PaleyFest 2013 brought TNT’s reboot of Dallas to a theatre full of adoring fans.
Will Keck, a Dallas fanatic and TV Guide senior editor and columnist, opened with his ode to Dallas which included bringing out his J.R. Ewing musical statue. In keeping with the campiness of the show, in moments before the cast came out, the camera would cut to the statue whenever there was a mention of star Larry Hagman, who died on November 23, 2012. It was hilarious to have a foot-high 80s style representation of Hagman filling the Saban Theatre’s giant screen. To rousing applause and standing ovations for Dallas originals Patrick Duffy and Linda Gray, new cast members Brenda Strong, Jesse Metcalfe, John Henderson, Jordana Brewster, and Julie Gonzalo took the stage alongside show executive producers Cynthia Cidre and Michael Robin.
The impact of the loss of Larry Hagman. Because of his recent passing, Dallas had to retool the rest of the season to account for Hagman’s absence. Hagman’s death was a deep blow for his cast mates. They shared their thoughts on how they’ve dealt with the loss and what they’ll remember about Hagman. Gray choked up, “He remains our dear friend.” She recounted a story that while Hagman was in a coma in the hospital, his daughter, Kristina, sang Irving Berlin’s 1925 song, “I’ll Be Loving You Always” to him. Kristina told Gray that moments before he died, Hagman sang along with her. Gray said that a couple days after Hagman’s death, she was driving from the set and that song, which she hadn’t heard in 40 or 50 years, came on the radio. She heard it again a couple days after that. “So if you ever hear that song,” Gray said, “know that Larry is singing it to you.”
For Henderson, Hagman’s death also meant that he would have to fill in significant story gaps. Henderson’s character, J.R.’s son John Ross Ewing, is on the phone with his father and hears the fatal shots. The day that scene was filmed, Henderson recounted that the cast and crew had gathered together to tell stories about Hagman. After, Henderson had to act out the difficult phone call. To keep the emotional gravity, they brought in bits of Hagman’s dialogue to give Henderson the illusion of a conversation. Yet during this scene, they kept have noisy disruptions, such as a broom dropping, that never normally occur. Henderson explained, “I knew that Larry was playing a joke on me, like he always does to me.”
Patrick Duffy endearingly described what it was like to know Hagman, “He would take us all on these random little excursions to the inside of his brain. Which could be a scary journey.” Duffy described Hagman as “an observer of the world in a very uncomplicated way.”
Who shot J.R.? The question that captured a 1980 audience has reemerged. So far, Duffy is the only cast member who knows the answer. Duffy got the script that described Bobby receiving a letter from J.R., and he recalled that it said something like, “He looks sad. He looks shocked. He looks ok.” Duffy told the creators he would need a little more information to be able to play the scene in a way that would make sense later. Now, he knows everything. The creators do not want to drag out the mystery. They assured everyone that the killer will be revealed by the end of episode 15. “It’s the most brilliant piece of script writing that I’ve ever read,” Duffy said. “It is the pinnacle of Dallas writing and plot.”
Taking a dip in the infamous Dallas pool. Metcalfe and Brewster recently heated things up in the infamous Dallas pool, but it wasn’t as romantic as one might thing. Regarding working with Brewster, Metcalfe admitted, “I probably asked for a few more takes than I should have.” Despite the sexy surroundings, the scene was definitely awkward for Metcalfe. Underneath his swimsuit, he wore a flesh colored bikini and found it more than a little embarrassing to strip down to that in front of the cast and crew. Reminiscing about his experiences in the pool, Duffy described, “Most of the time we were in that pool, it was a fight and the whole cast was in the pool.”
What did the future hold for J.R. and Sue Ellen? The creators revealed that if the character J.R. had not died, there was talk about having him remarry Sue Ellen. This idea caused Gray to tear up. She said of the characters’ relationship, “Underneath it all, there was a great, deep love.”
J.R. bourbon coming to a store near you. Maybe. Viewers have undoubtedly noticed that J.R. not only drank from monogram glasses, but also had his own brand of J.R. Ewing bourbon. A large alcoholic beverage company approached the show about putting out a line of J.R. Ewing bourbon. Will it happen? Evidently, Warner Bros. and the company are in discussions, so you may be able to drink like a Ewing in the future.
Sue Ellen falls off the wagon. In the aftermath of J.R.’s death, Sue Ellen ends 30 years of sobriety and hits the bottle – hard. Though Gray was apprehensive, she ultimately agreed with the writers that, “It was very authentic to the character.” She thought that if there was a time in life that an alcoholic might fall down, the loss of the love of one’s life would be one. The writers were sensitive to the situation and acknowledged that, “Linda was definitely hesitant to have her character drink again.” With all of the emotional gravitas of the scene, Gray embraced the challenge and the scene of Sue Ellen taking her first drink was done in two takes.
Viewers shouldn’t expect that the loss of the beloved Hagman will slow down the series going forward. The goal is definitely to keep the action moving and keep the drama high in traditional Dallas fashion.
(Photo Credit: Kevin Parry for Paley Center for Media)