If one thought primetime soap operas on network television was a thing of the infinite past, think again. You’ve clearly not been watching the new hit TV drama “Empire” on Fox. The once thought network as being dead in the water has now come to life. “Empire” made its glorious premiere on January 7, 2015 and the ratings keep climbing ever since. For viewers who were devoted fans of the long-running primetime soap opera on CBS known simply as “Dallas,” there are some interesting parallels between the two television series.
“Empire” and “Dallas” center around a strong family unit, the Lyon’s and the Ewing’s, with patriarchal and matriarchal figures running their respective businesses. One is about the glitzy hip hop recording industry with Lucious Lyon (Terrence Howard) as the former artist tuned mogul a la Jay-Z or Dr. Dre. The other series was set in the heart of oil country in Dallas, Texas as the title clearly states.
Both are about extremely competitive industries with owners coming from hard lives. Lucious being involved in gangs and drugs in his youth in Philadelphia, while Jock Ewing worked the oil fields as a wildcatter throughout Texas before marrying Miss Ellie, the daughter of a struggling rancher.
Coincidentally, one of the upcoming recurring characters in “Empire” is actually named Elle Dallas, one of the hard rock artists on their record label. She will be portrayed by Courtney Love. Another parallel has to do with the Lucious and Jock characters, or in the latter case in real life, both suffer from terminal illnesses. The actor Jim Davis, who was cast as Jock, died during the early years in the series. Lucious was diagnosed in the second episode with ALS.
Once again the two family-based series each feature three sons. In “Empire” there is the all business-minded Andre, perhaps the J.R Ewing character (it could actually be Andre’s Caucasian wife), the highly-sensitive and good-natured Jamal is clearly Bobby Ewing, and Hakeem is similar to Lucy. Her father Gary Ewing wanted nothing to do with the family business, much like Hakeem’s mother was serving time in prison while he was growing up. Lucy was raised by her grandparents, uncles, and aunts. Hakeem and Lucy are young, carefree, beautiful, and spoiled.
Above all else the definitive thread “Empire” and “Dallas” have in common is the stellar acting by the main characters of Lucious and Cookie Lyon and Jock and Miss Ellie Ewing. Terrence Howard and Taraji P. Henson literally command the presence of viewers when they come onscreen. They draw you in with their strong performances each week. You can’t take your eyes off them. Jim Davis was perfectly cast as Jock Ewing. He was sorely missed throughout the remainder of “Dallas.” Barbara Bel Geddes was the show’s anchor and a brilliant actress who won an Emmy for her role as Miss Ellie.