DALLAS, the ground-breaking nighttime soap opera originally ran for 14 seasons on CBS, from 1978 to 1991. In 1986 CBS aired a prequel TV film called DALLAS: THE EARLY YEARS. And after the original series concluded CBS aired two reunion movies, DALLAS: J.R. RETURNS in 1996 and
DALLAS: WAR OF THE EWINGS in 1998. The property then lay dormat until 2012, when TNT relaunched the series, continuing from the original series (ignoring the events of the reunion films), and that lasted until 2014, when it was canceled after 3 seasons.
While I know that there are still many Dallas fans who hope for another revival of the series someday, I tend to think that if Dallas were to ever return to the small screen (or the big screen, as their had previously been attempts to adapt Dallas into a feature film) it is far more likely to do so as reboot, rather than a continuation. This would be similar to how the CW rebooted Dallas’ former night-time rival DYNASTY in 2017, with new actors cast as younger versions of the original characters, and various creative changes to the show, including a change in location and race, gender, sexualty swaps in some of the character. While critical reaction to this new series has been mixed, it has, to this point, been successful enough by CW’s standards to have been renewed for a 3rd seaason.
Some weeks ago, on a soap opera message board, I discussed with a fellow fan the idea of how to handle a Dallas reboot, and I posted some of my own ideas. I was just spit-balling, and wrote out a few character proposals, with an idea for a first-season storyarc, just off of the top of my head. And, in all modesty, I thought that what I came up with was pretty darn good. So given some more time to think about it, I thought I’d expand upon my ideas and post them here, just as a little creative exercise. So here we go…
I’d want to bring the show back on a pay cable channel, like HBO, Showtime, Starz, etc,, or possibly a streaming service like Netflix or Amazon Prime, where they aren’t as beholden to weekly ratings, and can do short seasons (10-12 episodes, at most) that have tight storylines. TNT’s Dallas began with a 10-episode first season, and I think that it was the best one that they did. Empire’s first season was just 12 episode, and it remains a hallmark of that series. Other shows like The Walking Dead also started off with shorter seasons. And writing quality often drops when the networks start increasing the season lengths just for ratings. So I’d want to keep the series managable with short seasons, and each season having one large overall storyarc that drives the show forward, while containing multiple subplots. Current shows like HBO’s BILLIONS and SHOWTIME’s SUCCESSION (as well the recent HOUSE OF CARDS on Netflix) are heavy inspirations for my approach to DALLAS.
The basic premise of the show is the same. Its focus is on the wealthy EWING family of Texas, comparable to the real life WALTONS and KOCHS, they run the privately held EWING INDUSTRIES, and reside in the spacious SOUTHFORK RANCH (yes, they all still live together at the ranch, which would need to portrayed as a bit larger, essentially 3 connecting mini-mansions, just to be more realistic) with storylines based on familial rivalries and business schemes. Or “boardrooms and bedrooms.”
First, here’s some background of how the family got to where it is today.
About 50 years ago Jock Ewing and Willy Barnes met as freshman at Yale, where they were dorm-mates. Both came from similar blue-collar backgrounds and had academic scholarships, Jock was a business student while Willy was studying to be a geologist, unlike most of their elite classmates from wealthy families and thus quickly became best friends. Both eventually pledged Sigma Phi Epsilon franternity together, but when Jock was offered membership he turned it down because they rejected Willy. After graduation Willy was recruited to join WESTAR OIL, by a then young and rising corporate executive named Jeremy Wendell. At Willy’s urging, Wendell also offered Jock a job, and the two men moved to Texas to begin their new careers.
For the next few years, the two men worked together at Westar, with Willy finding new oil fields and Jock managing them. Both men were considered to be on the corporate fast-track, but then Willy got the idea that he and Jock should quit and form their own oil company. With some reluctance, Jock agreed, and the two men formed Petro Group Dallas together. During this time, Willy had been dating a local socialite named Ellie Southworth, daughter of ranching magnate Aaron Southworth. While Willy fell head over heels for Ellie, she was eventually drawn more to Jock, and Willy was devestated when he caught the two of them having an affair behind his back. This ended both Willy and Ellie’s relationship and his and Jock’s friendship. With a loan from Aaron, Jock bought out Willy’s half of PDG, and renamed the company Ewing Oil. Very soon afterwards, Jock struck it big in a oil well that Willy had discovered, the profits from that well made Jock a billionaire overnight, and instantly made Ewing Oil a major player in the industry. This was just the beginning of career winning streak for Jock, who over the next few decades built Ewing Oil into a global powerhouse, eventually renamed Ewing Industries as it expanded into manufacturing, refining, and distribution of petroleum, chemicals, energy, fiber, intermediates and polymers, minerals, fertilizers, pulp and paper, chemical technology equipment, ranching, finance, commodities trading, and investing. Jock also married Ellie, moved into Southfork Ranch, and raised a family. Which brings us to our main characters today.
