Under the influence of trashy TV

Deborah Nam-Krane

I’ve got a confession to make: I grew up
watching Trashy Television. I’ve got another confession to make: I think it
influenced what I write – but I don’t think that’s necessarily
something to be ashamed of. I’m not the first person to say that even low art
can be instructive, and frankly by the standards we have today, much of what we
considered trash in the Seventies and Eighties would be critically acclaimed
Here’s what I learned:
Nothing is as much of a game-changer as a high
stakes storyline.
“Who Shot JR Ewing?” picked Dallas up from a middling show
that many said was in danger of being canceled to one that everyone and their
grandmother had to watch. Their strategy worked for two reasons: first, their
lead was a compelling but a frequently bad character; second and almost as a
corollary, almost everyone on the show, with the exception of his sainted mother, had a reason to want him dead or at least out of commission.
That story also worked because for the next
several years it continued to reverberate. The would-be murderer was really his
sister-in-law Kristen, but she escaped punishment because she was pregnant with
his child. Those revelations further poisoned the marriage between JR and Sue
Ellen, and years later it would come back to complicate the lives of his
brother Bobby and his wife Pam- which is exactly what you’d expect from a toxic
family secret.
J.R. and Sue Ellen Ewing- the perfect couple from Hell
There was so much here. The Carringtons were
as wealthy as the Ewings, but they were more glamorous and ran with a slightly
more international crowd. The family dynamic was made for drama- the wealthy
divorced patriarch Blake marries his former secretary Krystal, who had just
ended an affair with Matthew, one of his other employees after she discovered
he was married, and his spoiled daughter Fallon can’t stand her but is devoted
to her gay brother Stephen (a breakthrough character for the Eighties)- but it
wasn’t until the second season that it took off. Why? Because Blake’s ex-wife Alexis
walked into a courtroom to give damaging information about Blake and spent the
rest of the show warring with Krystal for Blake’s affections while building her
own empire. There’s a lot to be said about Joan Collins’ performance as Alexis
Carrington Colby, and nuanced isn’t one of them, but at the time it was a
breath of fresh air to see an older female character who didn’t want to be a
matriarch but wanted to be just as powerful as the men in her life.
Alexis Carrington, showing it’s possible to be beautiful, glamorous and powerful after the age of 30

Falcon Crest
Billy R. Moses as Cole Gioberti

But Alexis Carrington didn’t hold a candle to
Angela Channing of Falcon Crest. She was the matriarch of an old California
wine producing family (hey, they liked wine even more than oil in the
Eighties!). The show opened with the accidental homicide of her brother Jason
at the hands of her childlike, eccentric daughter Emma. Upon hearing of his
father’s death, Chase immediately flew his family out of New York and to
California to solve the mystery of what happened.

It was an unusual set up for television, because
the viewer already what had happened and why
. We also knew that Emma wasn’t a
“villain”, but someone who had made a terrible mistake. And while we disapproved of Angela keeping the
truth from Chase, we also knew that part of her motivation was to protect her
 Angela’s biggest sin was that she was
a control freak, and while she may have kept her children and grandchildren
relatively safe, it was clear that it wasn’t the same as happy. And that’s the
perfect family dynamic for a drama.
Lorenzo Lamas as Lance Cumson

Shortly after the show debuted, they
introduced the game-changing character Richard Channing, the illegitimate
stepson Angela never knew she had who just happened to be Chase’s half-brother!
He was as ruthless as Angela, but he didn’t have a sense of family to ground
him. The only person that humanized him: Chase’s wife Maggie, and that caused
plenty of problems in their marriage.

Alright- who am I kidding? That’s all well
and good, but the real reason we all wanted to watch Falcon Crest at ten
o’clock on a Friday? Angela’s grandson Lance and Chase’s son Cole. When spoiled
Melissa Agretti had trouble choosing between the two of them, we didn’t blame
Flamingo Road
“Hmm… which one of these do I want?”

Before David Selby moved over to Falcon Crest as
Richard Channing, he was on Flamingo Road
The Weldons were a wealthy
family in Florida with what looked like the perfect family: a mother, father,
son and daughter. But it didn’t take too long to see that the lines were drawn
in that family: Constance was Daddy’s Little Girl, and Skipper was Mama’s Boy.
Constance, spoiled and selfish, was married to Fielding, who couldn’t stop
seeing Lane, who was also loved by good guy Sam.

Meanwhile, Lute-Mae had been in town for
years, and she’d tangled with both Sheriff Titus and Claude Weldon. We’d find
out later just how much: it turned out Constance was her daughter, not Claude’s
wife Eudora’s! And who told Constance that? The vengeful Michael Tyrone, played
by… David Selby. Why? Because he held Lute-Mae, Claude and Sheriff Titus
responsible for his father’s ruin, and he was going to make sure that he
destroyed them piece by piece. Nothing like a little intergenerational revenge
to glue you to a screen.

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The Smartest Girl in the Room

year old Emily wants her college diploma fast, and she’s going to get it. But
when the perfect night with perfect Mitch leads her to a broken heart, Emily is
blind to her vulnerability. When the person she cares about the most is hurt as
a result, Emily’s ambition gives way to more than a little ruthlessness. She’s
going to use her smarts to take care of herself and protect the people she
loves, and everyone else had better stay out of her way. But shouldn’t the
smartest girl everyone knows realize that the ones she’d cross the line for
would do the same for her?
The Smartest Girl in the Room is Book One in The
New Pioneers series.
The Family you Choose

Miranda Harel has been
in love with her guardian Alex Sheldon since she was five years old, and
Michael Abbot has despised them both for just as long. When Miranda finds out
why she wants both men out of her life for good and questions everything she
believed about where and who she came from. Finding out the truth will break
her heart. Without family or true love, will her friends be enough?

The Family You Choose is
Book Two in The New Pioneers series.
Deborah Nam-Krane 
Deborah Nam-Krane has been sharing mental space with Miranda, Alex, Michael, Stephen, Jessie and Lucy for almost three decades. About six years ago she decided Emily, Zainab, Mitch and Richard needed to lighten them up (and calm them down). Then things really got interesting. A resident of Boston-proper, she spends more time than she should imagining what each of her characters would do in some of her favorite local haunts.

2 thoughts on “Under the influence of trashy TV

  1. Thanks for posting. Dallas and the rest take me back to my childhood. I used to watch Dynasty but can remember my mum's disapproval when I did. She thought it was too adult for me. Crazy! Especially as you see what's on the TV nowadays.


  2. Thanks for having me Louise!

    And ack- just wanted to clarify, David Selby *also* played Richard Channing on Falcon Crest (after he was done haunting Dark Shadows). And of course I meant Angela kept secrets from Chase, not Cole. (But I bet I'm not the first FC fan to confuse the names, LOL.)


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