How Dallas Won the What?

Nick Gillespie and Matt Welch have a tongue-in-cheek (I hope) article in the Washington Post about the 30th anniversary of Dallas, explaining that its celebration of ruthless capitalism along with its vast international popularity helped win the Cold  War. Roy Edroso at Alicublog pours some cold water on the political argument (though I disagree with his statement that Dallas was a bad show; as I’ve said before, there are few hour-long drama shows that hold up so well after 30 years).

But the authors’ point about the show’s worldwide cultural influence is a good one; I think Dallas may have been one of the shows that really helped sell the idea that a U.S. TV show could be huge not just in English-speaking countries, but everywhere, literally everywhere. In the early years of television, most TV was live, or done before an audience, and therefore couldn’t really be dubbed into other languages. Filmed single-camera TV shows were easier to export, and some of them did well, but in the ’70s and ’80s, TV seemed to explode on international markets, with shows like Kojak, Dallas and Dynasty becoming as popular or even more popular overseas than they were at home. Lee Majors’ The Fall Guy was a decent success in the U.S., but in Germany, under the title Ein Colt für alle Fälle, it’s one of the most popular shows ever, with a following that dwarfs its modest following in North America.


Just as movies today are geared in part towards foreign markets, which helps explain the types of movies that get made, the success of Dallas and other shows overseas helped define the style of television drama: it had to be more visually striking than before (whether in terms of camerawork or the lavishness of the characters’ lifestyles), it had to deal either in action or in basic, simple melodramatic situations that could be universally understood. And though I could be wrong about this, I sometimes think the increased emphasis on foreign markets may also be a key to understanding why certain types of shows died out in the U.S.; while shows about rural North America were very popular and still are — look at Corner Gas — they don’t really translate overseas, where rural culture is different and many of the character types from these shows are not recognizable.

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