JOCK AND MISS ELLIE EWING
Both are in their late 60’s/early 70’s, and pretty much portrayed as the original incarnations. At this time Jock is still the Chairman and CEO of EWING INDUSTRIES, and is actively involved in the running of the company alongside his two sons, who are co-vice presidents…or something. I’d have to do some research about business to figure out what their official job titles would most likely be. However, as the series begins, Jock has recently had a mild heart attack, and therefore Miss Ellie is encouraging him to consider retiring and just staying home to run the ranch with her. This prospect sets off some private speculation about whom Jock would appoint as his replacement.
J.R. AND SUE ELLEN EWING
Both are in their late-30’s/early 40’s. J.R. is the pretty much the same dastardly devil that we all knew and loved. When it comes to business, he wants to win at all costs, and believes that the ends justify the means. The biggest difference is with Sue Ellen and their marriage. First, Sue Ellen is Hispanic. Raised by her single immigrant mother specifically with the goal of eventually marrying a rich White man to increase her social status. She and J.R. met when she was competing in the Miss Texas USA pageant (which she won) where he was one of the judges. Unlike the originals, this version of the couple are a true team from the beginning, more along the lines of Frank and Claire Underwood or Lucious and Cookie Lyon. Sue Ellen is just as power-hungry as J.R. is, and can be just as ruthless. They share the common goal of presenting themselves as an idealized High Society power couple, and will do whatever it takes to preserve their status. These two don’t cheat behind each other’s backs, they know about it, and as long as they’re both discreet, and it’s for a greater purpose, they don’t object. Such as J.R. sleeping with young heiress HOLLY HARWOOD as part of a scheme to still her Late father’s company right out from under her, or Sue Ellen’s affair with Texas Senator SAM CULVER, in order to make sure he votes for or against the various bills that J.R. wants him to. This Sue Ellen is not an alcoholic, but I’d keep open the possibility of her developing some kind of pill addiction down the road.
J.R. and Sue Ellen have been married about 10 years, and have a young (5-8 years old) son named John Ross. J.R. is flying high, as he recently closed a deal for some large Asian oil fields, which will double the family fortune. And naturally he feels that this should secure his spot as Jock’s successor.
BOBBY AND PAM EWING
Early 30’s. Also relatively similar to their original versions. A couple of years earlier they shocked both of their families, as she is Willy Barnes’ daughter, when they eloped to Vegas and got married. They’ve overcome that disapproval and remained together, but they’ve been facing some strains in their relationship recently, as they’ve been trying to have children to no avail. Medical tests have revealed that the difficulty in getting pregnant is most likely due to Pam, which makes her feel depressed and causes her to withdraw from Bobby both emotionally and sexually, which is causing Bobby to feel resentful and frustrated. And this isn’t helped by the recent reappearance in town of his ex-fiance JENNA WADE, who broke his heart 4 years ago when she moved to Sweden to marry another man (some in the family suscpect that it was her abrupt departure and the heartbreak it caused Bobby that lead him to impulsively marry Pam as a rebound). But now she’s back, divorced, and with her 3 year old son CHRISTOPHER, whom Bobby starts to suspect might actually be his.
When Jock and Miss Ellie’s middle son GARY was a teenager, he knocked up some poor Black girl named Valerie. They paid her and her family off and got her out of town and took custody of the child, Lucy, and shipped Gary off to military school. Raised at Southfork, Lucy is about 19-20, a popular local socialite, who has proven to be a bit of entrapanuer in own right, earning money as a model and “Influencer,” with millions of followers on social media. She’s preparing to launch her first official business, her own lingerie company called Valentine Lingerie. She’s also recently met MITCH COOPER, a young Black medical student, from a poor background. A mutual friend tried to set the two of them up, but he rejected her because he considers her to be a spoiled bougie rich girl, who’s turned her back on her “Black heritage.” Initially she’s angry, but secretly hurt by his critiques. The two of them will have an antagonistic relationship throughout the first season, while they both try to deny their mutual attraction to each other.
Lucy’s never met her mother, and GARY has only been sporadically in her or the rest of the family’s lives, as he drifts around the country from one failed business to the next. The last anyone heard, he had just moved to some little cul-de-sac in Los Angeles a few years ago.
Also living at Southfork is RAE KREBBS (30-something), the trusted forewoman of the ranch. This character will never be revealed to be a Ewing, but is very close to the family. She’s the daughter of an old friend of Miss Ellie’s, and when her parents died, Miss Ellie brought her to Southfork and taught her the ways of ranching, which she loves. I don’t really have much of story idea for her to start with. I see her mostly as comedic foil for the family, often making wisecracks about them and their antics.
And maybe she’s a closet lesbian, scared to come out to the Ewings? We could show her rolling around in the hay with one of the young female ranch hands…
Early 40’s. Willy Barnes’s son, Pam’s older brother. The newly elected, and youngest ever, Attorney General of Texas. Same background and motivations as the original, although much more formidable. This Cliff is not someone that J.R. would ever dismiss as dumb, he’s a great legal mind and is laser-focused on achieving his lifelong goal of destroying the Ewings. I envision him like Paul Giamatti’s character on BILLIONS. He’s married to his wife BARBARA and they have two young children, REBECCA and CLIFF JR.
