The Old With The New: Generations Clash In New 'Dallas'

Jun 12, 2012
Originally published on June 12, 2012 11:08 am

In 1980, the world was transfixed by the question of "Who shot J.R.?" Of course, we're talking about the archvillain from the nighttime soap opera Dallas. Three hundred fifty million people worldwide tuned in to find out. Now the TNT cable network is rebooting the show and hoping for even a fraction of that passion.

The trials and tribulations of the fabulously rich Ewings and their sumptuous Southfork ranch captivated viewers for 13 years. From the first show in 1978, brothers Bobby and J.R. Ewing were the faces of an epic battle between good and evil.

In the reboot, which begins this week, Larry Hagman's character, J.R., is back, and the ruthless rivalry with his brother (Patrick Duffy) continues. But in this version the Ewings' sons take up their fathers' rivalry. J.R.'s son, John Ross (Josh Henderson), all but twiddles his villain's whiskers after striking oil on the ranch. And — surprise, surprise — John Ross has issues with Bobby's adopted son, Christopher (Jesse Metcalfe).

Cynthia Cidre developed the new show, and she says there are changes in the 2012 version. For one, the female characters are stronger, smarter and more powerful. Linda Gray's character, Sue Ellen, J.R.'s wife in the original series, is not only back but running for governor. And this Dallas has Latino characters speaking Spanish and inhabiting some of the seats of power.

"I would have been aware if everyone was white," Cidre says. "That would have stuck out. That's not what Dallas looks like."

The new version also takes the Ewings into the 21st century with a foray into alternative energy sources. But oil is still the family's lifeblood, and John Ross and Bobby Ewing square off over drilling at the fabled Southfork.

Duffy, who played Bobby originally and is back for the reboot, says his character has matured with age and wants to stop the family's constant strife. "I think ... the fundamental thing you have to acquire as you age is patience," he says. "And that's the one thing, thank goodness, that young people don't have — because you need that exuberance in those early years, and that's what Bobby had in the beginning."

And it's what his son, Christopher, as played by Metcalfe, has now — along with his father's strong moral character. "I think he has a bit of a shorter fuse," Metcalfe says. "He's quick to get angry. He's very passionate. He doesn't have a problem fighting for what he believes in."

Neither does John Ross. "He's trying to stake his claim to the Ewing legacy and he's trying to be the man sitting at the table at Southfork ranch," says Henderson. "So he's got a lot of proving to do. But he knows how to do business one way — and that's the J.R. way, so it adds an interesting twist."

The fact that a remake like this comes with a bit of a built-in audience of previous fans doesn't mean it will succeed. Just ask the people who tried to remake Knight Rider a few years back. That and ramped-up versions of The Bionic Woman and Charlie's Angels all tanked in spectacular fashion. But the creators of the Dallas reboot are hoping that the mix of original characters and the next generation will make this one a gusher.

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Transcript

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

Back in 1980, one of the biggest questions on the mind of this nation was, who shot J.R.? J.R. Ewing that is, the villainous lead in the popular evening TV soap "Dallas." The show was so popular that more than 350 million people worldwide turned on their TVs, to watch the episode that revealed who fired that fateful shot.

NPR's Allison Keyes reports that now, the TNT cable network is rebooting "Dallas," hoping to win even a small fraction of that passionate audience.

(SOUNDBITE OF "DALLAS" THEME SONG)

ALLISON KEYES, BYLINE: The trials and tribulations of the fabulously rich Ewings, and their sumptuous Southfork ranch, captivated viewers for 13 years.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "DALLAS")

PATRICK DUFFY: (As Bobby Ewing) It stops right now, J.R. Pamela's my wife, and you're gonna treat her with respect.

LARRY HAGMAN: (As J.R. Ewing) Now, listen here, little brother.

DUFFY: (As Bobby Ewing) No, I won't listen.

KEYES: From the first show in 1978, brothers Bobby and J.R. Ewing were the faces of an epic battle between good and evil.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW "DALLAS")

DUFFY: (As Bobby Ewing) And you can stop that little brother nonsense too, because that stops from here on in.

