TNT exec Michael Wright began yesterday’s TCA session for it’s upcoming revival of the beloved ’80s series Dallas by gently taking journos to task over the words we’ve been using to describe it. “Dallas is not a remake,” he said. “It is not a reboot. It is a continuation of the story of the Ewings.”
Those of us who’ve seen the pilot would be hard-pressed to argue. In the first episode alone, original Dallas alum Larry Hagman, Patrick Duffy and Linda Gray (“The Big Three,” all regulars on the new series), plus Charlene Tilton and Steve Kanaly were all present. As were the sweeping vistas of Southfork ranch … and loads and loads of family drama, beginning with brothers Bobby (Duffy) and JR (Hagman) Ewing and trickling on down to their now-grown sons Christopher and John Ross, played respectively by former Desperate Housewives stars — and good friends — Jesse Metcalfe and Josh Henderson.
Asked how he knew that the time was right to return to Southfork, Duffy acknowledged that other attempts to revive Dallas have been pitched since the original series ended its 14 year run in 1991. But, he said, only this particular group of writers, showrunners and actors afforded him the same feeling of family and dedication to quality that he had throughout the original series.
Hagman, sporting a dove grey Stetson and looking remarkably well despite an ongoing cancer battle, was a bit more comically pragmatic. “You have to realize that when Dallas was really hot, we were in a major recession, so people had to stay in on Friday night and watch something. And here we are again!” he said to the laughter of the assembled writers.
Pressed to reveal what enticed him to return to one of TV’s most iconic roles, Hagman crowed, “Workin’ at 80! How many people do you know who are working at 80!?”
Though initial reports had Hagman only signed for a quartet of episodes, both Duffy and Hagman shot down the rumor, saying that they’ll both appear throughout the entire first season. “I shot three scenes yesterday,” Hagman announced. “And quite well, I might add!”
“It was never the intention to use The Big Three as bait [to lure in an audience],” writer/producer Cynthia Cidre added.
Josh Henserson, who plays Hagman’s onscreen son John Ross, laid waste to any fears that age and infirmary might have stripped the might out of JR Ewing. Citing their first shared onscreen scene in which John Ross goes to visit his estranged father at the plush rehab center where he is being treated for depression, Henderson says, “When his eyes opened and he looked at me for the first time, I almost peed my pants.”
Off-screen, all of the actors agree that — with the lead of The Big Three — they are well into the process of bonding into family on-screen and off much the way the actors on the original series did. Before the cast arrived onset for the very first time, Hagman hosted a dinner in his home allowing the actors to meet as people first.
“These are my two closest friends,” says Duffy of Hagman and Gray who were seated beside him on the panel amongst the new cast members (which also included a compelling Jordana Brewster who plays a love interest of both Ewing sons). He said he wanted the younger actors to share in that bond as well.
Jesse Metcalfe, who plays Bobby Ewing’s adopted son Christopher, admits, “I’ve had great experiences, but I never felt that my cast was my family, and it makes for great chemistry and bleeds into the work. And [Ewing, Hagman and Gray] without a doubt have set the tone for what the experience has been like on-set, too. Our characters are defined by who they are. I’ve learned so much already.”
As for additional appearances from Tilton, Kanaly and other cast member from the original extended Dallas family,” Cidre played her cards close. “Other people do show up along the way,” she offered, without naming names. But the writers pressed for one name in particular: Bobby’s former wife, Pam (Victoria Principal), who revealed she had a fatal illness in the show’s later years, after which Principal no longer appeared on the show.
“Pam’s not dead,” Cidre conceded.
“The mythology we are carrying forward [from the later years of the original series] is that after she had her accident with the oil tanker and abandoned Christopher, she had extensive plastic surgery and married her surgeon,” said Dallas creator David Jacobs who is a cowriter on the new series. “That’s where we’re at now.”