Thomas J. Watson, TVFirstLook
The death of Dallas scoundrel JR Ewing – precipitated by the death last November of actor Larry Hagman – formed the overriding theme of Sunday’s tribute to the revived drama, part of this year’s PaleyFest in Beverly Hills. Billed as a celebration of the series, the event quickly became an unofficial “love in” honoring Hagman.
Sharing the stage with moderator Will Keck, editor of TV Guide Magazine, were cast members Patrick Duffy and Linda Gray, newcomers Josh Henderson, Jesse Metcalfe, Brenda Strong, Jordana Brewster, Julie Gonzalo and the cable series’ executive producers Cynthia Cidre and Michael Robin.
The afternoon started with a screening of JR’s Masterpiece, an episode which airs tonight on TNT (9pm). In it, the world learns that JR is dead.
Last week’s episode, explained Cidre and Robin, was something of a challenge. It presented Hagman in scenes that were cobbled together from footage and audio tracks originally created for earlier segments. It ended with a scene that will not be repeated tonight, with JR speaking on the phone to his son (and fellow schemer) John Ross Ewing. At the last moment, John Ross hears two shots being fired at his father. Then, total silence. Tonight’s episode begins with family members flying to Mexico to identify and claim the body.
So, who shot JR?
The question, of course, harkens back to the original CBS network version of Dallas, the granddaddy of these glossy primetime soap operas, when, in a 1980 season-end cliffhanger, Ewing was shot by an unseen assailant. (The gunman turned out to be Kristin Shepard played by actress Mary Crosby). JR, of course, survived and the series lasted another eleven seasons.
This year’s murder will set in motion a story arc that will last another seven episodes. The murderer will be revealed by the end of the season promises Cidre. “We are not going to leave everyone in limbo.”
As for Hagman, “Larry permeates every moment of this series,” said longtime cast member, Gray, who has played the actor’s onscreen wife/ex-wife, Sue Ellen, since the beginning, back in 1978. “He was a friend for 35 years, and remains our friend.”
Gray admitted that even now, nearly four months after Hagman’s death, she still looks for the “JR and Sue Ellen scenes” when she is handed a new script. “Those were always the most fun to play.”
One of the comedic highlights of Sunday’s gathering was an impromptu script-reading by Gray and Henderson, suggested by moderator Keck, in which the actors recreated a scene from a 1988 episode of the CBS series, in which Sue Ellen and her son John Ross (then age 6) move away from Southfork to get away from you-know-who.
Duffy, who reminisced about some of the practical jokes he and Hagman once played on each other, thinks the story arc for the next seven shows is “brilliant script writing, possibly the pinnacle of Dallas writing over the years. The writers have handled this death with great dignity, but also in a way that is dramatic and compelling.”
Upcoming episodes will continue to mix the old and the new, with guest-appearances by such former network-regulars as Charlene Tilton, Ted Shackelford and Joan Van Ark, among others.
Sunday’s special event was part of the 30th Annual PaleyFest, presented by the Paley Center for Media. Tonight’s event, to be held again at the Saban Theatre in Beverly Hills, celebrates the sitcom New Girl and Wednesday’s event honors The Big Bang Theory.