Hollywood is still trying its hand at making old (classic) television shows new again (NBC currently has The Munsters reboot Mockingbird Lane in contention). As a child of the 80s (and lover of classic television), it is my most fervent hope that network executives, producers, and writers all take note of one of the few (actually the only, in my opinion) successful modernizations of a classic television show to happen since everyone got it into their heads to raid my childhood for show ideas.
The show? TNT’s Dallas.
Flashback to 2010: TNT announces their intentions to bring back Dallas with a focus on the next generation. The news made me excited and worried. Excited that I would get to hear that soaring theme song and see Larry Hagman as the magnificently charming and evil JR Ewing again, but wary that Dallas would be another in a long line of failed revisits to the glorious 80s television shows of my childhood- due in large part to making it too slick, too simple, too much bad CW teen drama (because there are some good ones!) in an effort to gain younger advertiser-friendly viewers. I’d had to bitterly accept the failures of reboots of Knight Rider and Bionic Woman (Charlie’s Angels failure happening a television season later); television shows with outrageous (but awesome) concepts failed to be modernized successfully for today’s audiences. The thought of Dallas crashing and burning in a similar fashion was almost too much to bear; it was one thing to screw up Knight Rider, it’s another thing to mess around with the Ewings and taint the legacy of David Jacobs’ iconic soapy drama.
Flash-forward to moments after the second episode of the new Dallas aired and you find the happiest 30-something year old Reagan era kid ever. Because despite so many ways it could’ve gone wrong, somehow, some way, Dallas 2012 did what no other continuation of an iconic classic show (okay, except for maybe Hawaii 5-0) managed to do. They got it right. Sure there are some minor quibbles I could poke at. (Where’s the portrait of big daddy Jock? Where’s emo recovering alcoholic Gary Ewing and his kids Bobby and Betsy to horn in on the Ewing family squabbling?) But the Dallas of 2012 somehow was successful in respecting its roots but not get dragged down by them. While we get the whole next generation of wheeling and dealing, infighting Ewings and their love interests, we also get the old guard getting equal time trying to learn from the mistakes from their pasts, and make new ones while trying to keep their kids from following in their own footsteps. The show is a twisting, turning multi-generational saga with savvy modern tweaks that makes it appealing for fans of the original show and newer primetime soap fans who are jonesin’ for a Revenge fix during its summer hiatus.
Why do I think Dallas’ return is such a success where other 80s shows failed before it? While there’s always a bit of luck involved and being in the right place at the right time. (Primetime soaps have made quite the resurgence this past year due to Revenge– and if you don’t think so check out how many Revenge-clone shows the networks had in development for the 2012-12 season!) And the leaner summer programming also gives the show a bit of an edge. Dallas focuses on what a television show should focus on- a compelling, relatable, exciting story well told. Sure, the Ewings are a rich oil family, but its heart is about family: fathers and sons, brother vs. brother, young (and old) people trying to find themselves. Sure, it was great to see a souped up Kit on Knight Rider and Charlie still talking to his Angels via speakerphone on Charlie’s Angels, but failing to go beyond the trappings of their origins is what helped sink those reboots in their first seasons. Dallas smartly looked beyond what their old cache could give them and really made an effort to give viewers a show that had flash and substance. Hopefully Bryan Singer and Bryan Fuller (and others who dare continue to plunder television shows of the past in hopes of repurposing them for future success) are watching and taking notes so as to give themselves a better shot at being television heroes instead of television duds.
1) Dynasty. Jack ‘HRG’ Coleman back as gay icon Steven Carrington? Awesome!
2) Wonder Woman. She deserves one more shot at a reboot. Forget David E. Kelley’s 2011 take and put her in the army again! Give her a past as a legendary soldier who did tours in Afghanistan during the War on Terror.
3) The Facts of Life. Blair now runs Eastland with Natalie, Tootie, and Jo’s kids all in attendance!
4) MacGyver. C’mon. Hot brilliant science geeks kicking bad guy butt with rubber bands, paperclips, and baking soda never gets old.