Monday, May 16, 2011

DYNASTY Articles: Dying Soaps (1989)

Ever since "Dynasty's" Carrington clan got off the Moldavian church floor unscathed and Bobby came out of THE shower over on "Dallas" the press sang soaps' swan song. This Wall Street Journal article concerning the dire state of soaps was however published just 3 days before ABC swung the axe and cancelled the aging soap.

The article (which I wasn't able to scan, so I'm reproducing it in its entirety below) appeared in the May 18, 1989 (Thursday) edition of the paper and it makes the end of "Dynasty" seem imminent, though no official decision had been made (or rather - announced). By Monday, ABC sealed its fate.

In addition to giving you some insight into the state of the prime time soap opera genre at the time, the article reveals several interesting facts concerning "Dynasty":

- The production cost of one episode of "Dynasty" had swollen to $1.3 million

- ABC's ad revenue from each episode had dropped to $1.1 million (by comparison, in Dynasty's heyday each 30-second commercial would pull in well over quarter of a million)

- 8 million people stopped watching "Dynasty" in the course of its 9th season (or 27% of its audience)

- "Dynasty" lost 36% of its female audience during the final season

- By comparison "Dallas" and "Falcon Crest" lost only 2 and 3 million viewers, respectively, and "Knots Landing" actually went up in the ratings that same year (despite being older than "Dynasty")

- "Dynasty" producers saved $1.2 million and $1 million by cutting Linda Evans' and Joan Collins' appearances

- If there had been a 10th season, there would have been additional cost-cutting (i.e. cast reductions)

Although the production studio could have continued to make quite a bit of money money on "Dynasty" with international sales, syndication and "Dynasty" merchandise, the show was no longer profitable for the network (unless they had significantly decreased the license fee).


Here is now the article:

May 18, 1989|By Dennis Kneale, Wall Street Journal

The rich and ruthless are having a tough time of it these days on the nighttime soaps. Tune into Dallas and you'll find oil bar on J.R. Ewing wedded to a dirt-poor country bumpkin. On Dynasty the silk-lined Krystle has fallen into a coma. Turn to Falcon Crest and having-it-all Maggie is getting chewed out by a waitress.

For anyone watching - and fewer than ever are - the message is clear: Rich is out. After a decade of fly-in-your-face wealth - Nolan Miller gowns, $1,000 snakeskin boots and smoking jackets to die for - after hundreds of hours of melodrama, materialism and modern immorality, the prime-time soaps may be going down the drain.

This season more than 2 million viewers have left Dallas, at 12 years the granddaddy of the lot. More than 3 million have given up Falcon Crest. As for Dynasty, that paradigm of flash and trash has lost 8 million people - 27 percent of its audience.

Only Knots Landing is doing well. Spun off from Dallas in 1980, it gained 1.5 million viewers this season. One reason: It shuns emeralds, empires and estates to focus on the more homespun travails of Karen and Mack and two other middle-class couples, who live on a cul-de-sac in Southern California.

''We're all sick and tired of watching shows about rich people as the economy presses on a lot of others,'' says Meredith Berlin, editor-in-chief of Soap Opera Digest. ''We're more interested in our own interiors: how we think, what we feel.''

''There was never anything bigger-than-life about Knots. Still isn't,'' says executive producer David Jacobs, the show's creator. ''When you watch Dallas, you're watching them. When you watch Knots, you're watching us.'' That's why Knots never generated the excitement or the ratings of the flashier soaps, he says - and why Knots may yet outlive them.

Audiences that once lapped up the philandering and finagling of the ultra-rich now prefer shows like thirtysomething, about angst-filled yuppies who tirelessly analyze their insides, and the blue-collar comedy Roseanne. The heroes of the new drama Dream Street run a refrigeration business in New Jersey.

The soaps still have their diehard fans, of course; and they still attract advertisers ''who want their commercials in a glamorous setting - people with nice hair and nice clothing,'' says Betsy Frank, senior vice president at Saatchi & Saatchi.

But the soaps are the most expensive shows to produce. An episode of Dynasty costs ABC $1.3 million or so - yet brings in only $1.1 million in ads after commissions. For his starring role on Dallas, Larry Hagman, a k a J.R., is paid about $150,000 a show, or $3.9 million for a full season. Each Dallas episode costs up to $1.6 million and brings in only about as much in net ad sales. Worse, ad revenues are limited because soaps do poorly in reruns and are aired only once.

