How 'Dallas' Changed the World Big oil, big buildings, big hair — the TV series Dallas made its glittering debut 30 years ago this month. Neither its namesake city nor TV has been the same since. Longtime Dallas TV critic Ed Bark discusses the show, the city and "Who Shot J.R.?"

How 'Dallas' Changed the World

  • Download
  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript

(Soundbite of "Dallas" theme song)


Ah, that song and the images it conjures up. The big buildings, big oil and big hair. Thirty years ago this month that song first played in living rooms across America, introducing us to the fabulously rich, fabulously cheesy Ewing clan of the TV series "Dallas." It was a show that defined a city and set the template for primetime TV soaps from "Falcon Crest" to Wisteria Lane.

Ed Bark's been a TV critic in Dallas since the world first wondered who shot J.R. And he's on the line now from his home just outside Dallas. Welcome.

Mr. ED BARK (TV Critic): Hey. How are you today?

SEABROOK: Great, thanks. I can't get that opening sequence out of my head, though. You know, how the camera's swooping in over those shiny, impossibly shiny buildings.

Mr. BARK: Yeah.

SEABROOK: Texas Stadium, oil wells.

Mr. BARK: Well, initially the chamber of commerce and other people who thought they knew what was best for the city didn't like the idea of Dallas being seen as a citadel of oily, greedy, ne'er-do-well philandering rich people.

SEABROOK: They didn't like that?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. BARK: Not at first but they grew in time to love the series for sort of deflecting attention away from the Kennedy assassination 15 years earlier and making South Fork Ranch the primary tourist destination of Dallas. And a lot of people from all around the world came in.

SEABROOK: Now, it didn't just have an impact on Dallas the city. I mean, "Dallas" was a huge national craze.

Mr. BARK: Well, it really was. It's hard to believe that the infamous Who Shot J.R. episode, which aired way back on November 21st of 1980 drew almost 80 percent of all people watching television. Just unheard of today.

SEABROOK: Nothing. Nothing gets that kind of - those kind of ratings.

Mr. BARK: No. Not even the Super Bowl. And it remains the second most watched program of all time behind the finale of "M.A.S.H." And, you know, I remember one of my most vivid memories of this show was just having a party at Larry Hagman's house and it was a massive - I just don't remember ever that big a gathering of people around one person.


Mr. BARK: Yeah. And his toilets overflowed at one point and thankfully the late Penguin, Burgess Meredith, who lived right next door, graciously allowed critics to use his facilities. So...

(Soundbite of laughter)

SEABROOK: You know, then who went on for 13 seasons. I mean, that is forever in TV time. So, Ed Bark, guilty pleasure time: a favorite moment in "Dallas."

Mr. BARK: Well, I think it was when Patrick Duffy, who played Bobby Ewing, popped up in the shower and basically explained away the entire preceding season as having never happened, that it was all a dream. And it was completely preposterous, of course, because we all, you know, millions of Americans upon millions, watched him die after that fiery car wreck and saw that old heart monitor go flatline. And all of a sudden there he was in the shower saying a cheery good morning to Pam. And they went from there and they proceeded as if nothing had happened.

SEABROOK: Ed Bark covered "Dallas" and TV for the Dallas Morning News for 26 years. He now runs the site Thanks for joining us, Uncle Barky.

Mr. BARK: Hey, you're very welcome. Thanks for calling me Uncle Barky.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Copyright © 2008 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.