But first, we have to go back to MTM and meet Steven Bochco and Michael Kozoll.
’80s dramas 101: Cops, doctors, and lawyersSince the ’60s, most drama series had focused on police officers/detectives, doctors, or lawyers. This still applies today; the professions’ built-in life-or-death stakes make them inherently compelling. They’re also the professions many ambitious TV writers wish to write about the least, simply because so many different versions of this kind of show have already been done. This may be why Steven Bochco always seemed to resent being asked to keep making cop dramas.
Bochco, like many of the people who changed the face of television, always acted like he wished he’d been making films all along. After graduating from college with a degree in playwriting, he landed at Universal, where he began writing material to fill out Bob Hope specials. Over time, he worked his way up to staff-writer positions on shows like Ironside and The Bold Ones, acclaimed, good-for-their-times series that nonetheless didn’t play around with Bochco’s pet fascinations with what becomes of professionals when they go home after a hard day’s work. He contributed to scripts for two movies (including the science-fiction cult classic Silent Running), and worked on the quickly canceled but influential cop show Delvecchio in the ’70s. But his career seemed to be stuck in neutral.
Prime-time soaps:Savaged at the time for their ludicrous plot twists and embrace of American overindulgence, the prime-time soaps of the ’80s don’t all hold up, but they do show the kind of escapism—often involving the very rich—audiences enjoyed during the recession-plagued early parts of the decade. The shows’ storytelling models, which were largely invented on the fly by TV writers who weren’t quite sure how to approach the idea of a show where the story never ended, were pillaged first by Hill Street Blues then nearly every TV drama of note over the next several decades.
But Dallas is still a lot of fun to watch. Even its later, flawed seasons have a sprawling cast filled with fun characters and the occasional gem of an episode. Producer Lee Rich shepherded the show, and though Dallas was far more over-the-top than his previous series, The Waltons, both reflected his interest in the ways that families hang together and fall apart.