UPDATE at 10 a.m., June 14, 2012: So “Dallas” was unveiled, Larry Hagman’s eyebrows even crazier looking than ever. The old-timers made it seem easy, the newbies still trying to find their way. Can Josh Henderson’s John Ross hold a candle to his daddy? We’ll find out. Please tell us below what you thought!
UPDATE at 12:34 p.m., June 14: “Dallas” ratings are in: 6.9 million viewers. That’s really good though I expected more. It skewed a bit old with 1.9 million in the 18-49 demo with a majority of viewers 50 and up.
Southfork. J.R. Oil.
That was the gusher of a formula for “Dallas,” the seminal prime-time soap of the 1980s on CBS.
Atlanta-based TNT is bringing the Ewing family back to TV Wednesday night, June 13, for 10 episodes, blending key original characters with a new generation.
“It’s just like coming home,” says 81-year-old Larry Hagman. Having played the goofy but lovable astronaut in “I Dream of Jeannie” in the late ’60s, “Dallas” turned Hagman into J.R. Ewing, one of the most indelible villains in TV history, with his signature Stetson, scene-chewing insults and nefarious double-crosses.
Indeed, “Dallas” (1978-1991) returns as if the cameras were simply turned off for more than 20 years, save for a couple of reunion movies in the 1990s.
The show captures much of the backstabbing, greed and power plays of the original program — just sped up, 2012 style.
“In the old days,” Hagman says, “it was pretty staid. They would linger on shots, pull in, pull back. Those kinds of things. Now they just cut from one subject to another. It’s daunting for me to keep up with everything!”
The new version makes frequent references to the show’s original legacy, including Jock Ewing and Miss Ellie, J.R. and Bobby’s parents.
And the famous “Who Shot J.R.” episode is not forgotten. When Bobby’s current wife Ann Ewing (Brenda Strong) hears a noise in a room, she enters, rifle drawn.
J.R. is there. He looks at her, bemused. “Bullets,” he drawls, “don’t seem to have much effect on me.”
On the surface, TNT appears to be playing it safe by bringing back a known commodity, a brand name deeply ingrained in TV lore. The network even chose to ape the opening credits of the original show, with the same iconic theme song and updated shots of the city of Dallas.
But like risking a dry hole in what was once an oil-rich land, TNT is actually taking a big gamble. Remakes, reboots and recalibrations of old TV series mostly fail.
Tim Brooks, a TV historian and author of “The Complete Directory to Prime Time Network TV Shows,” can identify only two truly successful returns of TV shows during 60 years of television: NBC’s “Dragnet” in 1967 and CBS’s “Hawaii Five-O” in 2010.
The odds of a revamped “Dallas” working are “a long shot, to say the least,” Brooks says. “Even if they get fans into the room, it’s difficult to live up to the expectations.”
But TNT isn’t scared. “Go big, or go home,” says Tricia Melton, the network’s senior vice president for entertainment marketing.
Producers have been pitching “Dallas” revivals for years, Hagman says. This script finally worked. After conveying its confidence in the series, TNT released its first trailer last July, nearly a year in advance.
Since then, TNT has been plastering cities with billboards, including one where the cast is cheekily wearing towels in a shower, referencing Bobby’s infamous return in 1986 after a year off that became a “dream season.” Actors are criss-crossing the country to talk up the show: the younger cast members to MTV, the older ones to “The Tonight Show With Jay Leno.” Ads are saturating cable channels and entertainment magazines. On social media, J.R. has been updating an extensive 34-year Facebook timeline that has built up nearly 700,000 real-life fans.
Turner even had its sister station TCM get in the act by airing three old films featuring Hagman this past Monday night.
TNT also hopes to grab some fans of “Desperate Housewives,” which just ended its eight-year run. It’s coincidental that three of the new characters are played by actors who had been on that popular ABC drama.
Jesse Metcalfe, who plays Bobby’s adopted son, was the young gardener that hooked up with Eva Longoria’s sultry Gabrielle season one. Josh Henderson, who plays J.R.’s son John Ross, was Edie’s brooding nephew from season three . And Strong played the narrator for the show and as Mary Alice, served as the catalyst for the show after committing suicide in the first episode.
