Diane Haithman is an AwardsLine contributor.
What two popular TV show titles are least likely to occur in the same sentence? There is no single answer, but British producer Gareth Neame was decidedly taken aback when a family member came up with this combo: “We used to have Dallas. Now we have Downton.” Downton is, of course, the PBS Masterpiece hit Downton Abbey, the sprawling saga of the fabulously wealthy Crawley family, unfolding at the family’s English country estate. And Dallas is, well Dallas (1978-1991) CBS’ soapy saga of Texas oil baron J.R Ewing, set on the lavish Southfork Ranch. While the worlds of feathered bonnets and 10-gallon hats couldn’t seem more different, Downton executive producer Neame says the comparison confirmed what he’d been thinking when he proposed the series to creator-writer Julian Fellowes: Once again, there is room for the nighttime soap on the TV landscape.
As in the era of Dallas—which spawned Dynasty, Falcon Crest and Knots Landing—the primetime soap has surged in popularity with viewers. Along with the crown jewel Downton Abbey, witness the appearance of new and glamorous multigenerational sagas including ABC’s Nashville and Revenge. To prove the point, there’s even a new Dallas on TNT, with some of the original stars including Linda Gray and Patrick Duffy (J.R.’s “good” brother Bobby) returning to ruin each other’s lives for a new generation of viewers.