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'Dallas' Takes Starch Out Of New 'miami' Duds

September 29, 1986|LEE MARGULIES | Times Staff Writer

A dream? A dream ? What do they mean it was just a dream?

We're just supposed to forget an entire season of "Dallas," to write it off as Pam's nightmare?

Forget that Sue Ellen apparently had been hit by a bomb blast meant for J. R.? Forget that Jamie had been sitting in a car that exploded? Forget that Ray and Donna had adopted a boy after losing a baby of their own? Forget that Pam was finally happy again after marrying Mark? Forget that J. R. had dumped Mandy to win Sue Ellen back?

"It's over," Bobby said simply, stepping out of his four-month-long shower as the popular CBS soap opera opened its ninth season Friday night. "None of that happened."

And off the show went, back to the future, blithely picking up the story where it had been 16 months ago, just before Bobby had been killed off in a classic tear-jerker because actor Patrick Duffy decided to quit the series.

It was a night of big challenges for "Dallas," which had fallen to No. 6 in the ratings last season after reigning first or second for five years. Could it credibly reintroduce Duffy, who'd been persuaded to return to the fold? And could it stave off the challenge of "Miami Vice," the hot, hip cop show that NBC had slotted against it in hopes of knocking it off?

In the first round of what has been billed as the fall season's most hotly contested series matchup, "Dallas" won decisively.

Although the national ratings won't be released until today, overnight Nielsen figures from 12 major cities showed "Dallas" averaging 38% of the viewing audience from 9 p.m. to 10 p.m., compared to 27% for "Miami Vice." (ABC isn't expected to contend in that time period and didn't, drawing about 16% of the viewers for "Sledge Hammer" and "Mr. Belvedere.")

"Dallas" won in 11 of the 12 cities monitored, including Los Angeles, where the CBS serial drew about 32% of the viewers, with "Miami Vice" attracting 25%.

The only city where "Dallas" didn't carry the time period was, appropriately, Miami, where 38% of the viewers loyally watched the series about their city's color-coordinated vice squad, compared to 27% for the long-feuding family of Texas millionaires. The loyalty factor also ran high in Dallas, where 52% of the audience tuned to the home-grown Ewing escapades and only 19% to the trigger-happy Florida fashion plates.

On the question of whether Bobby could be brought back to "Dallas" credibly, the answer was mixed. While the explanation that Pam had merely dreamed his death made sense logically, emotionally it was both disappointing and insulting to the show's longtime fans.

Disappointing because it robbed us of seeing the characters react to Bobby's return. After the wringer they put us through when he died, they owed us that. We were happy he was back, but they acted as if he'd never been gone.

Insulting because the producers broke the eight-year flow of uninterrupted story lines. And why? To win back viewers they'd lost, leaving those who'd remained loyal to feel like dupes.

Executive Producer Leonard Katzman's idea to go back to the show's roots is a good one, re-establishing J. R. (Larry Hagman) as the tongue-in-cheek cad at odds with Bobby, Sue Ellen, Pam, Cliff and the rest of planet Earth.

But there had to have been a better way to do it, a way that would have picked up the story where it was. Would it have been logical? Of course not. But when has logic ever had anything to do with "Dallas"?

"Miami Vice," on the other hand, didn't fare so well either in meeting its challenge for this, its third season: to come up with better scripts.

The script was intelligible, making it an improvement over last season. It just wasn't interesting. All the first show had going for it Friday night was new colors. Gone were the pastels, replaced by vivid blues and yellows and greens.

Big deal. If anything, they clashed with the story, which, as always, was dark and melancholy. It was also familiar: One of the cops (Saundra Santiago this time) falls for someone who turns out to be a bad guy and eventually has to put the collar on him.

The show lacked energy, and what was stylish about it two years ago now seems empty. Like many a show that once broke formulas, "Miami Vice" may simply have replaced them with its own, which turn out to be no less tiresome.

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