The Dallas Decoder Guide to Surviving a Hostage Crisis

Blame Game, Dallas, Drew Ramos, Kuno Becker, TNT

Drew to the rescue

In “Blame Game,” TNT’s latest “Dallas” episode, Vicente Cano ambushes Southfork and holds the Ewings captive. Dumb move, Vicente. These people are experts at surviving hostage crises, as they demonstrated time and again on the original “Dallas” and its “Knots Landing” spinoff. Let them show you how.

Charlene Tilton, Cooper Huckabee, Dallas, Lucy Ewing, Payton Allen

Light her fire

Beware of cute boys with shaggy hair. The best way to survive hostage crises is to avoid them altogether – a lesson Lucy (Charlene Tilton) learned the hard way. When Payton Allen (Cooper Huckabee) showed up at Southfork one windy afternoon, she flirted with him shamelessly – until he took her whole family hostage. Eight episodes later, when Lucy saw Willie Gust at a roadside diner, she gave him a coquettish glance. His response: taking her hostage as he traversed Texas in his far-out custom van, waging a one-man crime spree.

Brian Dennehy, Dallas, Greg Evigan, Luther Frick, Willie Gust

Bear and B.J.

Don’t get star-struck. Once you find yourself in a hostage situation, you may notice that at least one of your captors looks familiar. In the Ewings’ cases, Willie (Greg Evigan) bore a striking resemblance to that one guy who used to ride around in a semi-truck with a monkey (or that one guy who raised a daughter with Paul Reiser), while Luther Frick (Brian Dennehy), Payton’s partner in crime, looked an awful lot like that one guy who’s been in everything. Don’t let this cause you to lower your defenses. Remember: These are bad men!

Dallas, Ginger Ward, Joan Van Ark, Karen Fairgate, Kim Lankford, Knots Landing, Michele Lee, Valene Ewing

Please, Karen. Not again.

Stay calm. Don’t let this picture mislead you. When Val (Joan Van Ark) threw a baby shower for her Seaview Circle neighbor Ginger (Kim Lankford) and armed robbers burst in and took everyone hostage, the ladies remained admirably restrained. The only reason they look panicked here is because Karen (Michele Lee) was threatening to recite her famous “Pollyanna speech” for the umpteenth time. Kidding! We love you, Karen. And you’re right: Nice should be the norm. If only the hostage-takers of the world felt that way!

Dallas, Linda Gray, Peter Ellington, Philip Anglim, Sue Ellen Ewing

Hurt her and you’ll answer to us

Keep your priorities straight. J.R. was hashing out a big oil deal with Bobby, Ray and Carter McKay when he discovered McKay’s nutty protégé Peter Ellington (Philip Anglim) was holding Sue Ellen (Linda Gray) at gunpoint in the next room. So what did J.R. do? He finished negotiating his deal of course! Once that was settled, J.R. let everyone know what was happening on the other side of the door so they could rescue Sue Ellen. Hey, don’t look so surprised. These are Ewings we’re talking about. Oil comes first. Always.

Abby Ewing, Dallas, Donna Mills, Knots Landing

Hi, bob

Always look your best. When villainous Mark St. Clair took Gary’s second wife Abby (Donna Mills) hostage in the back of a limousine during the final moments of “Knots Landing’s” 1983-84 season, her flaxen hair fell onto her shoulders. The following fall’s season premiere picked up moments later, yet Abby was now sporting a chic bob. How? Why? It was never explained. Perhaps she gave herself a trim to ensure she’d be camera-ready in case the press showed up to cover her eventual rescue. Now that’s thinking like a Ewing.

Abby Cunningham, Dallas, Donna Mills, Knots Landing

She never liked Val’s curtains anyway

Give Abby the weapon. Speaking of Abby: If you’re able to wrest control of your captor’s weapon and she happens to be nearby, by all means toss the instrument to her. She’ll know what to do with it. During Val’s baby-shower-from-hell, Abby used a fire extinguisher to blow away one of the bad guys (literally!). Later, during her own hostage crisis, Abby managed to grab St. Clair’s gun and turn it on him. In that instance, her rescuer Greg Sumner insisted she give him the gun. Just like him to waltz in and take over a show, isn’t it?

Dallas, J.R. Ewing, Larry Hagman

What’s the big deal?

