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Produced by Aaron Spelling for the ABC television network, Dynasty was introduced to American television as a three-hour movie, and lasted nine seasons in the form of a weekly one-hour drama serial, from 1981-89. Perfect for the decade, which, despite the conservatism and family values of the Reagan years, was characterized by increasing mass consumption, materialism, and the "me generation," Dynasty celebrated glamour, wealth, and capitalism. Inspired by the monumentally popular CBS program Dallas, Dynasty, along with Dallas and Falcon Crest (also on CBS) helped to define a new genre—the prime-time soap opera—while reaching unprecedented heights of melodramatic, over-the-top, escapist absurdity. Like their daytime counterparts such as General Hospital, the prime-time soaps presented serialized narratives, with each episode ending on a "cliffhanger," or storyline left unresolved at the highest point of tension, to be taken up in the next installment. The technique ensured a captive audience, and Dynasty came to be one of the most popular shows of the decade, dominating television screens not only in the United States, but also in more than 70 other countries.

The show centered on the lives of the dynastic Carrington family, headed by the patriarch Blake Carrington (John Forsythe), a Denver oil tycoon. To the traditional story formula of the daytime soaps was added a potent brew of adultery, murder, and deceit, as well as complicated plotlines centered in corporate greed, rivalries, takeovers, and mergers consonant with the patina of outrageous wealth that was evident everywhere. Women were integral to Dynasty, no more so than the character of Alexis, who became a byword for female power and high-octane glamour. Ruthless, vengeful and cunning, she was played by Joan Collins and the role made her a major star and a household name in America and many other countries.

Much of Dynasty's action involved the rivalry between Alexis, as Blake's ex-wife, and Krystle (Linda Evans), his current spouse, as they battled for dominance, both figuratively and literally, in numerous "cat fights." One of the most interesting aspects of their characters lay in presenting them as glamorous and sexy, albeit that they were over 40—a rare departure for American television which, like the movies, has tended to regard such attributes as belonging to the younger generation (of whom Dynasty had its fair share of both sexes). Audiences found the character of Alexis so deliciously conniving that she became the center of the weekly spectacle.

Because of their highly stylized representations of domesticity and personal problems, often characterized by excess, soap operas have been much denigrated by the high-minded. However, Dynasty was enjoyed by huge numbers of educated and intellectual viewers and, as many scholars have pointed out, it is the soap opera that has brought to American television those inflammatory issues so often ignored by more seriously intentioned programs. Towards the end of its run, it featured the first significant African American character in a prime-time soap, Dominique Deveraux, played by Diahann Carroll. Though the program did not directly confront issues of racism, Deveraux's presence raised the subject of interracial relationships, while in Steven Carrington (played by Al Corley and later, Jack Coleman), it introduced one of popular television's first regular homosexual characters.

—Frances Gateward

Further Reading:

Dynasty: The Authorized Biography of the Carringtons. Garden City, New York, Doubleday, 1984.

Geraghty, Christine. Women and Soap Opera: A Study of Prime Time Soaps. Cambridge, England, Polity, 1991.

Gripsrud, Jostein. The Dynasty Years: Hollywood Television and Critical Media Studies. London and New York, Routledge, 1995.

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dy·nas·ty / ˈdīnəstē/ • n. (pl. -ties) a line of hereditary rulers of a country: the Tang dynasty. ∎  a succession of people from the same family who play a prominent role in business, politics, or another field: the Ford dynasty. DERIVATIVES: dy·nas·tic / dīˈnastik/ adj. dy·nas·ti·cal·ly / dīˈnastik(ə)lē/ adv.

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dynasty XV. — F. dynastie or late L. dynastīa — Gr. dunasteíā power, domination, f. dunastḗs (L. dynastēs, whence dynast XVII), f. dúnasthai be able or powerful.