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'Dallas': Southfork rises again

You can’t keep a good Ewing (or a bad one) down. Twenty-one years after the original ”Dallas” signed off, TV’s most deliciously dysfunctional clan is back for more dastardly deeds and family drama. Before TNT swings the gates of Southfork Ranch open once again, take a look at how the ”Dallas” phenomenon began

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Betrayal. Lust. Greed. These were a few of the words that embodied the essence of Dallas, the ultimate American nighttime soap that single-handedly revived the television serial while captivating fans of the battling Ewing clan for 14 seasons. Now the folks at TNT have made the bold decision to continue the series, picking up the action 20 years later, and it promises one hell of a cliff-hanger: Will today’s audiences return to Southfork to watch the new Dallas — which follows the next generation of Ewings as they grapple for power and passion, anchored by the beloved old guard of Larry Hagman, Patrick Duffy, and Linda Gray — when it debuts on June 13 at 9 p.m.?

From the Texas set of the new Southfork to Larry Hagman’s sun-drenched Santa Monica penthouse apartment, EW conducted dozens of interviews with the cast, crew, writers, and executives who were a part of the original Dallas magic and those involved in its daring second act today. At the core of those memories, just as his J.R. always was and will ever be the beating black heart of the show itself, is Hagman. ”It’s hard to think of myself as an icon,” says the actor, 80, with that same unabashed, and wholly endearing, glint in his eye. ”But I’ll accept it.” Pause. ”That’s me being humble, darling.” Welcome back, you old dog.

In 1977 the TV landscape was dominated by easily syndicated fare like Laverne & Shirley and Charlie’s Angels. CBS’ small development team, led by Kim LeMasters, was intrigued by the idea of reviving the prime-time serial, a form largely abandoned once Peyton Place went off the air in 1969. The network had already tried and failed with the office-centered Executive Suite. So when LeMasters invited writer David Jacobs and Lorimar executive Michael Filerman in for a meeting, he requested a family-oriented pitch with the main characters assembled under one roof.

David Jacobs The first idea I came up with was Knots Landing. They listened to the pitch and they said, ”Gee, this is good, but we were hoping to start with something a little glitzier, more of a saga.”

Michael Filerman They had just signed a deal with Linda Evans to develop a project with her. Kim said, ”Something like a modern-day girl from the other side of the tracks marries into a wealthy Texas oil and cattle family and has to fight for her position.”

Jacobs Within three days I came up with this Romeo and Juliet in the oil industry in Texas. I started with the character of Pamela, and she comes into this family and disrupts it. She marries Bobby Ewing, their fathers hate each other, her brother hates the Ewings, and his brother runs the Ewing empire. Everybody was everybody’s enemy. I sent the pages over to Mike and I put on the cover ”Untitled Linda Evans Project.”

Filerman I tore off the front page. I didn’t want to call it ”Untitled.” So I called it Dallas and sent it in.

Kim LeMasters CBS before Dallas was Barnaby Jones, Cannon, Hawaii Five-0 — procedural dramas, cop shows — nothing with the panache Mike and David brought.

Linda Evans dropped out of the project, so Lorimar and CBS had to cast the role of Pam, as well as the entire Ewing family.

Patrick Duffy I’d been precast as Bobby and we were auditioning three actresses to play the part of Pam. Two came in in their flannels and boots and gave very good auditions. Then the door opened and Victoria Principal walked in in the tightest pair of jeans I have ever seen in my life, a see-through blouse, and a great bra on underneath. In my head I went, ”Hell-ooooooo, Pamela.”

Jacobs The first person we offered the J.R. role to was [veteran TV actor] Robert Foxworth. But he said, ”How are we going to be sympathetic with J.R. if he’s that mean?” And I said, ”We’re not. He likes being mean.” So he passed. The next person suggested was Larry Hagman, and I remember thinking, ”He’s the Major. He’s too soft.”

Filerman We said, ”All right, let’s have a meeting.” Larry came in wearing that ten-gallon hat of his and cowboy boots, and he swaggered into the room and just took everybody. He was J.R.

