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January 12, 1981: “Dynasty” Premiered and Introduced Powerful Female TV Characters Over 40

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On January 12 1981, “Dynasty” premiered on ABC. Positioned to compete with the already popular CBS series, “Dallas,” the Aaron Spelling-produced show revolved around the Carringtons, a wealthy oil family who lived in a 48-room mansion in Denver, CO. Created by the husband and wife team of Richard and Esther Shapiro, the show introduced the idea that female TV characters over 40 could be glamorous. Breaking other TV boundaries and capturing the 1980s obsession with materialism, “Dynasty” became a TV sensation. “Dynasty” was the number one ranked TV program in the 1984-1985 season. For six consecutive years (1981-1986), “Dynasty” was nominated for the Best Television Drama Series at the Golden Globe Awards, winning it in 1983. During its nine seasons, “Dynasty” was also nominated for 24 Primetime Emmy Awards.

In developing “Dynasty” with her husband Richard, Esther wanted to bring power and glamour to women over 40. She achieved this dream with her glitzy lead female characters, Krystle Carrington (Linda Evans) and Alexis Carrington (Joan Collins). The ladies were always ready for a catfight, even as they dripped in diamonds and were clad in glittering gowns that abided by the motto of “the bigger, the better,” when it came to shoulder pads.

When explaining how “Dynasty” differed from “Dallas,” Esther put it this way in a 1985 New York Magazine interview: “‘Dallas,’ it seems to me, is more male-oriented and rural… It has a lot more to do with business wheeling and dealing than with family. The women tend to be pretty passive. Our women, though, are anything but passive… and anything but victims.”

Ostensibly, the family patriarch, Blake Carrington (John Forsythe), is the character with the most power on the show. Even though his new wife and former secretary, Krystle, is moralistic and abiding, she is also a strong force in the family. However, the introduction of Blake’s fiery ex-wife, Alexis, rocked the “Dynasty” world and mesmerized TV audiences. The introduction of the complex and powerful Alexis Carrington added new exciting intrigue to the show, causing it to become a top ten hit.

As Collins later explained about the appeal of her trailblazing TV character, Alexis: “I think it was the first time audiences saw on television a woman who could be evil and manipulating and downright nasty and have a lot of charm and sexuality.”

Although the show was criticized for its campy, over-the-top catfights, including the famous battle between Krystle and Alexis in a lily pond, it broke new ground by introducing Alpha Female power dynamics to TV audiences worldwide.

The show also made headlines for breaking other TV boundaries. “Dynasty” boasted the first regularly recurring African-American role, Diahann Carroll as Dominique Deveraux, on a nighttime series. Additionally, the show featured one of the earliest gay characters on TV, Steven Carrington, first played by Al Corley and then by Jack Coleman. Known for its over-the-top designer looks, the “Dynasty” weekly wardrobe budget was $35,000 (about $90,000 adjusted for inflation). The show’s iconic costume designer, Nolan Miller, not only resurrected the shoulder pad as a 1980s fashion trend, but he designed 3,000 outfits by the time “Dynasty” last aired, on May 11, 1989.

“Dynasty” reflected America’s fascination with fortune, fashion and greed in the 1980s. Landing Evans and Collins on magazine covers throughout the 1980s, “Dynasty” proved that “older” stars can also be embraced as glamorous and sexy, along with their younger counterparts, such as Heather Locklear (in her first substantive role on TV). Even though the original show has been off the air for nearly 20 years, there is still nothing quite as entertaining as a good, old-fashioned “Dynasty” catfight in the veranda! In fact, The CW launched a modern-day version of “Dynasty” in October 2017 to satisfy our appetite for the drama.

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