Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Ah, Nostalgia! PBS Series “Pioneers of Television- Nighttime Soaps”

Ah, Nostalgia! PBS Series “Pioneers of Television- Nighttime Soaps”

Those prime time soaps of the late 70’s and early 80’s! I watched them all – “Dallas”, “Dynasty” and “Knots Landing”!  It was must see TV before “Must See TV”.  But it started with “Dallas” – which rose to worldwide prominence following the original cliffhanger. It truly was of worldwide interest. Everybody wanted to know “who shot J.R.”?

Maybe it was the times. Everything was big. Big hair. Big jewelry! Big shoulder pads! Ostentatious displays of wealth became acceptable. Greed was good! Women were striving to dress for success. Men wore yellow power ties.  Ronald Reagan made us feel proud to be American.  Tom Wolfe wrote “ The Bonfire of the Vanities”. Bryan Burrough and  John Helyar wrote “Barbarians at the Gate” about the ill-fated leveraged buyout of RJR-Nabisco, the original “too big to fail” conglomerate. It was a time of excess. And it was fun.

J.R. Ewing became an icon, a character to be emulated by greedy heads of companies.  Larry Hagman liked to think that “Dallas” was a cause of the fall of communism. I believe it more likely that “Dallas” was the prototype for  the corporate governance that shouted “ anything for a profit” or “A conscience is like a boat or a car. If you feel you need one, rent it."
And who can forget the evil machinations of Joan Collins as Alexis Carrington Colby and Diahann Carroll as Dominique Devereux. Splendid portrayals of strong women who could equal the business acumen of any man at a time when women in the boardroom were few and those who made it were denigrated.
Recall the scandal involving Mary Cunningham and William Agee of Bendix. After she graduating from Harvard Business School, Cunningham accepted a management position as Executive Assistant to  Agee, the CEO of the Bendix. She was soon promoted to VP of Strategic Planning. Following allegations she had essentially achieved her position through sex,  Cunningham resigned in October 1980. After she left Bendix in the midst of scandal, Cunningham accepted the position of  VP of Strategic Planning at Seagrams. So our nighttime soaps merely reflected the times. So she did eventually marry Agee. Chicken / egg/ chicken/ egg….
For a young woman entering the corporate world at the time these shows aired, Sue Ellen Ewing of Dallas, Alexis Carrington and Dominique Devereux of  “Dynasty”, Abby Fairgate Cunningham Ewing Sumner of “Knots Landing” and Angela Channing of “Falcon Crest” were role models, showing each week that strong women could not only survive but thrive in a man’s world.  They portrayed resiliency.  I can still honor that.

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