Computers used in the Classic Dallas TV Series

Ewing Oil Computerised in 1982

JRsFirstComputer

Earlier this year I began watching the classic TV series, Dallas, which ran from 1978 to 1991. I don’t recall what made me look, but I discovered all 357 episodes on Apple TV, and committed myself to a new daily routine of watching one over breakfast each day.

During the first five seasons, the appearance of a computer on the show was very rare. Season five saw a Tandy TRS 80 Model III appear briefly on top of a hospital filing cabinet, but I don’t remember spotting any others. (Maybe this is a great excuse for me to watch them all again sometime?)

As some point in 1982, Ewing Oil was obviously computerised, as computers begin making a regular appearance on the show. JR, Bobby and their secretaries all started using shiny new NEC PC-8001As, as seen in the photograph above, which is a screen grab from Season 6, Episode 9, “Fringe Benefits”, where JR can be seen flicking through a manual and using one finger to randomly press keys just before he receives a visit from his rival Cliff Barnes who has just purchased a refinery that JR himself wanted to buy.

Ewing Oil used Home Computers for Business!

It took me a long time and lots of Google searches to discover what these computers were, because I didn’t have much to go on other than a few seconds of footage. I tried searching for early 80s PC clones, dumb terminals, minicomputer terminals, you name it. Eventually I stumbled across the image I was looking for.

NECPC8001

There was no mistaking the unique combination of dark key surround, separate numeric keypad, the row of five function keys, and those two sets of vents at the back.

The PC-8001 was actually marketed as a home computer, so it’s interesting how someone at Ewing Oil decided to deploy them for business use. I’m not sure whether old Jock Ewing would have approved of that. They had just 16KB of RAM, could display 8 colours, and ran N-BASIC which was a variant of Microsoft Disk-BASIC. Optionally, the CP/M operating system was also available. Back in 1981 this machine cost $1,295, which in today’s money is around $3,857. You could buy a pretty amazing PC for that amount in 2020.

Business Applications

Unless Ewing Oil hired a consultant to develop some bespoke business software in N-BASIC, they were probably using a packaged application available for CP/M, which means they paid extra for the optional CP/M operating system. They could afford it!

There were several off-the-shelf CP/M applications such as WordStar, word-processing software which cost $445 (including the manual) in 1979. Although it was more likely JR was getting to grips with the sister product CalcStar,  spreadsheet software he could use to quickly calculate how much money he was making on a deal. Then again, maybe he was using InfoStar/DataStar to computerise his rolodex so he could call the Cattleman’s Club himself instead of getting Sly to do it every time.

Evolution of IT in Ewing Oil

As the show rolls on through the 80s I’m expecting to see a change in the computers being used. I suspect PC clones will start to make regular appearances. Maybe the Apple IIe will feature too, or the Lisa or the Macintosh. Who knows, maybe JR and Bobby will be super innovative and invest in some NeXT Computer workstations?

My next task is to figure out what computer Cliff Barnes has in the corner of his new office at Barnes Wentworth…

This is all making me feel very nostalgic for the early days of my IT career.

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