As its ratings dip, I wonder what’s wrong with Dallas?

What's missing in the Dallas mix?

What’s missing in the Dallas mix?

A lot may be riding on Monday’s episode of Dallas, which is the midseason finale. Episode previews reveal a fire will break out on Southfork, which harks back to the famous one that ended the 1982-1983 season. Longtime fans will experience déjà vu as Sue Ellen again finds herself among those endangered. That’s where the similarities end, however. The original show was near the top of the ratings back in the ‘80s whereas the reboot is struggling to gain traction among viewers. The February 24 season premiere debuted to 2.7 million viewers and subsequent episodes averaged 1.9 million viewers. Ratings have upticked in recent weeks but still trail last season’s average of 2.67 million viewers.

To be fair, the environments of each version of the show are markedly different. TNT’s Dallas is competing against far more entertainment options than were available during the 1980s. Not only does cable TV offer round-the-clock content airing across hundreds of channels, but fans can record the show for later viewing on DVD or watch Movies On Demand. Factor in Netflix and it’s not hard to see why garnering record-breaking ratings is nearly impossible in 2014. During Dallas’ original run there were only three broadcast networks and shows earned their ratings in real time. Dallas was appointment television back then.

Today’s Dallas faces stiff competition not only from a wider range of choices, but from current trends in TV programming that make serialized dramas less compelling. The over-the-top antics of so-called reality shows and the suspense of talent competitions like The Voice provide the high drama that primetime soaps used to have a monopoly on. Even the reigning genre, the CSI-style procedural, is soapy to a degree. That said, how can Dallas 2.0 turn the tide on a so-so run in the ratings this year?

I believe the show’s longevity relies on deepening its connection to original fans. I say this knowing very well that these viewers, the bulk of which are in their late forties and mid-fifties, are not Madison Avenue’s preferred target market. TNT seems to be aiming for a CW audience with its take on Dallas, focusing on young, camera-friendly actors who, in my opinion, lack the punch of the original cast. I’m not saying I don’t enjoy Josh Henderson, Julie Gonzalo and the others, but I feel like something is missing.

It would help if the cast were more seasoned. When Dallas debuted in 1978, its focus on the Romeo-and-Juliet story of hotties Patrick Duffy and Victoria Principal quickly shifted to the underhanded dealings of Larry Hagman’s J.R. when the veteran actor’s deft performance electrified every minute of his screen time, gradually building the show into a global sensation during its pivotal 1979-1980 season. In short, what Dallas needs is a new Larry Hagman and that’s a tall order.

I suggest the producers search Hollywood for an up-and-coming character actor in his early thirties. They need someone who can bring a layered characterization to the show’s ensemble and still complement the eye-candy appeal of the young players while stirring things up with the show’s anchors, Patrick Duffy, Linda Gray, Brenda Strong and Mitch Pileggi.

While they’re at it, they might consider a few other things:

Emma can't compare with Kristin

Emma can’t compare with Kristin

Emma Ryland is no Kristin Shepard. A juicy scene frequently repeated during the commercial breaks shows Sue Ellen telling Emma that she might end dead in the Southfork pool like her scheming sister Kristin. While it’s a fun scene, drawing comparisons between Emma Bell’s bland attempt at playing the vixen and Mary Crosby’s iconic performance as the woman who shot J.R. is a joke. With her lopsided grin, distinctive walk and feline glare, Kristin set the template for an endless parade of Dallas villainesses to come with only Katherine Wentworth matching her impact. More on Katherine later.

AnnaLynne McCord is hotter as an evil blonde. Seeing the former 90210 and Nip/Tuck bad girl waste her sizzle in the boring storyline of Heather McCabe’s love triangle with saintly Christopher and loser Bo makes me wonder if she had been a better choice to play Emma. I can just feel the actress’ signature bitchiness itching to surface amongst all the bland talk of ranch chores. Let’s hope things get juicier for this trio in the upcoming summer season or AnnaLynne may soon be looking for work in a new zip code.

AnnaLynne sizzled on Nip/Tuck but fizzles on Dallas.

AnnaLynne McCord sizzled on Nip/Tuck but fizzles on Dallas.

John Ross is no J.R. Josh Henderson is sexy and easy on the eyes but he’s too boyish to carry Dallas like Larry Hagman did in the old days. As previously stated, it’s time to bring in an antihero with an edgy brand of charisma. Think a young Bruce Willis, Sean Penn or Nicolas Cage.

Bring back the bigness. The addition of Nicolas Trevino as an outsider was a good move but his scheming still comes off small-time compared with the machinations of Jeremy Wendell of Westar Oil and the Cartel back in the day. The whorehouse stuff with Harris and Judith is a hoot, but we’re not seeing enough of the Rylands at the office cutting deals and – metaphorically – cutting throats in the process. Hopefully the IPO storyline will lead to more of this type of storytelling.

The return of Katherine Wentworth would liven things up on Dallas.

The return of Katherine Wentworth would liven things up on Dallas.

Reintroduce Katherine Wentworth. At the risk of sounding like a broken record, I firmly believe bringing Morgan Brittany back as the most dangerous woman to darken the lives of Pam and Bobby would be a shot of energy to the show. It would especially open up exciting storylines for Bobby and Ann, and could present an inevitable collaboration for Ms. Wentworth– in the boardroom and bedroom – with Harris. Perhaps the character actor I’m suggesting producers add could play Katherine’s illegitimate son by J.R. The possibilities are endless and if the show needs a new J.R. why couldn’t it be a female one? It worked for Dynasty.

Enjoy the April 14 episode and tune in August 18 when the show returns with the remaining seven episodes of the season.