x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 July 2017

Dynasty and Dallas revival talk bubbles up

With their extravagant plots and absurd dramatic devices, Dynasty and Dallas epitomised the 1980s. Now there is talk of reviving them, but could they work now?

Shoulder-pad manufacturers of the world, beware. Dynasty, the brilliantly melodramatic 1980s soap opera that made greed seem impossibly good, is - according to reports - back.

The American series was so ridiculous, it thought nothing of throwing perfectly attired love rivals played by Joan Collins and Linda Evans into an ornamental lily pond and shouting "catfight!" But the excessive world of the wealthy Carrington family, headed by the patriarch and oil tycoon Blake (John Forsyth) and given its spiteful zing by his high-living ex-wife Alexis (Joan Collins), has been gathering dust in Denver ever since 1989. It was seemingly doomed to reruns on obscure cable channels and appearances on mocking clip shows revelling in television's worst acting EVER!

But the original creators Richard and Esther Shapiro couldn't let their legend lie. Last week, they promised a movie. And, happily, it seems their predilection for excess is still very much intact. "In a way, these characters were prisoners in television," Richard Shapiro told the entertainment website The Wrap in typically over-the-top style. "In the movie, if we want to have some James Bond-style action, we can afford to do that. If we want to go a few steps beyond what they would allow on 1980s TV, we can move ahead those few steps, and then some."

And if the prospect of hoary old Blake Carrington in full-action hero mode - with Joan Collins as some sort of Bond girl - sends shivers down the spine (as, by rights, it should: John Forsyth died last year aged 92), then fear not. The Shapiros are proposing to set the film in the Mad Men era of the 1960s. It will be a prequel, then, a chance to "go back to the beginning with these characters and use the film to trace their roots", as Esther Shapiro explained.

Namechecking that peerless period drama series, Mad Men, is a canny move, because it immediately distances any new film from the distinct whiff of ripe cheese that has surrounded Dynasty for the past two decades. It may have been the number one show on television in 1985, but watch it now and there's certainly an element of "so bad it's good" about proceedings (and if you don't believe me, type "Alexis Krystle Lily Pond Catfight" into YouTube. It's unintentionally hilarious).

Because casting hasn't even begun yet (which hasn't prevented Joan Collins suggesting that the former Bond Girl Gemma Arterton should play Alexis) and the script is still at the development stage, the Shapiros need to entice studios into thinking that they could make Dynasty cool rather than banking on nostalgia.

But in a way, it would be a shame for Dynasty to trample all over its history by, well, pretending that its characters could be proper, rounded people. Not least because its main competitor in the 1980s, the oil-based melodrama Dallas, is also shaping up for a return, and it appears the producers are playing the remake pretty straight. The original actors Larry Hagman (as JR Ewing, perhaps the biggest baddie in 1980s television), Priscilla Presley and Patrick Duffy - whose character famously died, only to be brought back to life when an entire series was written off as a dream - have all been contacted to appear in a pilot slated for later this year. The American television network that commissioned it, TNT, said it would focus on the offspring of the "bitter rivals and brothers JR and Bobby Ewing, who clash over the future of the Ewing dynasty while the fate of Southfork itself weighs in the balance".

This isn't the first time a Dallas comeback has been mooted: five years ago the Bend It Like Beckham director Gurinder Chadha was on board as the director of a movie that would have played out the trials and tribulations of the Ewing family as a comedy. But it never got beyond the borders of Texas, Chadha later revealing to Metro newspaper: "The studio did some research and they found out that if you were under 38 you didn't know the show Dallas. So of course they worried about a younger audience not coming to see it."

So if that scared off the studios, why are Dallas and Dynasty being dusted off now? It's surely a simple case of figures. Sixty million people watched Dynasty's 1985 cliffhanger, which - and stay with us here - featured a wedding interrupted by terrorists in a military coup in Moldavia. And the denouement of the most famous Dallas storyline - who shot JR? - remains, internationally, the most-watched episode of a television drama. A staggering 360 million viewers tuned in to find out the answer to that particular puzzle. The convoluted outcome (it was his sister-in-law, but bringing her to justice was made problematic because she was pregnant) only made people love the show even more.

And if Dallas had the better storylines - it also wasn't afraid to dabble in issues such as cancer - then Dynasty was the better-dressed programme, a glitzy, escapist fantasy that embraced camp and completely over-the-top plots. Even back then, there was the sense that people tuned in to Dynasty simply to see if it could get any trashier, any more sensational or farcical than the week before. It's not a million miles away from how the series Desperate Housewives ended up becoming.

So it's not surprising that, judging by the increasingly animated posts on fan sites, soap followers of a certain vintage are about to explode with excitement at the prospect of new chapters in these stories.

It follows that there are studios that believe they can make money out of such nostalgia, too. But will there be enough of these 1980s devotees to make Dallas and Dynasty successes once again? For two shows that essentially introduced the concept of the cliffhanger to television drama, that's the biggest nailbiter of all.