After ‘Dallas’: 7 Shows That Aired in TV’s Best Time Slot

Monday Mornings, TNT

Who the hell are these people?

Stick around after “Dallas” tonight and you’ll see the debut of “Monday Mornings,” a weekly medical drama that – in the words of TNT’s press release – “follows the lives of doctors as they push the limits of their abilities and confront their personal and professional failings.” Back in the ’80s, the post-“Dallas” time slot – Friday nights at 10 – was some of the hottest real estate in prime time. Do you remember the other shows that tried to ride J.R.’s coattails to the top of the Nielsen charts?

“Falcon Crest”

Vintage

Vintage

Well, of course you remember this one. “Falcon Crest” debuted December 4, 1981, and followed “Dallas” on Friday nights for almost its entire nine-season run. (CBS bumped the show to Thursdays for its final four episodes.) The series starred the great Jane Wyman as the indomitable Angela Channing, who ruled the Northern California wine country the way J.R. ruled Big D. Wyman’s co-stars included Lorenzo Lamas, whose playboy Lance Cumson was the John Ross Ewing of his day. “Falcon Crest” also starred Robert Foxworth, a fine actor who turned down the role of J.R. in 1978 because he feared the character wasn’t likable enough. For this, we thank him.

“Capitol”

Washington women

Women at war

Wasn’t “Capitol” a daytime soap opera, you ask? Yes it was. But on March 26, 1982, three days before the serial joined CBS’s afternoon lineup (where it was sandwiched between “As the World Turns” and “Guiding Light”), “Capitol” got a one-hour preview after “Dallas.” The show was set in Washington, D.C., and told the story of two families: the McCandlesses and the Cleggs, who fought over politics the way the Barneses and the Ewings feuded over oil. Instead of old coots like Jock and Digger, “Capitol” gave us two grand dames: Constance Towers as Clarissa McCandless and Carolyn Jones – a.k.a. Morticia Addams – as Myrna Clegg. How progressive!

“Knots Landing”

Three’s a crowd, Gary

Three’s a crowd, Gary

“Dallas” and “Knots Landing” were made to go together, but the spinoff followed its parent in CBS’s lineup exactly once: October 29, 1982. That evening, Gary (Ted Shackelford) visited “Dallas” for the reading of Jock’s will, and the story continued on a special “Knots Landing” episode in which J.R. (Larry Hagman) canoodled with his middle brother’s latest squeeze Abby (Donna Mills). If CBS’s goal was to goose “Knots Landing’s” numbers, the plan worked: That week, “Dallas” finished first in the ratings and “Knots Landing” finished fourth. It was “Knots Landing’s” most-watched episode ever and the first time the show cracked Nielsen’s top 10.

“The Mississippi”

All wet

All wet

When “Falcon Crest” finished its second season early, CBS used the post-“Dallas” time slot to try out “The Mississippi,” which began a six-week run on March 25, 1983. The series starred “The Waltons” dad Ralph Waite as Ben Walker, a tugboat captain who also fought crime with help from sidekick Stella McMullen (Linda G. Miller). “The Mississippi” was an instant hit and earned its own slot on CBS’s fall 1983 schedule: Tuesday nights at 8. But without the benefit of a “Dallas” lead-in, “The Mississippi’s” audience dried up. (Oh, stop groaning. You knew that was coming.) In 1997, Waite appeared on Hagman’s “Orleans,” another CBS riverboats-and-crime drama.

“Hard Copy”

Get them rewrite!

Get them rewrite!

“Hard Copy” starred Michael Murphy as Andy Omart, a scribe for the Los Angeles Morning Post; Wendy Crewson as fellow newshound Blake Calisher; and Dean Devlin as David Del Valle (or was it David Del Valle as Dean Devlin?), a cub reporter. Also featured: George O. Petrie – a.k.a. Ewing family consigliere Harv Smithfield – as Scoop Webster. CBS launched “Hard Copy” after Super Bowl XXI (Giants stomp the Broncos, 39 to 20) in January 1987, where it bombed. In May, the network moved the show to Fridays, where it followed summertime “Dallas” reruns and bombed again. CBS stopped the presses for good six weeks later.