Master the art of the fake-out. When J.R. (Larry Hagman) went to an abandoned theme park to negotiate the kidnapped John Ross’s release, the boy’s captor, B.D. Calhoun, thought J.R. was alone. Wrong! Bobby and Ray secretly tagged along and helped J.R. stage a daring rescue of his son. Years earlier, J.R. and Ray pulled a similar stunt when they helped Cliff negotiate Bobby’s release from a trio of dim-witted kidnappers. In that instance, Cliff was almost killed, which seemed to upset a lot of people. J.R. never understood why.

Charlene Tilton, Dallas, Lucy Ewing

Command performance

When all else fails, sing! If your captors are anything like the bad guys the Ewings encounter, chances are they’re going to want you to sing. Don’t ask why; apparently this is something hostage-takers do. You could be like Sue Ellen, who sobbed her way through Barbra Streisand’s “People” for Frick and Allen, or you could play it like Lucy, who was forced to enter a talent competition by Willie and absolutely killed it with her rendition of “Silver Threads and Golden Needles.” It was a great performance, but we wonder: Why didn’t Lucy sing “Rescue Me” instead?

What have the Ewings taught you about surviving a hostage crisis? Share your comments below and read more “Dallas Decoder Guides.”

Oh, ‘Pioneers’! Soaps Tribute is a Sprint Down Memory Lane

Knots Landing, Michele Lee, PBS

Along came Polly

“There’s not a show on right now, at this moment, that isn’t soap,” Joan Van Ark declares during PBS’s “Pioneers of Television” tribute to the nighttime soap operas of the 1980s. She’s referring to the emergence of serialization as the dominant form of storytelling in prime time, and so she has a point. Carrie and Brody, Walt and Jesse, Don and Peggy. On television, no one’s story ends anymore.

This would seem to be the most enduring legacy of the ’80s soaps, but Van Ark’s trenchant observation is the closest “Pioneers” comes to addressing it. The 52-minute retrospective, which most PBS stations will air tomorrow night, recalls three shows – “Dallas,” “Dynasty” and “Knots Landing” (sorry “Falcon Crest” fans) – through the usual mix of talking heads and old clips. But with lots of ground to cover and so little time to do it, the interviews become sound bites and the clips become snips. This is a sprint down memory lane.

“Dallas” fans will appreciate the prominence given to Larry Hagman, who recorded his interview before his death last fall. We also get to hear from Patrick Duffy, Linda Gray and Charlene Tilton, although some of their stories and the scenes that accompany them will be all-too-familiar to “Dallas” diehards. Prepare to see Kristin pump J.R. full of lead for the umpteenth time, and to hear again how that bogus Irish Spring commercial provided the cover to film the dead Bobby’s reanimation in Pam’s shower. Isn’t it time to let the “Dallas” cast reminisce about something other than the show’s cliffhangers?

There are a few surprises. I had forgotten how Hagman’s role as a slick Texas businessman in the 1974 flick “Stardust” helped him slide into J.R.’s boots four years later. It’s also fun to see photos of the young, dreamy Hagman, and to hear him recall how he and Joan Collins dated as teenagers. Wisely, the “Pioneers” producers also give Hagman the last word, and his too-humble assessment of his performance as J.R. allows the program to end on a graceful, poignant note.

The most interesting moment overall comes when narrator Ryan Seacrest (yes, him) points out the ’80s soap were “among the whitest shows on television.” “Dynasty” is justly praised for casting Diahann Carroll in a starring role, and we’re reminded that “Knots Landing” once moved an African American family, the Williamses, onto the cul-de-sac, only to shift the characters to the backburner. Lynne Moody, who played Pat Williams, recalls how she grew frustrated with her lack of screen time and asked the “Knots Landing” producers to let her out of her contract. They agreed. Her tone suggests she regrets that decision a little now.

Unfortunately, “Pioneers” ignores the influence the soaps had on television’s depiction of women, which is probably the genre’s other significant legacy. Victoria Principal’s Pam Ewing was one of the medium’s first sexually liberated heroines, and “Dynasty” and “Knots Landing” deserve credit for showing women could be every bit as savvy as men in the world of big business. But “Pioneers” breezes past all that and instead gives us the usual blather about shoulder pads and catfights. At least we get to hear Michele Lee’s “Pollyanna speech” from “Knots Landing,” which feels more resonant today than it did two decades ago.