Jacobs Barbara Bel Geddes was set early. When they cast her [as J.R.’s mother, Miss Ellie], somebody said, ”You know she’s only nine years older than Larry?” And the response was ”Only for a minute.” Things in television are only stupid for a minute.

Bel Geddes and rugged Western vet Jim Davis were the Ewing clan’s matriarch and patriarch. Hagman was their scheming son who ran the oil empire and craved the affection his daddy gave J.R.’s kid brother Bobby (Patrick Duffy). Linda Gray took on the role of J.R.’s wife, Sue Ellen, and Victoria Principal — who declined to be interviewed for this piece — was Bobby’s bride, Pamela, a girl whose family had a bitter history with the Ewings. Charlene Tilton played the wayward Ewing granddaughter, the petulant Lucy. Among the cast, Hagman, Duffy, and Gray formed a familial allegiance that would endure over the next 35 years.

Duffy From the first table read Larry became my best friend. A week after we met, everyone was off to Texas. When I arrived, Larry said, ”Come on down and have a drink!” I went to his hotel room and the tub was filled with five cases of champagne in ice. He would have a couple glasses first thing every morning until he felt what he called ”the click.” He had convinced himself that he needed that constant buzz to be Larry Hagman.

Larry Hagman You generally had to be on all the time. So you had to have what I call fake energy. After a while you don’t know when you’re faking it or it’s real. [In 1995 Hagman quit cold turkey before undergoing a lifesaving liver transplant.]

Duffy He never missed a word or slurred or staggered. Nobody ever worried about him. His family was solid as a rock.

Linda Gray I went to a dinner party at Larry’s house in Malibu. I was sitting next to Larry and turned away for a second. When I turned back he had a full Indian headdress on. I’d turn around again and he was in a whole lederhosen outfit. All night long it went on like this.

Camille Marchetta (story editor, 1978–80) Larry is a deeply sane person pretending to be mad. It was a piece of cake to be close with Larry and Patrick and Linda, and not with Victoria. There was always a distance, a bit of reserve.

Duffy I was probably closer to Victoria than anybody, which is understandable because of the parts we played. She has said that she sequestered herself out of the inner circle of the cast because it was easier for her when she played Pamela to feel like the ostracized Barnes girl. Whereas Larry, Linda, and I were inseparable.

The show debuted on April 2, 1978, as a five-part miniseries, with the universally beloved executive producer Leonard Katzman at the helm. Buoyed by the steady ratings, CBS ordered a full second season, moving the show from Sunday to Saturday to its eventual home on Friday night. After the pilot, the team behind Dallas realized that the writers should shift their focus from Bobby and Pam’s Romeo and Juliet love story to the wily machinations of Hagman’s J.R.

LeMasters It was exactly the right moment for the American public. We were coming out of the recession of the late ’70s. We were entering the ’80s when greed was good.

Duffy Originally Bobby was supposed to die at the end of the first five episodes. The new series was going to take off with Pamela living at Southfork. In a meeting with CBS, Leonard said, ”She now has 200 million dollars. Why does she live in a bedroom at Southfork?” And somebody at CBS said, ”Maybe Bobby doesn’t die?”

Loraine Despres (writer, 1979–80) I remember Leonard saying, ”What we want to do is get J.R. in bed with as many women as possible who are not his wife.” Linda was the surprise. She was chosen for her looks and ended up being able to do everything. Soon they started doing whole shows around Sue Ellen.

Marchetta We got a fan letter that was addressed to Miss Ellie. It said, ”We’re writing to let you know that J.R. is lying about Sue Ellen. She is not drinking!” This is how seriously people took it.

Ken Kercheval (Cliff Barnes, Pam’s half brother and J.R.’s archrival) If I had a nickel for every time someone asked me, ”When you going to get J.R.?” My God, I slept with his wife for a year and a half! What else do you need? So finally when fans would ask, I’d look them straight in the eye and say, ”This Friday.”

On March 21, 1980, at the end of the third season, Dallas was the No. 6 show in the ratings. Then J.R. was shot by an unknown assailant, to the shock of 160 million fans in 57 countries, in a cliff-hanger finale that launched the show to No. 1 the next season.

Despres Originally the last episode of the season was supposed to be Sue Ellen crashing her car. But then the network asked for 22 episodes.

