Monday's episode of Dallas marks the show's final farewell to J.R. Ewing, and the reboot's first episode without the late Larry Hagman. But behind the scenes, the man behind TV's most famous eyebrows was still a very strong presence. "The property department set his chair out every day and wardrobe would put his hat on it and he was still No. 1 on our call sheet," executive producer Michael M. Robin tells TVGuide.com. "So he was still kind of there with us every day."
Airing Monday at 9/8c on TNT, "J.R.'s Masterpiece" spotlights the emotional funeral of J.R. Ewing after he was shot by an unknown assailant in the final moments of last week's episode. The murder of one of the small screen's most notorious villains comes less than four months after Hagman passed away from complications of acute myeloid leukemia — an illness he was diagnosed with less than five months earlier. "Everybody was still in this place of grief and sadness and [wanting to] celebrate his life. Everybody was still very connected — and still is — to Larry," Robin says. "It was hard for everybody but what it gave root to was a real, honest performance in every one of those scenes because everybody was in that kind of place. That's how they felt about the person, Larry, while they were talking about how they interacted with that character, J.R."
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In addition to the absence of Hagman and his on-screen alter ego, another longtime staple of both the CBS original and the TNT reboot will not be featured in Monday's episode — the show's main title sequence, which will be replaced by a special version of the famous theme song in tribute to the character and the actor. "We were watching the morgue scene and [it] was very powerful. That was the first time we had seen it and then it goes from the morgue to this light theme that Dallas has had for 30 years, and Mike was like, 'No, that is so wrong,'" executive producer Cynthia Cidre says.
"We immediately reached out to our composer, and said, 'OK, you cannot have a big, happy, joyful main title right after this really profound moment so can you go at the main title in a more minor way? Can you make it sad?" Robin says. "Two hours later he sent us an email with the new track and ... we were like, 'That's it.'"
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Other parts of the episode, in comparison, were more difficult to complete, such as an emotional scene in which a distraught Sue Ellen (Linda Gray) takes her first drink after more than 30 years of sobriety. "She didn't want to do that scene. I think we had to reschedule it once and then we were there and we were talking about rescheduling it a second time. And I was like 'No, we're going to do it now,'" Robin says. "Her character has such fear of that and the actor had such fear of going back into that space and there is just this honest beautiful performance. I shot two takes and what you see is all one take."
J.R.'s death will have big repercussions for every character of the show. "There are a lot of things that are set in motion in this episode. It feels like we're coming to an end of something and then there are a lot of things that get launched or re-launched," Robin says. "As big a moment as it is for Sue Ellen to take a drink ... there's going to be more to come with that."
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However, in keeping true to both the spirit of Hagman's J.R. and the show altogether, the episode will feature its fair share of lighter moments as well. "The tone, obviously, is of the passing of one of television's favorite characters, but it's Dallas. Mike and I have been living with the show for a long time and all of the pieces of the themes and tone of the show are in our heads all the time," Cidre says. "We didn't want the audience to be sad the whole time. We want them to have fun too."
Part of that fun also includes a tribute or sequel to one of Dallas' — and arguably pop culture's — greatest cliffhangers: "Who shot J.R.?" "It seemed to me that having J.R. pass away of natural causes really cheapens the audience of some delicious reveal, so once that was eliminated, then it became: How did he die? Who did it? Is it a car explosion? Is it a plane crash? Is it a drowning? Was he eaten by a shark?" Cidre says. "And then you come full circle to the original 'Who shot J.R.?' and you try to do it one better. Hopefully the audience will feel that way when it's all revealed in the last episode of the season.
Dallas airs Mondays at 9/8c on TNT. Will you be tuning in for J.R.'s final goodbye?