On the Set: The Ewings Return to Dallas
Pass the ribs, kick up your heels and get ready to hoof it till the cows come home. As far back as the '70s, the annual Ewing barbecue has been the hottest ticket in Texas, and this year TV Guide Magazine scored an exclusive invite. While the land down at Southfork looks remarkably untouched, time has changed the Ewings since CBS aired the last of Dallas' 357 episodes back in 1991, after 13 sudsy seasons.
Taking center stage on the dance floor with leggy new wife Ann (Desperate Housewives' Brenda Strong) at his side, a gray-haired yet still strapping Bobby Ewing (Patrick Duffy) is addressing his gathered guests. Southfork, declares Miss Ellie's treasured son, "is the only home I've known, which makes it doubly hard to say goodbye. Especially when you think it's going to be forever."
Say what?! Yep. When TNT relaunches Earth's most successful prime-time soap on June 13, we will learn that Bobby, who's fighting a potentially fatal disease, plans to sell off Southfork to prevent brother J.R. (Larry Hagman) and his evil spawn John Ross (Josh Henderson, also from Desperate Housewives) from drilling for oil on the family homestead.
Yet there are some things that never change. While John Ross sidles up to the bar and orders a scotch on the rocks, his long-divorced parents are just a few feet away sharing an uncharacteristically tender smooch on the dance floor. "You know something," J.R. tells Sue Ellen (Linda Gray), now a sober political powerhouse eyeing the governor's mansion. "You and me dancing on this lawn almost feels like old times."
"Except, darlin'," she counters, "in case you hadn't noticed, I'm leading."
"No s--t!" cracks Hagman, breaking character and getting a big laugh from the crew and extras in earshot.
Alas, the dance ended up on the cutting-room floor. "This show has so much plot to squeeze in and that was one of the sad victims," explains executive producer Cynthia Cidre, who, two and a half years ago, was handed the keys to Southfork by Warner Horizons Television.
Cidre's first order of business: reviewing the old seasons all the way through to the series finale, when J.R. was reduced to a shell of his former self — a sad state he's maintained when the story picks up. (Wisely, the events of two '90s reunion TV-movies, which Duffy and Hagman both dub "terrible," are ignored.)
The next item on the agenda: deciding whom to invite back to the corral. "I knew of course J.R. had to return," says Cidre. "And I went online and saw Patrick still looked fantastic." Ditto Gray. "Those are the three people I picked."
Duffy, who followed up his Dallas success with roles on Step by Step and The Bold and the Beautiful, says, "I've wanted to work with Linda and Larry again ever since 1991, but it's impossible without people seeing us as J.R., Sue Ellen and Bobby. So here we are, getting to slip back into our old wardrobe and have fun together again, with me now sitting at the head of the table, where [deceased patriarchs] Jock and Clayton once sat."
But there was nearly one empty seat at the table. During negotiations, Hagman proved to be a stubborn holdout. For a while it seemed the series would have to keep J.R. hidden away in a nursing home. Says Cidre, "We hoped it was just a negotiating tactic on his side and that he would see the light." He did — along with plenty of dollar signs!
While this is a reunion for the Ewings on camera, the vets have remained like a family in the years since the series wrapped. During production, Hagman celebrated his 80th birthday at a party attended by Gray, as well as other show vets Charlene Tilton, Steve Kanaly, Priscilla Presley, Sheree Wilson and Mary Crosby. (Duffy was out of town.)
"It was great to be with Larry and celebrate this man who is a force of nature," says Tilton, who, with Kanaly, will pop up in a few episodes as Lucy Ewing and Ray Krebbs. Ted Shackelford and Joan Van Ark, who played Lucy's parents, Gary and Valene Ewing, and were spun-off onto the prime-time soap Knots Landing, were approached about returning for an episode, but Shackelford passed on what he viewed as a minimal cameo.
But we will get the occasional glimpse of crotchety Cliff Barnes (Ken Kercheval), the current owner of Ewing Oil, who'll be making a play for both Southfork and Sue Ellen. "He's like a sackful of rattlesnakes," Hagman says of his character's longtime nemesis.
"Larry, Kenny and I had a scene the other day, and talk about nostalgia," marvels Gray. "It was like I'd just worked with them six months ago."
Dallas premieres Wednesday, June 13 at 9/8c on TNT.
For more with the stars of Dallas, pick up this week's issue of TV Guide Magazine, on newsstands Thursday, June 7!
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