Marchetta We had an idea that J.R. would have a heart attack. [Lorimar exec producer] Philip Capice didn’t like that. So I said, ”Oh, well, then let’s just shoot the bastard.” Leonard filmed scenes with nearly every cast member who had any grievance shooting J.R. so nobody would know for certain what had happened.

Despres J.R. is shot on Friday. I come into the office on Monday and Time magazine is calling, Newsweek is calling. I mean, we thought it had been a cool idea, but nobody expected it to become a phenomenon.

Gray The ”Who Shot J.R.?” episode aired on Friday. On Monday I went on Good Morning America. David Hartman said, ”Do you know? Have your kids guessed?” And I said, ”One of my children did.” I got off the program and thought, ‘What have I done?’ I called home immediately and said, ”Don’t answer the phone! Don’t talk to anybody!”

What was meant to be a six-month hiatus between seasons extended to eight when a Screen Actors Guild strike delayed production on the fourth season. Complicating matters was Larry Hagman, who staged a one-man actor’s strike, demanding a reported $75,000 per episode plus royalties from merchandise. Meanwhile, audience fervor exploded, with bookies from London to Las Vegas taking bets on the shooter’s identity.

Hagman I told ’em, ”Here’s what I want if I come back.” And I wanted a lot. They said, ”That’s impossible!” But I knew I had the J.R. card, and nobody else had that. It was time for us all to cash in.

Duffy The show was back filming without Larry Hagman. When they brought the body out of the office building, his face was wrapped. But he’d been shot in the stomach! They had to hide him in case they had to recast. My joke was that one of the EMTs stepped on his face.

Despres My script was stolen from the production offices. But we’d written different scripts as a preemptive strike.

Duffy [Larry and I] were on the phone all the time. He was in the Caribbean because he wanted to be close to Dallas so that when the deal was made he could be at work the next morning. He’d call and say, ”What’s it like on set?” ”Well, Larry, they’ve been talking about getting Robert Culp to play J.R.” ”Bulls—!”

LeMasters We were caught and he knew it. What are you going to do, replace Larry Hagman? Of course not. At the time people were very heated. But success is a wonderful form of Valium.

On Nov. 21, 1980, a record 300 million people tuned in to learn the shooter’s identity. (Spoiler alert! It was J.R.’s disgruntled sister-in-law/mistress Kristin.) But Dallas continued to be dismissed critically, and Aaron Spelling’s sparkly ABC soap Dynasty would overtake it in the ratings in 1985.

Jacobs People were like, ”Dallas? Henh.” It won ratings, but lost the awards.

Duffy There is not a more overlooked TV actor than Larry Hagman. He’s the single reason that show was on for 13 years and he was never recognized for it. Whenever we wouldn’t get a nomination, Larry would say, ”I’d rather take the money!”

Marchetta (who left to write for Dynasty in 1984) Dallas always had a stable emotional underpinning, no matter what else was going on. On Dynasty I don’t think anybody cared about that. It was about the glitz, the clothes, the sets.

In 1985 at the end of the eighth season, Duffy decided to leave the show, and so his saintly Bobby died saving Pamela from a speeding car driven by his unhinged sister-in-law. After tedious internal battles with Lorimar honcho Philip Capice, who died in 2009, Katzman left as well. Hagman fought hard to bring them both back.

Duffy My contract was up. The show was Dallas starring Larry Hagman and the cast, and deservedly so. I’m on the number-one show, and if I’m going to now work for the next 40 years, I want to try and get out of an ensemble.

Hagman I begged him on bended f—ing knee to stay. Well, we buried Bobby. I cried at his funeral. Leonard was gone that year too. I became catatonic. And suddenly we were taking on the glitz of Dynasty. Stealing from Dynasty, who had stolen from us!

Duffy The industry wasn’t beating their way to my house to offer me the next huge thing. So it was a little scary and quite lonely — until I got a phone call from Larry. ”Patrick! This is Hagman. I want you to come out to Malibu and we’ll get drunk. I want to talk to you.” I turned to my wife and said, ”They’re going to ask me back on the show.”

