts on the show and share my experiences watching the show on TNT and when I was growing up watching the original series.

    As far as what is this show “really” about and “why” do we watch it? Well, it is a soap opera, a nighttime soap opera. A television show inspired by “My Three Sons” and “Romeo and Juliet.” The Dallas Decoder Interviews of David Jacobs, Lisa Seidman, Margaret Michaels, Howard Lakin, and all the others on this site might provide glimpses into this answer. Maybe the answer is somewhat related to why we have dreams while sleeping. Perhaps Dallas touches on things in our lives that do not make sense or are difficult to impossible to understand. Things like, “Why does a man sleep with his wife’s sister?” “Why does a lady present herself as a man’s deceased ex-wife?” I see similarities between J.R. Ewing going after power and destroying Cliff Barnes and Captain Ahab going after Moby Dick.

    I do not think knowing the answer to why we watch Dallas is as important as the entertainment that it provides.

  2. Hi Chris,
    it was a lovely surprise to hear from you again. 🙂 I enjoy reading your critiques of Dallas so much. I really can relate to what you describe – you spent so much time and energy with your passion for Dallas, and letting us all participate in the fun of it, you finally needed to take a break and focus more on what we call real life. 🙂 Thanks for the update, and for creating such a great place to discuss Dallas.

    As for the answer to your question, hmmmm… To me, I think it’s the fact that the characters are so unique. JR, Sue Ellen, Miss Ellie, Bobby, Pam, Lucy, Cliff… None of them is boring and one-dimensional. Every one of them has many colourful facets, some delightful, some annoying, but never boring. That’s what I feel.

    • Balena, it’s so nice to hear from you. Thanks for the kind words. And yes, the “Dallas” characters are the best! You are correct: They are never boring.

  3. BJ Wanlund says:

    What a lovely surprise to hear from y’all again! As I have (unfortunately) found out the hard way, burnout in any pursuit, creative or otherwise, is extremely real and not to be trifled with, so please take care of yourselves.

    As far as why I love Dallas… I’m just going to talk the TNT Dallas as I am not really caught up on the old series. For me, it was not only the legacy characters, but also the new characters, the writing (mostly, haha, as I personally felt they failed the female characters more often than not), and the cliffhangers all kept us coming back again and again. Unfortunately I don’t see Dallas ever coming back again unless they find a streaming service that not only can stream the original Dallas, but also the TNT continuation so that fans old and new can be caught up and ready for the next continuation…

    • BJ, it’s nice to hear from you again, too. I believe there’s still an audience for “Dallas,” but I’m not sure if it will ever return, either.

  4. Dan in WI says:

    Happy 10th anniversary Chris. I think I speak for many devotees of this website when I say it means so much to so many of us. It really is a shame how the necessities of life get in the way of the things that give us true happiness. We all have to eat so jobs take way more of our time than they should and we have to pick and choose the extra-curricular activities we get to indulge in. There is never enough time for all of them. I’ll never fault you for putting your family before a passion project like this. Just know you are missed. I am glad to hear you aren’t writing it off though. You never know when time might again free itself up enough to return this. I look forward to the day, no matter how long the wait, when you might finish up that last 157 critigues. Until then, just know that I too watch an episode of Dallas each and every Friday.night. It just seems like the thing to do.

    • Thank you, Dan! I’m definitely not writing it off. And I’m glad to hear you’re continuing your Friday night “Dallas” watching ritual? Which episodes are you watching these days? Andrew and I are currently at the beginning of the dream season.

  5. Dan in WI says:

    Yes sir I continue to watch one episode a week every week which is the way God intended serialized TV to be watched. None of this binge garbage. Back in 2014 I began showing it to my then girlfriend (now wife) for the first time. So doing it that way takes over seven years. We finished up in August and we went back to the beginning again. Three days ago we just watched Season 3 Episode 1 Whatever Happened to Baby John? So let the build the most famous of JR’s four shootings begin again.

  6. Elizabete says:

    Thank you, Chris. It’s nice to hear from you again.I miss your posts. Elizabete.

  7. Tim Gray says:

    Dear Chris,

    Thanks so much for all your posts and observations about Dallas. I consulted your available critiques during a rewatch of the original. I stalled at the point where Pamela hits the tanker. I had always hoped for some resolution to the Pamela Ewing storyline and am grateful that the TNT series tied things up. I would have accepted Marilu Henner or Jaclyn Smith as Pamela 2.0 for the original, but In my estimate the only way that Pamela could have returned for TNT would have been as an emotionally unrecognizable character, bitter, hard, cold to explain her absence for so long. The retcon of her death was a good decision. The TNT scene when Bobby is watching purported footage of Pamela gave a flashback to a classic Dallas feeling. Also glad the show came back even for just a few years. Only wish they would have retained a remodel of Southfork that was recognizable, brought back Theresa instead of pretending that Carmen and Elena had always been there, and had regular dinner table scenes to give a stronger sense of continuity.

    When I pick up and rewatch from Pamela’s crash to the end, I will enjoy knowing that some others from the community you helped create will be doing something similar. That show somehow taps into a need and speaks to the hearts of fans. If my memory is correct, Patrick Duffy characterized the continuation as a story that has been happening since the show ended but now we are able to tune in again. In 2017, I was able to meet Linda Gray and Patrick Duffy at a signing for bottles of JR Ewing Bourbon. I expected to be distracted by the handsome Patrick Duffy but was instead captivated by the magnetic Linda Gray. We share a last name and joked about getting together for Thanksgiving. Managed to pull myself out of her orbit long enough to at least shake Patrick Duffy’s hand. When my 30 seconds were up, I managed to thank them both for so many years of entertainment.

    Thank you again for adding to it. On whatever basis works for you.

    • Tim, thanks for writing. I agree with you — I appreciate that TNT finally wrapped up Pam’s story. I also wish the TNT series had retained the look and feel of the Southfork interior from the original series. I think that would have gone a long way toward making the new show feel more like a continuation of the original.

  8. the-lost-son says:

    Great to get some update. Your posts and critiques are a true source of positive appreciation of Dallas. I like your focus on the positive aspects.

    Dallas personally ends for me after Pam’s crash. Don’t put yourself under pressure. You have given us a lot. Dallas is great fun, it shouldn’t feel like work.
    Thanks for everything.

  9. Anonymous says:

    Chris, I hope you will find the time to continue your reviews. I also follow some fan sites of other TV shows, but among the 80s night time soap no other fan site can match the quality of yours. Your episode reviews have depth and knowledge that make your site outstanding.

  10. Chris, I always appreciated you skilled and insightful reviews. I follow other sites like yours for other 80s soaps as well. There aren’t many comparable sites out there. None of them have the depth and insight in the craft of making a TV show like yours. So really – it’s a crime not to continue your reviews. Thanks for keeping the site alive. 🙂

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