Old Shows Revived — J.R., Ponch, and the Duke boys ride again as networks turn back the clock to the '80s symbols of a decade

November 15, 1996 at 05:00 AM EST

Multibillion-dollar mergers are in the headlines, Vogue says extravagance has returned, and video merchants are hawking tapes of Ronald Reagan’s best speeches. Yes, the ’80s are back!

Nowhere is that more evident than on TV. Whether it’s network execs paying big money for Greed Decade sitcom stars (Cosby, Danson, Fox), or the plethora of TV movies based on ’80s dramas, everything not that old is new again. Why? ”We’re heading toward the year 2000. People are afraid,” says Richard Lewis, who’s remaking Fame. ”Maybe that’s why some of these titles are coming back, like, ‘It’s going to be fine just like it was when you were growing up.’ ” Here’s a peek at some ready-made retro ratings grabbers currently in the works:

When viewers last saw J.R. in May 1991, he was holding a pistol to his temple. Fortunately for CBS, he didn’t die. Larry Hagman, Patrick Duffy, and Linda Gray have all made it back to the Texas ranch. Although, says Duffy, ”we’ve taken into consideration all the changes in the country since then.” Indeed, the movie features J.R.’s Casanova son, John Ross, being chided about his free-love lifestyle by Bobby’s with-it kid, Christopher. Not to mention the changes in Hagman, who, like the formerly besotted J.R., is now sober. ”You won’t catch me drinking in the show, that’s for sure,” Hagman joked last July — having already undergone a liver transplant. ”I tell Bobby, ‘The doctors told me to let loose of the booze,’ and we kind of get around that.”

In Hollywood, any marketable concept can live forever. Just ask MGM, which side-stepped the risk involved in launching an entirely new drama — about a group of aspiring musicians, comedians, and actors in L.A. — by linking it to a known franchise. ”It’s smart business to take titles that are already latent in the public’s imagination and revamp them,” says executive producer Lewis. ”Fame is a highly exploitable title around the world.”

TV’s troubled cul-de-sac returns thanks to CBS entertainment president Les Moonves, who approached executive producer Michael Filerman with the idea of doing a reunion miniseries of the long-running Dallas spin-off. Joan Van Ark, who plays housewife-turned-author Valene Ewing, knows Moonves had a good idea. ”I hear it everywhere I go, how much the fans miss it,” she says. ”Audiences like to visit ’80s shows because it’s like going to a party where you know all the guests.” Michele Lee, Kevin Dobson, William Devane, Ted Shackelford, Donna Mills, and Michelle Phillips will all be on hand for this party.

The South will rise again. The proof? Bo and Luke Duke are returning to Hazzard County. ”It’s been an idea for years,” says John ”Bo” Schneider. ”It just hasn’t been supported by any current success.” Not until The Nashville Network started airing reruns last February, and the ratings shot up like the General Lee over a ditch. The plot? ”Jesse’s going to lose the farm, we race the car to save it — yadda, yadda,” says Tom ”Luke” Wopat. What about cousin Daisy [Catherine Bach]? ”She’s in grad school studying ecology,” says exec producer Gy Waldron. ”I don’t know if she’ll wear daisy dukes [short shorts]. Intellectually, she’s a woman of the ’90s, but she’s still attractive.”

Nearly 20 years after Frank Poncherello and Jon Baker parked their Kawasakis for the first time, show creator Rick Rosner is shopping around a reunion film to mark the anniversary. Former heartthrob Erik Estrada, for one, is ready to ride: ”I hope I’m a sergeant and Larry’s the commander,” he says. ”We’d work with two young guys, and one of them would be like Ponch, and he’d bust my chops.” Okay, but only if he looks as foxy in tan stretch pants.

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