Hagman We went to a Mexican restaurant and got drunk and I told him, ”You gotta come back to work. It’s lonely out there.” After lunch we got in my Jacuzzi and I made him promise naked. So we’re in the bath listening to my radio and a DJ comes on and says, ”Flash bulletin: Patrick Duffy has just agreed to go back and do Dallas.” It couldn’t have been an hour and a half later when the news got from the f—ing bar to the radio.

In the May 16, 1986, finale of season 9, Dallas stunned the audience with its second-most-notorious cliff-hanger: Pamela woke up to find her dearly departed husband Bobby happily taking a shower, thereby negating not only the audience’s grief for a much-loved character but the plot developments — like Pam’s new husband, Mark Graison — of an entire season. Season 9 had all been a dream.

Jacobs Leonard told me about their idea of Bobby getting out of the shower. He said, ”What do you think of that?” And I said, ”I think that’s the worst idea I ever heard.” ”Well, we’ve got to get Patrick back. You give me a better idea.” I couldn’t come up with one.

Hagman I didn’t give a s— how they did it. Just do it.

LeMasters The show’s real demise started with Bobby’s shower scene. I distinctly remember being in that meeting and the thought was ”You’re kidding, right? The audience is going to hate this.” And they did.

Duffy The secret was kept very well. Victoria says she knew I was coming back — she just didn’t know how. A minute before the show’s over there’s a scene of her waking up and she goes and opens the door and it’s me. But we never filmed that scene together. I was in a shower on a soundstage filming a fake Irish Spring commercial. I understand why a few die-hard fans were pissed off. But they watched the show for another five years.

In those five years, Victoria Principal and Barbara Bel Geddes left, while much of the original cast was amputated due to budget cuts. Finally, in 1991, after 357 episodes, CBS yanked Dallas. Leonard Katzman died in 1996, but over the years Dallas returned for three largely forgettable TV movies and one reunion special. In 2003 screenwriter Robert Harling penned a script for a big-screen adaptation, with John Travolta reportedly circling the J.R. role.

Duffy Once Leonard was gone, Dallas was gone. Larry and I tried to do a TV movie because we had three on our contract. The last one [1998’s War of the Ewings] was pitiful. We didn’t know how to construct it. Leonard was the one.

Gray We just thought, ”All right, they’re doing a [theatrical] movie, this is Hollywood. We had a great run.” Then I got upset because everyplace we went they would say, ”Do you think J. Lo would make a good Sue Ellen? Who do you want to play Sue Ellen?” Finally I said, ”That’s very rude. Me! Who else could play her?”

Warner Horizon first presented the idea of an updated version of the series to TNT in 2010. (TNT and Entertainment Weekly are both owned by Time Warner.) Cynthia Cidre wrote a pilot in which the rivalry between J.R. and Bobby over control of Southfork and the Ewing empire has spilled down 20 years later to a new generation, their respective sons John Ross (Josh Henderson) and Christopher (Jesse Metcalfe). Rounding out the new cast are Jordana Brewster, who plays the Southfork-reared object of the feuding cousins’ affection; Julie Gonzalo as Christopher’s new fiancé and Brenda Strong as Bobby’s wife, Ann. But first the network had to secure Hagman, Duffy, and Gray.

Jesse Metcalfe Can they remake Dallas? That’s the elephant in the room. But I read the script and thought it was great.

Duffy I’d read a couple of scripts that were out there over the years and they were laughable. It went to the absolute cliché of every character. Then Larry, Linda, and I were given Cynthia’s script, and from the minute I read it I was totally on board. She understood that this is a family story. It’s about family and the fact that you can’t escape them.

Gray When I saw a woman’s name on that first script I was like, ”Hallelujah! Now we have a female executive producer.”

Hagman I was the holdout. You got to take your time when you haven’t officially been offered.

Cynthia Cidre Larry was holding out for more money. When I got a call saying he’d finally accepted the deal, we went out to dinner with Linda, Larry, and Patrick to celebrate. Dessert arrives, and Larry decides his bread pudding is not good. So Larry puts some on a fork and flings it at Patrick. But it overshoots and landed on this table where these two women were having dinner. Larry, like nothing happened, gets up and goes over and says, ”Ladies, I’m so sorry.” And he takes one of the fake $10,000 bills with J.R.’s face on it that he carries in his pocket, preautographed in gold pen, and handed them the bills.

