“Dallas” is starting its new season in a way it never has before, in either its initial or current versions … without J.R. Ewing.
The iconic character’s death echoed the passing of his portrayer, Larry Hagman, but both their shadows continued to loom large over the rest of Season 2 of the TNT reboot. The legacy of J.R. remains a big factor as the third season starts Monday, Feb. 24, even as others try to fill his shoes and new characters pose fresh complications for the residents of Southfork Ranch. And their allies. And their enemies.
As Hagman did, Patrick Duffy and Linda Gray — who also starred in the 1978-91 CBS incarnation — remain pivotal to “Dallas” as J.R.’s brother Bobby and ex-wife Sue Ellen. The saga picks up 12 hours after it left off, so Duffy feels it’s appropriate for J.R. still to be invoked from the get-go, with the first scene showing Bobby at the family grave site pondering that he’s “the only one left.”
Starting up again without Hagman was “not that difficult,” maintains Duffy, who was a close friend. “We, in fact, had a half-season without him last time. Those first few episodes were strange, in that his presence was always so felt. It wasn’t a sad thing; it was more like part of the energy was missing because he provided so much of it.
“By the time we got to the end of the season, the entire cast and crew had made that adjustment, I think,” Duffy explains to Zap2it, “so coming back for this year, we were all refreshed. A nice thing was that they took his dressing room and gave it to Linda. There’s a trailer with two dressing rooms, and it was Larry and me for the first year and a half; then they kept the room empty with his name on the door, so it was kind of nice to close off that missing part and now have Linda’s name there. If I can’t have Hagman, I’ll take her.”
With J.R. now gone, son John Ross is following in his father’s footsteps, as depicted by co-star and actual Dallas native Josh Henderson as a similar schemer … but not without some redeeming qualities, the actor says.
“We lost Larry so suddenly, our amazingly talented writers had to rewrite the second half (of Season 2),” Henderson notes, “which put John Ross in a situation of being obsessed with who killed his father. He was making some moves, I think, by marrying Pamela (Julie Gonzalo) and going along with the idea that Cliff Barnes (Pamela’s father, still played by Ken Kercheval from the original series) had shot his father. And Cliff was punished for it, though it was obvious from the last episode that it was a whole master plan.
“This year, it moves into this place where John Ross is trying to take what he learned from J.R. and positioning himself in a really good way at Ewing Global,” explains Henderson. “He’s kind of stepping into the shoes of his father, though he’s telling himself that he’s his own man and doesn’t want to be like his father. He’s really in an interesting situation with that back-and-forth for most of Season 3.”
Now as before, there’s room in “Dallas” for newcomers. Last season included the introductions of Emma Bell as the also-named Emma – who was taken from her mother, Bobby’s present wife, Ann (Brenda Strong), as a baby and is now John Ross’ extramarital fling – and Drew (Kuno Becker), the trouble-prone brother of Elena Ramos (Jordana Brewster), who’s the ex-flame of both John Ross and Christopher (Jesse Metcalfe), Bobby’s adopted son.
The new round brings in Juan Pablo Di Pace (“Camp”) as Nicolas Trevino, a billionaire whose charisma is matched by his cunning, a mix sure to impact the Ewings. Also new to Season 3 is “90210” alum AnnaLynne McCord as Heather, a Southfork ranch hand whose beauty and strong will immediately attract Christopher.
Musing that she knows she’s building “a pattern” of appearing in updates of classic shows, McCord deems it “fortune, more than any kind of actual planning. I have a connection to Mike Robin, one of the ‘Dallas’ showrunners, and he reached out at a very opportune time after I’d decided to take some time for R&R after five years on ‘90210.’ That was the plan, anyway. About two weeks before Mike called, I called my manager and said, ‘Get me a job! Now!’ “
Terming the “Dallas” offer “serendipitous,” McCord says, “It’s nice to play a nice girl for the first time.” She also observes that her roles often are labeled “vixen,” “villain” or “vamp.”
“I’ve got all the ‘v’ words covered!” she says, laughing. “Playing strong women just goes with my nature, and what I love about Heather is that she’s feisty in her own right. Her code is honor, she requires respect, and she doesn’t mind demanding it from you. It’s a lot of fun to play that take-no-prisoners kind of character.”
Duffy also directed nearly 30 episodes of the original “Dallas,” and he’ll fill that job again toward the end of this season. He praises executive producer Cynthia Cidre, who developed the current edition of the series, for staying true to the spirit of the original … particularly through such challenges as the loss of Hagman.
“Her attitude always has been to not try to break the tradition and reinvent it, but just to mature it,” Duffy reflects. “Every single time something comes up and we have a discussion about it, her fallback is, ‘Does it jell with what you did before? Do you feel this is the right thing to do?’
“As an executive producer, it’s almost suicidal to come to an actor and ask, ‘What do you think?’ She’s so confident and talented, though, rarely do we say, ‘No.’ She really knows the voice of the show.”