“Beauty and the Beast”

Once upon a time

Once upon a time

If you remember “Beauty and the Beast” airing before “Dallas,” you’re right. But before the romantic fantasy/action show moved to the pre-Southfork slot, CBS aired its pilot after “Dallas’s” 11th season premiere on September 25, 1987. You’ll recall that was the night Pam was rescued from her fiery car crash. Perhaps CBS thought seeing Pam wrapped in bandages would help viewers mentally prepare to meet Vincent (Ron Perlman), the lion-like creature who made Catherine Chandler (Linda Hamilton) swoon. Vincent’s face was hidden in all the show’s pre-debut publicity, including TV Guide’s fall preview; the hairy mug wasn’t revealed until the premiere.

“Sons & Daughters”

Circle unbroken?

Circle unbroken?

“Dallas’s” final dance partner, “Sons & Daughters,” debuted January 4, 1991, four months before the Ewings rode off into the sunset. The “Parenthood”-style series starred Don Murray as Bing Hammersmith, the patriarch of a quirky family that included Lucie Arnaz as his eldest daughter Tess. CBS planned to call the show “The Hammersmiths” and pair it with Murray’s previous series, “Knots Landing,” on Thursdays, but when Fox shifted its red-hot “The Simpsons” to that night, CBS changed the title to “Sons & Daughters” and shifted it to Fridays. “Sons & Daughters” was set in Portland, Oregon – just like “Monday Mornings.” We’ve come full circle, folks.

What did you enjoy watching after “Dallas” on Friday nights? Share your memories below and read more features from Dallas Decoder.

The Dallas Decoder Interview: David Jacobs

David Jacobs

David Jacobs

Before J.R. Ewing appeared on our television screens, he existed in the mind of David Jacobs. I was honored last week to speak to Jacobs, who shared his memories of creating “Dallas” and its most famous character, as well as working with the actor who brought J.R. to life, Larry Hagman.

I’ve been thinking a lot about this amazing character, J.R. Ewing, since Larry Hagman’s death. How did you envision J.R. when you created him?

I envisioned him the way he became but not as radical; Larry brought something of his own to the role right away. In the first “Dallas” script [after Pam turns the tables on J.R.], Larry’s last line is, “Well, I underestimated the new Mrs. Ewing. I’ll never make that mistake again.” And the script says he smiles. But Larry didn’t smile. He laughed. It was a small laugh, but he laughed. And that changed it. He took possession of the character at that moment. Because the smile would have said, “Oh, I have a worthy adversary,” whereas the laugh meant, “Hold onto your hats, this is going to be fun.”

It’s funny to think Hagman wasn’t the first choice for the role.

We originally offered it to Robert Foxworth. The producers and I had a conference call with him and he wanted to know why J.R. was the way he was. And we said, you know, he’s made 10 times as much money for the family as his father ever did, yet his father still likes his brother better. Then Foxworth said, “Well, how are you going to make him more sympathetic?” And everyone in the room looked at me to answer that question. At me – this was probably the first conference call I’d been on in my life, and they were waiting for me to answer. And I said, “Well, we’re not. J.R. believes the way business works is, you screw them before they screw you. And he likes that. The process. He loves it.”

Was anyone else considered for the role?

No. After Foxworth passed, Barbara Miller, who was in charge of casting, said Larry Hagman wanted to come in. And my first reaction was, Larry Hagman? He was the Major [on “I Dream of Jeannie”]. I knew he was a good actor because I had seen him in “Harry & Tonto,” where he was just wonderful. And he has a very small role in “Fail Safe,” but it made a big impression on me. He was the translator [who tells the president of the United States about a nuclear disaster]. And Larry walks down the corridor to the president’s office and raises his hand to knock on the door – and he doesn’t. He smooths his hair back with his hand and takes a breath, and then he knocks. I always remembered that gesture.

J.R. (Larry Hagman) in 1978

J.R. (Larry Hagman) in 1978

But you didn’t think he was right for J.R.?

It was more like, “He really wants this role? Hmm.” So he came in the next day. I was sitting in [producer] Phil Capice’s office, with Phil and Mike Filerman, the executive I developed “Dallas” with, and of course Lenny Katzman. My back was to the doorway, and I noticed they all were looking past me, startled, almost. And I turned around and there, in the door was Larry Hagman, in a Stetson and boots. And he came in the room, in character with his Dallas accent. And within two minutes there was never any question J.R. would be played by anyone else.

Oh, wow! I don’t think I’ve heard this story.

