The Mythmaking Power of the Dallas Theme
In our pulp edition this week, Robert took a look at the strange pull the TV show Dallas has on audiences, especially abroad, on the occasion of the show's 30th anniversary.
The money, the glitz, cowboy fashion--all those had plenty to do with making the show such a big hit (and ending communism, apparently), and you didn't even need to speak the language. All you had to do was sit through the opening credits.
Flybys through Dallas' mirrored downtown and across dusty cattle pastures got the point across well, but it's the 60-second synth-fest theme that really gets you revved up.
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"If you were going to come up with a theme song for the 1980s, I'd put the theme song from Dallas right up there in the top 10," says Robert Thompson, director of Syracuse University's Bleier Center for Television and Popular Culture. "For the '70s, it might be the Beegees' 'Staying Alive.'"
"On the show's anniversary, we can really look back with nostalgia," Thompson says. "We really are in the dark ages of the theme song." Ever since people got remote controls for their TV sets, a minute-long theme song was just an invitation to change the channel... and never come back. Before that, he says, "They could afford the luxury of what was essentially a rerun."
Not one given to hyperbole, Thompson calls the song, "kind of the modern synthesis. It introduced the rest of the world to a modern Dallas." Sure, we've got the rural scenery and the cowboys, but the song made it clear Dallas is a city where big things are happening. Just listen to those fake horns a-wailing.
In the U.S., the cinematic intro helped audiences wrap their heads around a primetime show with a cinematic scope, one that built from one episode to the next. "When Dallas opened, not only did it look like a movie, but that music played and it really did sound like a theatrical experience," Thompson says.
The instrumental opening probably helped the show translate abroad in a way that, say, The Beverly Hillbillies didn't, was that there weren't a lot of words to translate into Swedish, Romanian or, scariest of all, Hungarian.
Weirdly, though, that didn't stop the French from meddling when the show was syndicated there. Maybe it isn't surprising in a country that needs its own word for e-mail, but they gave Immel the shaft and came up with an entirely new theme song, one with words, even. (Mostly, one word over and over: "Dallas.") --Patrick Michels
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