B*tch Slapped! — When the Nighttime Soaps Ruled Television
The late 1970s and the better part of the 1980s were the battleground for some of television's sauciest and sexiest nighttime soaps. This genre of television teased us with gripping cliffhangers, bitter rivalries, luxurious locales, and some of the fiercest cat fights to ever grace the world of entertainment. It was a dizzying world of champagne and shoulder pads that enticed us to tune in every week for the melodrama. The shows were also well known for their lushly orchestrated theme songs that captured the regal nature of the powerful families at the center of the action.
The Big Daddy of all nighttime soap operas, Dallas was a mainstay of CBS’s Friday night lineup for fourteen seasons. The show followed the Ewing clan, a family of wealthy Texas oil barons, a formidable band who were in constant conflict with other oil companies. The show was particularly well-known for its despicable antihero J.R. Ewing (Larry Hagman), who blackmailed and bullied his way into power, often to the dismay of his own family and his arch nemesis Cliff Barnes (Ken Kercheval). One of its most famous season finales was the “Who Shot J.R.?” cliffhanger which kept audiences guessing all summer as to who pulled the trigger. Dallas started out as a mini-series, but its popularity soon saw greenlit as a regular series.
For every impassioned Dallas fan, there was an equally rabid follower of Dynasty. The show dripped with luxury, lust, and power in the oil industry, making it ABC’s not-so-subtle answer to the success of CBS’s Dallas. Set in Denver, Colorado, the soap followed the Carrington Family, the oil tycoon Blake (John Forsythe), his new wife Krystle (Linda Evans), his stubborn daughter Fallon (Pamela Sue Martin) and his homosexual son Steven (Al Corley). A big hit from the beginning, Dynasty’s popularity soared into the stratosphere with the Season 2 arrival of Alexis Carrington (Joan Collins), Blake’s bold and ballsy ex-wife. Famous for its “bitch slaps” (bitchy characters back-handing each other), Dynasty knew how to get audience to tune-in. It was produced by Aaron Spelling.
Knots Landing (1979-1993)
Dallas was so popular that it launched a spin-off almost immediately, following the Ewing family’s black sheep Gary (Ted Shackelford) as he moved to California with his wife Valene (Joan Van Ark). The famous cul-de-sac where they lived by the California seaside known as “Knots Landing”, housed several families that were all a part of the show’s soap opera intrigue. Knots Landing was, in fact, pitched as a TV show long before Dallas, but was turned down by CBS producers. When Dallas was a breakout hit, a few characters were replaced with Gary and Val Ewing, associating the proposed soap with an already hit show, and Knots Landing was born.
The Colbys (1985-1987)
What Dallas received, Dynasty would eventually also be bestowed. In this case, it was a spin-off called The Colbys. Though it only lasted two seasons, Dynasty II, The Colbys (as it was originally titled) boasted a cast led by Charlton Heston. The Colbys were another wealthy family that was connected to the Carringtons through business and by marriage. The show featured a starry cast, including old Hollywood favorites such as Barbara Stanwyck and Ricardo Montalban. The Colbys, though beloved by many die-hard Dynasty fans, was not a ratings winner and the show was ultimately considered too expensive to keep producing with a such a mediocre audience draw.
Falcon Crest (1981-1990)
Perhaps the most elegant and majestic of the nighttime soap operas, Falcon Crest benefitted from following the immensely popular Dallas on Friday nights. Set in California’s wine country, complete with resplendent vineyards and stately mansions, the show blended struggles for power with politics and pageantry. Angela Channing (Jane Wyman) was the tyrannical, power hungry matriarch of a family that owns and operates the Falcon Crest Winery. The brood was full of secrets, but Angela used her money and influence to keep everyone under her thumb and their skeletons stowed deep in their closets.