The series moves forward after the passing of 'Dallas' icon Larry Hagman

By Karen Valby
January 04, 2013 at 05:00 AM EST
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Premieres: January 28, 9 PM, TNT

”I want to be successful till the day I die,” Larry Hagman told EW on the Southfork Ranch set of Dallas in September. And so it was. Two months later Hagman, who elevated every moment of TNT’s new incarnation of the ’80s nighttime soap with equal parts impish and ruthless cool as J.R. Ewing, died on Nov. 23 of complications from acute myeloid leukemia. ”He was only in the hospital a couple of days, and he was working until right before he went in,” says executive producer Cynthia Cidre of her 81-year-old star. ”As it should be for all of us — and often isn’t.”

At the time, Cidre and crew had shot just five episodes of a 15-episode season in which their — our — beloved Hagman was supposed to figure prominently. ”Let’s make sure he’s in every scene and as much as possible,” Cidre told her writing team. So after the terrible surprise of his death, everybody was tasked not just with mourning the loss of a television giant and friend, but also dramatically changing course on the fly.

Hagman died on a Friday. Work was called off on Monday out of respect. On Tuesday, Cidre and fellow executive producer Michael M. Robin gathered together the cast and crew to share breakfast and bring their best Hagman stories. ”Everybody talked,” says Cidre, ”from the Teamsters to craft services to Patrick and Linda. And there was not one sad story. They were all hysterical.” ”You feel silly if you get too emotional and start lauding Larry,” says Patrick Duffy, Hagman’s best friend of 35 years. ”Because that’s just not who he was. It was the perfect slow immersion back into life as it must be lived. And I think everybody then launched back to work almost carrying a banner saying ‘Let’s do this for Larry.”’

Many of Cidre’s plans for her sophomore season are still in place. ”This is the fight for Ewing Energies and the intertwining ups and downs for the four young people,” she says, referring to the shifting romantic entanglements of John Ross (Josh Henderson), Elena (Jordana Brewster), Christopher (Jesse Metcalfe), and Rebecca (Julie Gonzalo). Now that Rebecca has been revealed as Cliff Barnes’ daughter, say goodbye to her mild manner and wardrobe of soft pastels. ”She is a woman with confidence who went to business school and is going to run her father’s company,” says Cidre. Fans can look forward to a big story arc for Sue Ellen, as Linda Gray will likely appear in every episode, at Cidre’s urging. But will it involve her hitting the sauce? ”If that ever happens,” teases Cidre, ”it had better be for a really good reason.” And get ready for more slinky dresses and locked lips. ”I don’t think we had enough sex on the show last year because we had couples, and couples can’t cheat if you want to like them,” Cidre said in September. ”But now John Ross is the stud around town.” (John Ross will make his mark on a bachelorette party in the season premiere’s opening scene.)

But how could Cidre now honor Hagman’s extraordinary presence over the years while explaining the sudden absence of it? After that great breakfast, she flew to Los Angeles to rethink the rest of the season. There was an extra scene shot of Hagman that had been cut from an earlier episode and will now be inserted in episode 6. Over the course of three days she handwrote the seventh episode, which will start exploring J.R.’s absence. ”I never cried when I was writing,” says Cidre. ”But the next day I started to type, and I started crying so hard I couldn’t even see the computer screen.” The eighth episode of the season, slated to air March 11, will pay tribute to Hagman with a funeral episode for J.R. Joining the Ewing clan will be plenty of familiar faces from the original Dallas who will help honor an unforgettable man. ”It will be funny and appropriate to J.R., but it will also be sad because his family loved him,” says Cidre. ”As do the fans.”

In the meantime, everyone carries on — not so much grieving the loss of Hagman as celebrating his very large memory. Says Duffy: ”On set if Linda and I are both sitting in chairs between scenes, I’ll reach over and just hold her hand for a while. As she will for me. We just sit and smile and think, ‘Gosh, that guy was our friend for 35 years. How lucky are we?”’ Everyone has agreed that Hagman will stay No. 1 on the production call sheets for the rest of Dallas‘ run. And his Airstream trailer will remain on set with a sign on the door that says ”#1 is on hold.” As it should be. Says Duffy: ”This is the house that Hagman built.”

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