HAGMAN: (As J.R. Ewing) Just hold on.

KEYES: In the reboot, which begins this week, Larry Hagman's character, J.R., is back. And the ruthless rivalry with his brother, played by Patrick Duffy, continues.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW "DALLAS")

HAGMAN: (As J.R. Ewing) Bobby was always a fool, stubborn as a mule.

KEYES: But in this version, the Ewings' sons take up their fathers' rivalry. J.R.'s son, John Ross, played by Josh Henderson, all but twiddles his villain's whiskers after striking oil on the ranch.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW "DALLAS")

JOSH HENDERSON: (As John Ross Ewing) I hit a 2-billion barrel reserve. But Bobby won't hear of drilling.

KEYES: And surprise, surprise, John Ross has issues with Bobby's adopted son, Christopher, played by Jesse Metcalfe.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW "DALLAS")

JESSE METCALFE: (As Christopher Ewing) We've been on opposite tracks since we were born, and for what? We're family.

HENDERSON: (As John Ross Ewing) We ain't family, bro. I'm a Ewing.

CYNTHIA CIDRE: For a mad moment, I thought that maybe Bobby's son would be the bad guy, and that J.R.'s son would be the good guy.

KEYES: Cynthia Cidre developed the new show, but...

CIDRE: I pitched that, and people just like, blanched.

KEYES: Cidre says there are changes in the 2012 version. The female characters are stronger, smarter and more powerful. Linda Gray's character, Sue Ellen, is not only back but running for governor. And this "Dallas" has Latino characters speaking Spanish, and inhabiting some of the seats of power.

CIDRE: I would have been aware if everyone was white. OK. That would have just stuck out. Like, that's not what Dallas looks like

KEYES: Plus, this version takes the Ewings into the 21st century, with a foray into alternative energy sources. But oil is still the family's lifeblood as J.R.'s son, John Ross, and Bobby Ewing square off over drilling at the fabled Southfork.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW "DALLAS")

HENDERSON: (As John Ross Ewing) This will make us richer than we ever imagined, Uncle Bobby. It'll change everything.

DUFFY: (As Bobby Ewing) I am sick to death of this family devouring itself over money. I promised Mama there would be no drilling on Southfork.

Bobby is protecting Miss Ellie's legacy.

KEYES: Miss Ellie was J.R. and Bobby's mom, who tried to be a calming influence on her sons in the original show. Patrick Duffy says in the new show, his character tries to stop the family's constant strife. He says both he and Bobby have matured.

DUFFY: I think that's the fundamental thing you have to acquire as you age - which is patience. And it's the one thing - thank goodness - young people don't have, because you need that exuberance in those early years. And that's what Bobby had in the beginning.

KEYES: And that's what his son - Christopher, as played by Jesse Metcalfe - has now, along with his father's strong moral character.

METCALFE: I think he has a bit of - shorter fuse. He's quick to get angry, you know; he's very passionate, you know; he doesn't have a problem, you know, fighting for what he believes in.

KEYES: Neither does John Ross - as played by Josh Henderson, who says his character is a nice guy with parental issues, who will do whatever it takes to measure up.

HENDERSON: He's trying to stake his claim in the Ewing legacy, and really be the man sitting at the head of the table at Southfork Ranch. And so he's got a lot of proving to do. But he knows how to do business one way, and that's the J.R. way. So it definitely adds a great, interesting twist.

KEYES: Just because a remake like this comes with a bit of a built-in audience of previous fans, doesn't mean it will succeed. Just ask the people who tried to remake "Knight Rider" a few years back.

(SOUNDBITE OF "KNIGHT RIDER" THEME SONG)

KEYES: That, and ramped-up versions of "The Bionic Woman" and "Charlie's Angels," tanked in spectacular fashion. But the creators of the "Dallas" reboot are hoping that the mix of original characters and the next generation will make this show a success.

Allison Keyes, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.