Cliff begins an investigation into EWING INDUSTRIES focusing primarily on J.R.’s deal for those Asian oil fields, as J.R. used illegal tactics to make that deal. J.R. knows that if Cliff is successful, it could ruin Ewing Industries and possibly put him, Jock and Bobby (who know nothing of J.R.’s crimes) in jail. So J.R. is going to try to do whatever he can to take Cliff down before Cliff takes him down.
Those are the main characters of the series in season 1. A few other notable and supporting characters on the show will include:
WILLY BARNES, Cliff and Pam’s father. Not an alcoholic, but definitely a bitter old man at this point in his life. After the disolving of his partnership with Jock, he formed his own company Barnes Oil, but ended up going banckrupt. He married a woman named REBECCA, and they had Cliff and Pam. But Rebecca eventually divorced him and married successful real estate mogul Herbert Wentworth, and had a daughter KATHERINE with him, Cliff and Pam’s younger half-sister. They live in another state, and they’d be mentioned but not seen in Season 1.
JEREMY WENDELL the longtime CEO of WESTAR, the only company bigger than EWING INDUSTRIES. He was always resentful that Willy and Jock, whom he personally hired and mentored, left the company the way they did. While he feels that he got his revenge on Willy by buying up the bankrupt Barnes Oil assets, he’s always wanted to see the Ewings fall too. He’s more of a background character in season 1, watching how events unfold, I see him as more of a major antagonist in later seasons.
JULIE, SLY, and PHYLLIS, they’re Jock, J.R., and Bobby’s secretaries at EWING INDUSTRIES. All good friends who gossip about their bosses together. Maybe I’d change the races on one or two of them, just for the heck of it.
MARVIN ANDERSON, JORDAN LEE, and MARILEE STONE these are all other EWING INDUSTRIES executives. One of the things that I thought was missing from the original series is that we rarely saw any other employees of Ewing Oil, it was like Jock, J.R. and Bobby ran it by themselves, but that’s not realistic for a major corporation like this. So since there’s no “cartel” in this version, I’d revamp some of the characters as Board Members of EWING INDUSTRIES. Marvin’s an older man, been working at the company since the early days with Jock, while Jordan and Marilee are younger execs. There’s also the corporate lawyer HARV SMITHFIELD.
STEPHANIE ROGERS, LIZ ADAMS, and VAUGHN LELAND these are attornies working directly under CLIFF, part of his team investigating EWING INDUSTRIES.
TERESA and RAOUL the cook and butler at Southfork. Both Hispanic, they regularly speak Spanish to each other, and to RAE, joking about the Ewings right under their noses. SUE ELLEN secretly speaks and understands Spanish, so she knows what they’re saying, but she pretends that she doesn’t because she thinks she’s better than them.
APRIL AND MICHELLE STEVENS a pair of spoiled rich socialites, like young Paris and Nickie Hilton, who are Lucy’s friends and constant companions.
That’s about it. I know I’d also drop some little “Easter eggs” and winks to the audience of the original show in there when I could. As well as subverting expectations. Even if it’s just hints of things to come, including references to other characters. Like in one of the first episodes, we show a meeting at EWING INDUSTRIES where JORDAN mentions how he just got back from San Angelo where he finally managed to close a deal with “old man Farlow” to buy his oil refineries. JOCK AND MISS ELLIE may not be in one episode, as it’s mentioned that they’ve flown down to Alaska to visit JOCK’s brother JASON for his birthday, and when they get back in the next episode Bobby will ask how their cousins Jack and Jamie are doing. Jeremy Wendell will make a reference to WESTAR’s corporate trouble-shooter Carter McKay. Sue Ellen may refer to her younger sister Kristin, whom she doesn’t get along with. Things like that. Whether we ever see any of those characters on the show in later seasons will depend on if they’re needed.
I’m also envisioning a scene in an episode where J.R. and Sue Ellen come face to face with Cliff and his wife during a “Parent/Teacher” day at the exclusive Elementary School that their kids both attend. And while the adults are making snide comments to each other we’ll see little John Ross and little Rebecca playing together. Hinting at that future romance.
The first season will end with all the various subplots resolved. J.R. manages to thwart Cliff’s investigation, saving the day, and humilating Cliff, who is even more determined to get the Ewings somehow (perhaps that’s when he gets a call from Wendell, who offers his help).
Jenna dies of Cancer, which she knew was happening, that’s why she returned and brought back Christopher who is Bobby’s son. He and Pam commit to raising Christopher together.
Lucy’s first lingerie fashion show is a huge success, and that’s where she and Mitch finally give in to their feelings for each other, and she brings him as her date to the annual SOUTHFORK BBQ, where she introduces him to the rest of the family.
And JOCK and MISS ELLIE prepare to go off on a second honeymoon, taking a world cruise together, with Jock letting J.R. stand in as Ewing Oil Chairman while he’s gone.
Big celebration on Southfork, everyone’s happy, YAY!
The next morning, we see Miss Ellie waking up in bed, she looks and Jock’s not next to her. She hears the shower running. She gets up, goes to the bathroom and opens the shower door, and sees Jock laying dead on the shower floor. She screams!