In a last-ditch effort to stage a melodramatic comeback, soap producers are shaving costs, experimenting with new plot twists, bringing in grubbier characters and shedding stars. Dynasty fans freaked this season when the sterling-haired Blake Carrington bade farewell to his beloved wife, the relentlessly plucky Krystle. She underwent brain surgery and wound up comatose.

The painful truth: The producers cut Krystle (Linda Evans) to only six episodes this year, from all 22 episodes that aired last season, saving more than $1.2 million. Next year, she is unlikely to be back at all. Krystle's nemesis, the villainous vixen Alexis Morel Carrington Colby Dexter Rowan, played by Joan Collins, has appeared in only 13 of the 22 episodes done this season - another $1 million saved.

David Paulson, executive supervising producer of Dynasty, says he doesn't want to sound callous, but ''over time the stars of the shows make more and more money. All these shows are cutting back. It's just gotten too expensive. And we'll have to cut more, if the show is to come back.''

The producers' scalpel must be used delicately. Three years ago Bobby Ewing died tragically on Dallas, only to emerge a season later from a long, hot shower. The feeble explanation was that his death - and the entire previous season - was just his wife's bad dream. Viewers are still miffed. ''We used to watch Dallas until they brought Bobby back, and we said there goes a whole year wasted. We haven't watched since,'' says John Shelton, a corn farmer in Hanover, Ind.

Dallas executive producer Leonard Katzman has taken note. ''We'll be careful killing anybody in the future.'' he says. ''You're only allowed one shower scene per series.'' Sue Ellen will leave Dallas this season, still standing; the conniving blonde Abby will be alive, if not so well off, when she leaves Knots.

In an attempt to woo viewers, soap producers are downscaling the upscale, mixing a few real people with the swells. Dynasty has introduced a streetwise Italian cop - hardly a denizen of the Social Register - who has fallen in love with Carrington daughter Fallon.

On Falcon Crest, the young waitress Kelley, a new character, loses her boyfriend and accuses the upper-crust Maggie of stealing him: ''It's so unfair. You have everything!'' The series also has introduced a struggling Hispanic family. So far, however, these fixes ''haven't been as successful as I would've hoped. It's going to take more time,'' says Michael Filerman, an executive producer of both Falcon Crest and Knots.

But adding Regular Joes won't save tired formulas and stale stories: it's getting harder to contrive fresh plots. On CBS, Dallas has done 307 episodes, Knots has hit 237 and Falcon Crest is up to 206. (All three are from Warner Communications' Lorimar.) Spelling Entertainment's Dynasty, on ABC, has completed 217 shows; its cliffhanger - perhaps its last episode ever - aired last Thursday.

''I keep thinking, boy, are they pulling at straws. They have no stories left,'' says a former fierce soap fan, Rochelle Rachelson of New York. In seasons past, she'd never leave the set when the soaps were on. Now, ''I'm doing my checkbook when they're on. Dallas is just so bad. Dynasty is an embarrassment. I huff when I watch it. I talk out loud to myself - Oh c'mon already! Who cares!''

Indeed. Battles over child custody are commonplace. Searches for hidden art treasures are close to cliche (Dynasty is having one now). Amnesia? Seven chararcters, including J.R.'s stepfather Clayton of late, have woken up to wonder ''Who am I?'' Three leading ladies have taken ill and left rather than burden their mates.

And by now, everyone has slept with just about everyone else. On Falcon Crest, the trollop Melissa had been with Cole, Richard and Lance, among others.

''She'd been all over the valley. There was no one left for her to do,'' says Filerman, the executive producer. Solution: Kill her off, then bring back the same actress as a hooker who looks just like her.

Actors overlap, too. This year Dallas introduced Tommy, the crack-fiend brother of Bobby's girlfriend. Then the same actor showed up on Dynasty as a corpse, dead for 20 years and very well preserved.