Brenda Strong During the first table read for TNT, we were all going around introducing ourselves. It got to Larry, and he said, ”Larry Hagman, icon.”

Jacobs I’m totally excluded from this. At one point Warner Brothers did offer me a very modest consultant fee, but I had to waive all my rights not only to this show but to the original Dallas. If anyone ever had a problem with a script someone could’ve said, ”Call David, see if he has any ideas.” I would’ve been delighted and wanted very little beyond the attention and a small fee to pay for gas. [A spokesperson for Warner Bros. had no comment.]

In October 2011, after TNT shot the pilot, Hagman was diagnosed with what he calls a ”very treatable” form of cancer.

Hagman The first thing I wanted to do was work. Get my mind off that s—. It saved me. If I hadn’t worked I’d start to worry, and I never worry about anything.

Cidre Larry called me right away. He was direct, and I appreciated it because a lot of people would have spinned it. The next day we went to see the studio president and he said, ”Well, let’s just hope for the best and continue.”

Gray I became Nurse Ratched. We went to watch the Cowboys game and a waitress came with a big bowl of ice cream with a cherry on top and said, ”Oh, Mr. Hagman, here’s your ice cream!” I whisked it off the tray. Larry said, ”That’s mine!” This man sitting next to Larry goes, ”What’s wrong with ice cream?” I said, ”It’s Miracle-Gro for cancer!” Larry leaned back and said, ”Linda, I’d like you to meet my oncologist.”

The cast and crew descended on Dallas to shoot the 10-episode first season. Much of the filming for exterior shots was done at the original Southfork, the famous ranch that has remained a popular tourist attraction and event center over the past two decades.

Julie Gonzalo I bought every single season of the show. I’ll have drinking-game Dallas nights. Patrick was like, ”Okay, so you want a game? Every time Sue Ellen drinks, you have to have a shot of whatever she’s drinking.”

Gray Please, God, I pray they don’t have her drinking again. Women have changed in 20 years. Sue Ellen has changed. She’s running for governor.

Josh Henderson I was born in Dallas. I knew the weight the show carried because it was my meemaw’s favorite show. My meemaw passed away when I was 12. And now I’m playing J.R.’s son?!? I have such a feeling that she’s going, ”I knew I loved that show for some reason!”

Michael Wright (president, TNT, TBS, and TCM) We understand that the show’s brand recognition, that the title Dallas, is both a blessing and a curse. So we needed even greater scrutiny on this show. Cynthia Cidre’s scripts, director Michael M. Robin, this cast, those are things that will bring people back for weeks 3 and 4.

Duffy For 20 years Larry, Linda, and I accepted that we would never work together again. So every day is like a little treasure.

Hagman My favorite moment on this new one? Okay, I’m driving in to the Cattle Baron’s Ball. The camera starts on my belt buckle, a close-up of me getting out of a fancy car. I take my walker, which I don’t need but I’m using for some calculated reason, and my son comes around behind me. And I say, ”Watch and learn.” Ha! It was then I knew I was home.

Meet the New Generation

Here’s a look at TNT’s new set of Ewing boys — and their love interests — who will be vying for power at Southfork starting June 13

John Ross J.R.’s son (Josh Henderson) has quite a legacy to live up to — or live down. ”The [season] is the seduction of John Ross,” explains exec producer Cynthia Cidre. ”Does he go to the dark side? Does he go to the light side?”

Christopher Bobby’s adopted son (Jesse Metcalfe) believes the Ewings’ future is in wind energy, not oil. ”Christopher feels like he needs to earn the Ewing name,” says Cidre. Though he’s engaged, he still pines for his childhood love, Elena.

Elena The daughter (Jordana Brewster) of the Ewing family cook, who is at the center of the love triangle between John Ross and Christopher, is also a key player in the family’s oil business. ”She’s smart and ambitious,” says Brewster.

Rebecca Christopher surprises everyone when he returns to Southfork with a sweet-seeming but mysterious fiancé (Julie Gonzalo) on his arm. ”She’s an outsider,” says Gonzalo. ”There’s definitely a lot to find out about her.”