David Jacobs, Creator of ‘Knots Landing’ and ‘Dallas,’ Dies at 84

The writer and television producer died of complications from a series of infections

David Jacobs (center) onstage at the 7th Annual TV Land Awards held at Gibson Amphitheatre on April 19, 2009 in Universal City, California. (Alberto E. Rodriguez/Getty Images)

David Jacobs, the man who brought more than 700 episodes of both “Dallas” and “Knots Landing” to televisions across the United States, has died at the age of 84.

According to The Hollywood Reporter, which first reported the story, Jacobs died after a years-long fight against Alzheimer’s and a series of infections.

“Dallas” aired for 14 seasons and 357 episodes before it concluded in 1991, and “Knots Landing” was on the air for an equally impressive 14 seasons and 344 episodes before its finale in 1993.

Though it was not produced until after “Dallas” was on the air, “Knots Landing” was the first show that Jacobs pitched to Lorimar Productions. He later told the Daily Beast, “But I really think they were thinking, ‘Oy vey, that’s the last thing we need.’ They said what they really wanted was something glitzy, more of a saga, and that became ‘Dallas.’”

Jacobs continued, “But I always felt more personally connected to ‘Knots Landing.’ Still, when CBS said ‘saga,’ I thought westerns. I loved westerns. Later I said it had to be set in Texas. Sagas always happen in Texas.”

The writer later admitted that he wrote the first episodes of “Dallas” without visiting the state because he didn’t have time. After finally making it to the Lonestar State, he realized he needed to do more.

He continued, “So I’ll just write it very stereotypically — with stereotypes — and then I’ll go and visit and pull it back. And then I went to Dallas and realized I had to take it way further. There is something about Dallas and about the people in Dallas that I can only describe as extravagant, but not ostentatious.”

The show was an immediate success, and Jacobs went from making $12,000 a year to building his own home within two years. ABC introduced “Dynasty” three years after “Dallas” premiered and the shows were neck-in-neck in ratings. He admitted that the show lost a little steam over the years, and said, “When the show started sinking a little, fading, it was just tired. It needed some craziness. Not crazy stories, just some outrageousness in the writing.”

For all of his contributions to one of the biggest shows ever on TV, Jacobs was not involved in the biggest episode in “Dallas” history: the third season finale “A House Divided,” in which J.R. Ewing is shot by an unknown assailant during one of the most famous cliffhangers in history.

In an interview with the Television Academy, Jacobs said that the third season was originally set to end with a two-parter in which J.R.’s father Jock, is falsely accused of murder. But with CBS ordering four additional episodes for season three, executive producer Philip Capice and showrunner Leonard Katzman held a writers meeting that Jacobs wasn’t a part of in which the decision was made to end the season with J.R. getting shot.

“I think it was Camille Marchetta, who was the story editor, who said ‘Why don’t we just shoot the son of a bitch?’” Jacobs recalled “Once that went on, nobody expected what happened. That was freaky.”

Indeed, the question of “Who shot J.R.?” became a global cultural sensation, with millions of fans coming up with different theories considering that J.R.’s status as the show’s reviled villain made everyone in the cast a suspect. Jacobs said he was told right away by Capice and Katzman that they were planning for the culprit to be J.R.’s sister-in-law Kristin Shepard, with whom he had an affair and whom was carrying J.R.’s child. But Jacobs said that he wasn’t sure that they wouldn’t switch it up with a different shooter before the show’s fourth season premiere was aired.

He added, “A friend of mine called me from England saying, ‘You know they’re taking bets over here, so who did it?’” Jacobs said. “I said, ‘You know I could tell you, but they might have changed it. They might have even changed it on me!’”

In a piece for the “New York Times,” Jacobs described J.R. as “unexpectedly appealing” and explained, “His unapologetic commitment to self-interest, his unabashed belief in the corruptibility of others linked him to a generation that would soon be told that greed was OK and read on bumper stickers that Jesus wanted people to get rich.”

Jacobs managed to work on two enormously successful shows at once and served as a creative consultant on “Dallas” as “Knots Landing” began to enjoy its own success. At the same time, he worked with the second husband of his first wife (John Pleshette starred as Richard on “Knots”), which could have been a plot from one of his own soaps.

He explained, “I had a big fight to get him on the show. It was just easier to be decent about things. The best, easiest way to have some things happen is not to pick fights. John is very opinionated, just like Richard. Richard was definitely John.”

One day, the executive at CBS that Jacobs originally pitched “Knots Landing” to pulled it out of a drawer and suggested Jacobs create the show as a “Dallas” spin-off. The new show moved the Ewings’ son Gary and his family to a suburb of Los Angeles, though the soap opera format remained at its core, complete with plenty of drama.

Jacobs explained, “The one thing I learned from both of these shows is that if the conflict is in the structure, you make your job much easier. If the conflict is not in the structure, then you have to create conflict. And it is very artificial.”

Jacobs was born in Baltimore, Maryland, on Aug. 12, 1939. His father, Melvin, worked as a cab driver, insurance salesman, and even in a lamp factory. Intent on pursuing a career that he would love, Jacobs first enrolled at the Maryland Institute College of Art and intended to be a painter.

When that didn’t work out, he turned his attention to writing. He wrote biographies for “The Book of Knowledge” before his first book was published in 1968; he also picked up work at the magazines “Esquire” and “The New York Times Magazine.”

His additional television credits included “Paradise,” “Family,” “Four Corners,” and “Dallas: The Early Years.” He was also nominated for his work as a producer on “Homefront.”

Jacobs is survived by his wife, Diana, who he married in 1977; sons Aaron and Albyn; and his grandchildren Riley and Georgia.