It might also have been nice if the producers had invited some of the stars of today’s prestige serials to comment on the ’80s soaps, the way Tina Fey paid tribute to Mary Tyler Moore and Lucille Ball during last week’s “Pioneers” tribute to comedic women. If nothing else, PBS should have let us hear from some of the stars of its own hit soap, “Downton Abbey.” After all, if it wasn’t for Bobby and Pam, would there be a Matthew and Mary?

Most PBS stations will broadcast “Pioneers of Television: Primetime Soaps” on Tuesday, January 22, at 8 p.m. Eastern. Watch the show, share your comments below and read more opinions from Dallas Decoder.

Critique: ‘Knots Landing’ Episode 2 – ‘Community Spirit’

He lied with his boots on

He lied with his boots on

Part of the fun of watching “Dallas” comes from imagining what it would be like to be a Ewing – to wear those clothes, to drive those cars, to live in that house. For those who also wonder how the Ewings would fare in our world, there’s “Community Spirit.”

“Knots Landing’s” second episode brings J.R. to the Southern California cul-de-sac to squelch the neighborhood’s protest of a major Ewing Oil offshore drilling project. The episode is a hoot, not just because it’s fun to see J.R. out of his element, but also because we get to live vicariously through the “Knots Landing” suburbanites as they use J.R.’s own tricks against him.

“Community Spirit’s” smallest moments are among its best. In one, a frazzled Valene telephones Gary from their kitchen while cool-as-a-cucumber J.R., standing over her shoulder, pulls a book off a shelf and begins leafing through it. “I just love cookbooks,” he says.

In another tiny-but-great moment, J.R. takes a bite of the white-bread sandwich Val has served him.

“Hey, that is good. What do you call this?” he asks.

“Tuna fish,” she hisses.

I also like seeing Gary one-up J.R. at the end of the episode, even if his final line (“J.R., it never rains in Southern California”) is pretty corny.

As good as Larry Hagman’s exchanges with Joan Van Ark and Ted Shackelford are, my favorite moments in “Community Spirit” are J.R.’s scenes with Karen Fairgate, “Knots Landing’s” resident doyenne. We’re used to seeing J.R. interact with Gary and Val at Southfork, so watching him trying to charm Karen reminds us we really aren’t in Dallas anymore.

I particularly love when Karen visits J.R.’s hotel room and pretends to be interested in him, only to skip out at the last minute because she has to pick up her husband Sid’s suit at the cleaners. Has anyone ever left J.R. high and dry for a reason so mundane?

I don’t necessarily buy J.R.’s attraction to Karen, but Hagman and Michele Lee look like they’re having a ball working together. For me, the real joy of watching these old pros comes in hindsight: Hagman is the only actor to appear in every “Dallas” episode, and Lee is the only actress seen in every “Knots Landing” installment during its 14-season run.

This makes “Community Spirit” a meeting of two prime-time soap opera giants. I can’t watch it without smiling.

Grade: A


Worlds collide

Worlds collide


“Knots Landing” Season 1, Episode 2

Airdate: January 3, 1980

Audience: 17.8 million homes, ranking 14th in the weekly ratings

Writer: Elizabeth Pizer

Director: James Sheldon

Synopsis: Gary reluctantly helps his neighbors protest Ewing Oil’s plan to drill offshore near Knots Landing. J.R. visits and pressures Gary to back off, but Gary refuses, forcing J.R. to switch to a costlier alternative site.

Cast: Robert DoQui (Joseph Whitcomb), Danny Gellis (Jason Avery), Joseph Hacker (Chip Todson), Larry Hagman (J.R. Ewing), Michele Lee (Karen Fairgate), Claudia Lonow (Diana Fairgate), Constance McCashin (Laura Avery), Don Murray (Sid Fairgate), John Pleshette (Richard Avery), Ted Shackelford (Gary Ewing), Steve Shaw (Eric Fairgate), Joan Van Ark (Valene Ewing)

“Community Spirit” is available on DVD. Watch the episode and share your comments below.

The Art of Knots Landing: ‘Pilot’

Valene and Karen (Joan Van Ark, Michele Lee) are seen in this 1979 publicity shot from “Knots Landing’s” pilot.