TNT's 'Dallas' will go on without J.R.


Season 2 premiere

8 p.m. Monday


Posted 7:17am on Sunday, Jan. 27, 2013

Patrick Duffy likes to refer to Dallas as "The House that Hagman Built."

Not to marginalize contributions that others made during the initial 14-season run of this memorable, history-making TV series, and not to minimize the importance of those who brought Dallas back to the airwaves last year, but Duffy is right.

Without the great Larry Hagman as J.R. Ewing, one of TV's most charismatic villains ever, a man America loved to hate throughout the 1980s, Dallas would never have become such an iconic show.

Without J.R., it certainly wouldn't have enjoyed more than three decades of staying power.

"He has always been the straw that stirs the drink on this show," Duffy says. Indeed, Dallas (1978-91) without J.R. would have been like Star Trek without space aliens, ER without patients, CSI without dead bodies and forensics.

The second season of the new Dallas, a version that gives equal time to a younger generation of power-hungry Ewings, premieres Monday on TNT.

And sure enough, just like old times, Hagman steals every scene he appears in.

Contemporary J.R. is as unrepentantly evil as ever. He pops into scenes almost supernaturally to advise his devious son, John Ross, and to cut his adversaries to the quick with witheringly savage one-liners.

J.R. is still a joy to watch, because Hagman is clearly having a good time being bad.

Alas, it's not going to last.

At the time of Hagman's death on Nov. 23 at age 81, he had filmed just five episodes of the second season. His death forced executive producer/showrunner Cynthia Cidre to make a number of changes, some small, some large, to the rest of the 15-episode season.

That includes weaving an outtake J.R. scene into a rewritten Episode 6 and, more significantly, staging a funeral for J.R. in Episode 8, which is packed with familiar-face cameos. That J.R./Hagman tribute episode, which offers lots of tears and laughter, is scheduled to air March 11.

That said, the bigger, seasonlong story -- in which John Ross (Josh Henderson) and cousin Christopher (Jesse Metcalfe) wrestle for control of Ewing Enterprises, while Christopher's ex, Rebecca (Julie Gonzalo), shows her true colors and makes the power battle extra-messy -- is mostly intact.

Now the question is: Can Dallas, which averaged 4.5 million viewers each week during Season 1 (6.4 million, if you count "time-shifted" viewers who use DVRs), survive and thrive without J.R.?

That was clearly the plan when the new show was introduced. The first season was a changing of the guards, if you will, a subtle shifting of the drama from one generation to the next.

Bobby (Duffy's good-guy Ewing character) and Sue Ellen (J.R.'s sassy ex-wife, played by Linda Gray) are still around, mind you, and they've got meaty storylines. But John Ross, Christopher, Rebecca and Elena (Jordana Brewster) are doing more of the heavy lifting -- and that's exactly as it was meant to be.

John Ross and Rebecca, baddies to the bone, are especially fun this season when they form an uneasy but sexually charged alliance.

Dallas isn't the first TV show that has had to deal with the death of a key cast member. Some shows handled the necessary changes with grace and continued to thrive. Others didn't fare so well.

It will be interesting to see how Dallas adjusts, not only this season, but beyond.

When the original Dallas team got back together to make reunion movies in the 1990s and when this new version of Dallas went into production a couple of years ago, Hagman always re-upped because he loved the character and, even more, he loved his co-stars.

"You don't think for one damn minute that I'm going to sit on the sidelines and let everybody else have all the fun, do you?" Hagman said during Season 1. "I want to play, too."

And as shooting of Season 2 continued, Hagman has been there in spirit, his name still appearing on every call sheet, his trailer still parked on the studio lot.

But the show can coast on sentiment and good will for only so long.

Soon it will be time to see whether The House That Hagman Built can stand without him.

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