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Thursday, 19 September 2013

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 today.

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 child. 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 her.

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 RoadThe 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

Nineteen 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.


  1. 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.)

  2. 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.