These are sad days for a once-rich lode. In the decades before Dallas, the wealthy were rarely depicted on TV. The networks figured that viewers, slumped on the sofa and guzzling a Bud, wouldn't want to watch spoiled millionaires sipping Dom from the back of a Rolls. But in 1978, CBS executive Kim LeMasters decided the rich were ready for prime time. Lorimar producer David Jacobs pitched an idea for the middle-class soap Knots. LeMasters turned him down and asked for a ''saga'' about a clan of conniving oil barons.

''We thought it might be satisfying for the audience to see people as rich as this as miserable as this,'' says Jacobs. And it was. America was enthralled with the fabulously wealthy Ewings, who lived on a palatial ranch tended by doting servants and drove to work in Mercedes rather than pickups.

Over a dozen glittery soaps bubbled up to copy Dallas, but only four survived. CBS has renewed its two weaker soaps; it can't risk losing 14 million homes that watch Dallas or the 11.3 million that follow Falcon Crest. ''We're not No. 1 any more, or even No. 10, but we do win our time slot, which, regrettably on CBS these days, is a rare occasion,'' says Katzman of Dallas.

Now only the low-glitz Knots, which Jacobs revived as a Dallas spinoff for CBS, seems sure to last beyond another season. While its richer soap sisters lost 16 percent to 36 percent of their women viewers this season, Knots bypassed them in the ratings and gained 5 percent.

''Knots isn't as glamorous, the houses aren't as big and the people don't make as much money,'' says fan Kathleen McCloskey, a dean at Catholic University in Washington, D.C.

New York lawyer Rita Chimel still follows all four soaps because they're ''such total, complete trash.'' But at least on Knots, ''Karen and Mack live in a normal house and take care of their own kids,'' she says. ''That's why I like it better. You don't feel as embarrassed watching it.''

The soaps have served up their de rigueur finales during the past two weeks. For Dynasty, the biggest cliffhanger will be whether it returns at all next season. It is down 36 percent among women, advertisers' prized target, and has been hurt by a time-slot switch and little promotion. Ominously, ABC executives won't discuss the show's fate.

The cliffhanger tonight at 9 on WCPX-Channel 6 will be of a far more personal sort for the unadorned Knots Landing. Lately, the faithful husband Mack has been tempted by a new woman on the scene. Fans will end the season tonight wondering whether he will cheat on his wife, Karen, and if so, can this marriage be saved?


  1. $1.3 million? That was exactly the cost of an episode during the sixth season! (I do have a lot of documents of that season so I know what I'm talking about) That would prove what I've always thought: there weren't any reducing costs in season 9 despite what some people wanted to let think in order to excuse the lack of glamour of the last season.
    By the way, in a recent interview for David Paulsen admitted that he didn't remember any reducing cost. He just thought at the time that there wasn't enough money for the production and he reduced the appearances of Evans and Collins for more location shootings. Something quite ridiculous since we didn't have anything else that the usual scenes at Delta Rho and several scenes in the cheapest streets of Denver...

  2. Yes, the show wasn't any cheaper, and yet it looked cheap.

    If Paulsen wanted air, they should've rented a mansion like Arden Villa or The Enchanted Hill instead of building that laughably hideous mansion exterior set ("The One With the Fake Sky").

    Couldn't they have at least rebuilt the set from seasons 1 and 2?

    Seeing Blake come home on THAT set and not finding his leading lady there, because the producers had to pay for his running around the ghettos of Denver looking for her had the words "Dynasty is dying" spelled all over it.

  3. One thing that could explain that the show looked cheaper is that the lead actors were given much more money after they obtained new contracts in mid-season 7. So there was less money for the production aspects like the construction of new sets (most of the sets built in season 8 were recycled old sets especially Jeff’s condo and Blake’s offices for the Governor races which were previously Zach Powers’ condo and Jason Colby’s offices) That's the thing that bothered Paulsen and I understand it. But nothing got better after he reduced the appearances of Collins and Evans, and one could wonder how he used the money! The awful cheap fake mansion exterior set reportedly cost $ 1 million ($1 million that could have been given to Collins for having her in all the episodes of season 9!!) but what about the $1.2 millions he saved after Evans was letting go?

    Another problem was the sets. In seasons 3 to 6, three stages at the Warner Hollywood Studios were rent for Dynasty. From season 7 on, a fourth stage was required for the Carlton. I wouldn’t be surprised if a fifth stage was rent for the big mansion exterior (which was completely useless!). More rented stages meant less exterior shootings.