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No The Killing-style cliffhangers here: Dallas viewers will find out who shot J.R. Ewing before the season is over.
“You will know by the end of the season, by the end of episode 15,” executive producer Michael Robin told PaleyFest attendees Sunday afternoon. “[We decided] that’s just not fair to keep it from everybody.”
Added exec producer Cynthia Cidre: “That would be like putting a great meal in front of you and instead of letting you eat it, taking it away.”
Only a few people know the question to “Who shot J.R.?” Along with Cidre and Robin, that small group includes star Patrick Duffy, who plays J.R.’s (Larry Hagman) brother Bobby. He said he told producers he needed to be in on the mystery so he knew how to play certain scenes coming up, including in Monday night’s episode, which centers on J.R.’s funeral.
Of the upcoming revelation, “it’s probably the most brilliant piece of scriptwriting that I’ve read, whether it’s in this show or any other piece of television I’ve ever seen in the way that it resolves the problem with such dignity and respect and drama,” he said. “I think every fan who has ever watched the show will think it’s the pinnacle of Dallas writing and plot.”
During the panel, the cast also shared their favorite memories of Hagman, who died in November, 13 months after being diagnosed with cancer, while in the middle of shooting season two of TNT’s primetime soap.
Linda Gray, who plays J.R.’s ex-wife Sue Ellen, said she still keeps looking for J.R. to appear in her scripts each time she gets a new one. She also told a story about how Hagman’s daughter, Christina, was singing him the song “I’ll Be Loving You … Always” (written by Irving Berlin in 1925 and recorded by Frank Sinatra in 1942) just before Hagman died, and he suddenly began singing it with her. A couple days later, Gray heard the song on the radio, decades after having last heard it.
“It took my breath away,” she said. “I thought, ‘Larry, is that you?’ So if you ever hear that song, you know that Larry is singing it to you.”
Quipped Duffy: “Just so you know, he only sang dirty lyrics to me.”
Josh Henderson, who plays J.R.’s son John Ross, also shared that while shooting the scene in which J.R. was shot — a phone conversation between the two that Henderson actually filmed after Hagman’s death — several things kept going wrong, like props falling or outside noise ruining the takes.
“I knew it was Larry playing a joke like he did every single day,” he said.
Duffy also reflected on Hagman’s ability to completely taken in the moment and always being aware of everything going on around him.
“He was such an observer of the world in a very uncomplicated that I think everybody thought he was more profound that he was,” Duffy said in response to a question about whether Hagman was deep and spiritual. “He was constantly aware of everything all the time. There was no agenda, there was no duplicity. He was not trying to work a room. He’s just being Larry, and he’s interested in everything that comes within his realm of being.”
Cidre also explained that Hagman’s three appearances in his final episode were actually culled from footage shot for previous episodes from the first two seasons, and his final scene was filmed place at Southfork ranch, but the background was digitally altered to look like a hotel room. After Hagman’s death, Cidre asked the postproduction crew to find any and all scenes they could possibly use with the actor.
“Anything we could repurpose, reframe or flip the image,” she said, noting that an earlier season two episode showed J.R. having a conversation in a limo. They were able to use that one following his death because the topic of conversation wasn’t very specific. “If only we had filmed Larry in the limo saying more generic things, we could use him for years,” Cidre joked.
She added that, before Hagman died, the producers had considered having Sue Ellen and J.R. remarry, possibly before the end of the season.
Meanwhile, the producers and cast also revealed several spoilers coming up for the rest of season two and screened Monday’s funeral episode for PaleyFest attendees. Among the revelations [Warning: spoilers ahead!]:
— Several familiar faces will return to Dallas. Many castmembers from the original series pop up at J.R.’s funeral, while others appear in several upcoming episodes. Among them: Charlene Tilton, who plays Lucy Ewing; Steve Kanaly, who plays J.R.’s half-brother Ray; and Audrey Landers, who plays Afton Cooper, the mother of Pamela Febecca Barnes (Julie Gonzalo). “It was nice to meet my mom,” Gonzalo quipped.
–This season also will feature a Knots Landing reunion of sorts. Ted Shackelford continues his role of the recently returned Gary, J.R. and Bobby’s brother, and Joan Van Ark appears as his wife, Valene. (Tilton, who played their daughter Lucy, also was on Knots Landing, a spinoff of Dallas.)
–Along with returning Dallas favorites, J.R.’s funeral is attended by a who’s who of Dallas elite. Among the cameos are Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban, Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones and Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings.
–J.R. wasn’t in Abu Dhabi when he was shot. Unbeknownst to the Ewings, he was actually in Mexico, working on several schemes of interest to the family, including looking for Christopher’s mother Pam (originally played by Victoria Principal, who has yet to appear on the TNT reboot) and trying to get revenge on Harris Ryland (Mitch Pileggi), Ann Ewing’s (Brenda Strong) ex-husband.
–J.R.’s funeral isn’t without incident. As one would expect, the oil baron continues to attract drama even after his death. Not only does Cliff (Ken Kercheval) disrupt the proceedings, but a fistfight also breaks out involving the younger Ewings.
–Sue Ellen’s past demons arise after J.R.’s death. Longtime viewers will remember her struggles with alcoholism, and it seems she isn’t completely over that addiction. “I’ve known people [with addiction],” Gray said. “And in the moment that passed, it seemed like an appropriate time [for her struggles to resurface]. The writers kept it appropriate and authentic to the character.”
–The contents of J.R.’s letter to Sue Ellen are revealed. Sue Ellen received a letter from J.R. before he died that she’s been hesitant to open. Not only does she open it, but she also reads it at his funeral and shares that he wants another chance with her: “When I get back to Dallas, will you have dinner with me?”
–Sparks fly between John Ross and Ann’s long-lost daughter Emma (Emma Bell). The two strike up a more-than-just-friends relationship.
–Becoming a mother with Christopher (Jesse Metcalfe) will affect Pamela. “Now that there are kids involved, it’s bringing out her lighter side,” Gonzalo says. “She’s not full of revenge.”
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