33 years ago tonight, on Sunday, April 2, 1978, the prime-time soap opera “Dallas” premiered on CBS. And just like the daytime soaps, this one had love, hate, greed, and sex. Lots of sex.
The real Southfork Ranch in Parker, Texas, 1994.
TV viewers got a spring preview of “Dallas” when it first hit the airwaves at the end of the 1977-78 season. And while it attracted an audience its ratings didn’t crack the Top 30 until the 1979-80 season when it was the 6th highest rated show. The following two seasons it was TV’s number 1 show. All told it was in the Top 2 for five straight seasons and stayed in the Top 30 through the 1988-89 season. It was quite a ride.
The "Ewing Mansion" at the real Southfork Ranch, 1994.
“Dallas” told the story of the wealthy Ewing family: Texas oil tycoons with huge appetites for money, power, and trouble. The Patriarch was Jock Ewing played by Jim Davis. His wife, Miss Ellie was portrayed by Barbara Bel Geddes. The couple had three adult sons, but the series focused on just two of them: the oldest and the youngest.
Sign posted at the real Southfork Ranch in Parker, Texas, 1994.
J.R. Ewing (the oldest son) was evil incarnate. As played by Larry Hagman, J.R. became one of TV’s greatest villains ever. Patrick Duffy, on the other hand, had the role of youngest son Bobby, the nice guy. But he was the nice guy who married the daughter of his father’s former business partner and rival. Bobby’s wife Pamela Barnes Ewing was portrayed by Victoria Principal, while Linda Gray appeared as J.R.’s wife Sue Ellen Ewing.
This writer (on left) with “Pal Joey” at the real Southfork Ranch, 1994.
Although old-time movie serials were known for their cliffhangers, “Dallas” has been credited with bringing the cliffhanger to TV. In the last episode of the 1979-80 season J.R. Ewing was shot, leaving viewers to wait until the fall to find out his fate and the identity of the gunman. Because of a strike by the Screen Actors Guild that wait lasted from March until November. But in that time the phrase, “Who shot J.R.?” was on the lips of millions of Americans. So who did shoot J.R.? I’m not telling.
This writer’s friend, “Pal Joey,” relaxing in the garden at the real Southfork Ranch in Parker, Texas, 1994.
The photos accompanying this post were taken at the actual Southfork Ranch in Parker, Texas, just northeast of Dallas. While the series itself was shot at studios in California, exterior scenes were filmed here. By 1985, as visitors continued to flock to the ranch, the owners moved out and Southfork became strictly a tourist attraction. Today it’s open daily for guided tours of the ranch and the “Ewing Mansion.”
“Dallas” ran for 13 seasons, until May 1991, and left an indelible mark on the TV landscape.
“Pal Joey” enjoying the view J.R. would have enjoyed, at the real Southfork Ranch, 1994.