9 p.m. Wednesdays, TNT.
Catching up with the Ewings
J.R. starts this updated series deeply depressed, broke and semi-comatose in an old-age home. “Funked out,” is how Larry Hagman describes his character.
J.R.’s son John Ross (Josh Henderson) is now a grown-up, trying to make his own mark in the oil business. For better or worse, he was never schooled by J.R. Instead, his mom Sue Ellen (Linda Gray) kept him in boarding school in Europe as a child.
“I’m not going to fail like you did,” John Ross growls at his dad at one point. J.R.’s response? A vintage slap in the face.
J.R.’s perpetual nemesis and younger brother Bobby Ewing (Patrick Duffy) remains the good son, running Southfork Ranch with dignity. But when J.R. smells an opportunity to get the ranch back, his mental funk quickly dissipates.
This, of course, frustrates Bobby, who yelps at one point: “I’m sick of this family devouring itself over money!”
“The frustration for Bobby,” Duffy says, “is how can he respect J.R. as a family member yet have complete lack of respect for him as a person? They do love each other but they’ll try to outdo each other until their dying breath.”
Bobby’s adopted son Christopher (Jesse Metcalfe) is an insecure businessman developing an alternative energy company. (”He’s very ethical like his dad,” Metcalfe says.) But like Bobby and J.R., John Ross and Christopher have a long-simmering rivalry, fueled by a common romantic interest.
Gray’s long-suffering Sue Ellen is now fully estranged from former husband J.R. but gaining political power, weighing a bid for governor of Texas. “She tackled her alcoholism and demons and is now finding herself again,” Gray says. “She has more money than J.R.!”
How well do you recall ‘Dallas’?
1. Who actually shot J.R.?
A. His brother Bobby Ewing B. His banker Vaughn Leland C. His mistress Kristin Shepard D. his wife Sue Ellen
2. Larry Hagman refused to work after the “Who shot J.R.?” episode but the producers upped his salary to what was then an unprecedented amount. How much did he get paid after he got his raise?
A. $10,000 per episode B. $50,000 per episode C. $100,000 per episode D. $250,000 per episode.
3. How many Americans viewed the “Who Shot J.R.” episode in October, 1980, according to Nielsen ratings?
A. 62 million B. 83 million C. 105 million E. 118 million
4. How did Bobby Ewing die at the end of the 1984-85 season when actor Patrick Duffy expressed a desire to leave the show?
A. Strangled B. Run over by a car C. Shot D. Thrown down an elevator shaft
5. Hagman convinced Duffy to return for the 1986-87 season so how did the writers deal with Bobby Ewing?
A. He was never dead. He had been hiding out in Morocco. B. He died but came back as a ghost. C. He was in a coma but was revived by J.R. D. He was never dead. The entire 1985-86 season was deemed a dream sequence and Bobby shows up again… in the shower.
6. Besides Hagman’s J.R., which other character appeared in all 14 seasons of the original run?
A. Cliff Barnes B. Sue Ellen C. Ray Krebbs D. Pamela Barnes
7. By 1988, a “Dallas” spinoff actually beat “Dallas” in the ratings. What was the name of that show?
A. Knots Landing B. Dynasty C. Falcon Crest D. The Colbys
8. Barbara Bel Geddes played Miss Ellie Ewing, the matriarch of the Ewing family for most of the series. Who took over her character for one season in 1985-86?
A. Donna Reed B. Eva Marie Saint C. Barbara Billingsley D. Debbie Reynolds
9. What does J.R. stand for?
A. James Robert B. John Ross C. John Richards D. James Ross
10. “Dallas” was big with season-ending cliffhangers. Which of the following was not an actual cliffhanger?
A. Sue Ellen crashes her car after escaping a sanitarium B. Cliff finds a dead body in the pool at Southfork C. The Southfork mansion burns! D. A bomb explodes that may or may not have killed Pamela
ANSWERS 1. C 2. C 3. B 4. B 5. D 6. A 7. A 8. A 9. B 10. D
By Rodney Ho, Radio & TV Talk