It was an amazing performance. You know, he was an established actor. We wouldn’t have asked him to read for the role, but he did read in a sense. He just auditioned in character – for just a few minutes. And then he was back to being Larry Hagman. It was really shrewd of him – intuitively genius.

Now that Hagman’s gone, will you be sad to see this character you created come to an end?

Well, I’m sad that Larry’s gone. Yes, I created the character. And yes, I knew in the phone call with Foxworth the kind of unapologetic villain he should be. But don’t get me wrong: that guy belonged to Hagman. The synergy that created the character of J.R. was the synergy of actor and role more than it was the writer and the actor.

Do you have ideas about how you’d kill him off?

No. I haven’t thought about it. Who knows? I might come up with something brilliant if I thought about it. You know, when they brought back the show [on TNT], I thought about things that I would do differently, but Larry’s death is too fresh. It’s too raw.

How do you think J.R.’s death will affect the new show?

A lot of people have asked me that. I think they’ll probably get a [ratings] bump when they air the episodes that deal with J.R.’s death. But after that, to be perfectly honest, I think the “next generation” has to step up – like every “next generation.” I definitely think the show has the ingredients to stand on its own. Maybe they’re a little afraid of it, but maybe this will get them to do it.

Kind of like the mama bird pushing her baby out of the nest?

Exactly. And of course J.R.’s going to cast a shadow over it forever. But we’ll see.

Gary and Val (Ted Shackelford, Joan Van Ark) in 1979

Gary and Val (Ted Shackelford, Joan Van Ark) in 1979

How do you feel about Gary and Val’s upcoming visit to the new “Dallas”? You played with those characters for 14 seasons on “Knots Landing.” Now they’re going to be in the hands of other writers.

It’s OK. I’m not like [Aaron] Sorkin, whose characters speak Sorkinese and it’s brilliant. I always wrote very stylized dialogue and let fine actors like Joan Van Ark and Ted Shackelford make the words theirs. They’ll still be Val and Gary. So I don’t worry about it.

What do you think Leonard Katzman, the original “Dallas’s” longtime producer, would think of the new show?

He’d hate it.

Really? Why?

He just would. He hated the [original show’s “dream” season] after he’d walked away from it. That season has taken a rap that I don’t believe it deserves. It was trying to freshen up the act. But Leonard hated it.

Well, what about you? Do you like the new show?

I do. It’s great to see Southfork in H.D. and widescreen. Beautiful. I do wish they would slow things down. Mike and I were talking recently and said we could’ve gotten 10 shows from the first five. [Laughter] And not by stretching, but by making it more complex and by making the stories less plot-driven and more character-driven. I think it was Chekov who said plot is character. Whoever said it, I agree with.

Do you think there’s any chance of “Knots Landing” coming back?

No, I don’t think so. “Knots Landing” never had the ratings and the international appeal that “Dallas” had. “Knots” recreated would have to be five younger families living on the cul-de-sac – and not related to the older characters. Because if they were related it wouldn’t be believable. “Knots Landing” was always the hardest show to write because unlike “Dallas,” the conflict wasn’t built into the structure. You always wanted to ask the question: Why don’t they just move out? Why don’t they just stop talking to their neighbors like neighbors everywhere?

Getting back to “Dallas”: Your pilot script is dated December 10, 1977. Thirty-five years later, we’re still watching this show. How does that make you feel?

You know, while it was on the air, it was sort of a guilty pleasure because I wasn’t running it. It was my first show. Afterward I ran “Knots Landing” and my other shows, and “Dallas” was in the hands of Lenny Katzman. But later on, I realized “Dallas” really was the model for all the shows that came after it. Before “Dallas,” there was a great fear of serialization in prime time. Mike and I thought continuing drama was exactly the right form for television. And the form of “Dallas” became the model for all the continuing dramas that followed and are now dominant. So it really did change television in a very not-so-subtle, real way. And I like that.

Well, I know I speak for a lot of fans when I say we’re thankful to you for creating this really fun, fantastic show.

And I’m thankful to Larry Hagman. His loss means something to me. He was a nice man. He was a terrific actor. Absolutely underrated. But God knows he left this earth doing what he loved. A lot of us might wish to go that same way. So I’m glad I was able to provide him with the vehicle that he would use to display his great talent, and I’m certainly grateful to him for being the driving force of a show that has meant a lot to me.

Share your comments below and read more interviews from Dallas Decoder.