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'Dallas' and its spinoffs signal the sad state of commercial network TV

It's said to consider what is happening to "quality" network programming. As CBS's "Dallas" continues to prosper, for instance, just about everybody else in the business is trying to duplicate the rather inexplicable success of that night-time soap opera.

Most programming experts attribute the astounding popularity of the CBS show mainly to the presence of Larry Hagman as J. R. Ewing, who has become the anti-hero figure of the decade -- nasty, insensitive, selfish. Anti-heroes, it seems, are inm this year.

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The idea of substituting the often outrageous daytime-soap values and sometimes even uncomfortably realistic social attitudes for the heretofore practically sacrosanct borderline titillation of prime evening time has proven to be an uneven ploy. However CBS, which tried it again with "Secrets of Midland Heights," has thankfully given up and just announced cancellation of that "Dallas" clone (although its spinoff -- "Knots Landing" -- seems to be making it). NBC tried with "Number 96" (already canceled) and is now trying still again with "Flamingo Road" (future questionable although off to a fairly good start in ratings).

Now along comes ABC with "Dynasty" -- which is just "Dallas" in Denver. It's got everything nasty which Dallas has (except for the part played by Larry Hagman, and I doubt that nice guy John Forsythe can ever manage to be as awful to human beings as the Larry Hagman character). It's got adultery, homosexuality, promiscuity -- in short, just about everything objectionable that "Dallas" and other soaps have. It just has them in Denver. Instead of oil (and there's some of that in "Dynasty" too) it features natural gas and other energy sources. But the real energy on the show stems from outrageously ridiculous situations and dialogue. Most of it could provide a good laugh if it weren't such an unfortunate spectacle.

Where will it all end? I am beginning to believe that commercial over-the-air TV will learn its lesson only when cable TV replaces it.

But then we may have the same battle to fight with cable TV. So better sta rt preparing.

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