If you tuned into Monday night’s two-hour second-season premiere of the revived (and not bad at all) Dallas, you may have been surprised by one scene—the one where J.R. Ewing shows some seemingly genuine tenderness toward his estranged ex-wife, Sue Ellen. “Darlin’, I’m gonna say this only once, and I’ll deny it the minute I leave this room,” he told her after she lost a bitter election for the governorship of Texas. “But the best decision you ever made was the day you walked away from me.” Not exactly the cackling villain of prime-time soap fame that made Texas native Larry Hagman a global icon, as detailed in our recent Hagman profile. Was a kinder, gentler J.R. in the works before Hagman passed away in November?
Maybe so, says Dallas executive producer Cynthia Cidre. “I love that scene,” Cidre told Texas Monthly in an interview yesterday. “It’s my favorite scene. We obviously shot that before we knew [Larry] was ill. [Though Hagman had been treated for cancer earlier in the year, Cidre believed he was cancer-free by the time the second season was in production.] We were definitely arc-ing his character toward being more mindful of his family.”
Instead, Hagman’s arc will pretty much come to an end after the fifth episode of the season, the last he filmed—though he’ll appear in two more episodes thanks to what Cidre refers to as movie-making “magic,” and the eighth episode will be largely devoted to a J.R. memorial, featuring the return of many actors from the original Dallas. Much of the season that follows will feature a “Who Shot J.R.”-style plotline that, Cidre promises, will be resolved by season’s end.
Though Hagman’s death didn’t come completely out of the blue, Cidre says she never discussed with him what would happen to J.R. in the event that her most famous cast member passed away in mid-storyline. “You know what, it would have been not only inappropriate to do that,” she said, “but he just had such a life force that it would never occur to you. It’s not like you were talking to someone who was moribund. He was just a life force, he was all there, until the last moment. It would never occur to you to have that conversation with him.”
The next episode of Dallas airs on Monday on TNT. If you dug the first season, you might want to tune in; apparently ratings for the season premiere were significantly down from last season’s numbers.
P.S. It was, by the way, good to see Dallasite Liz Mikel, who was so excellent as Flash Williams’s mom, Corinna, on the first few seasons of Friday Night Lights, playing a judge in the season opener.