There was no good reason to think it would work. People had long tried and failed to exhume the ’80s nighttime soap Dallas, which wrapped 14 seasons of chronicling the messy passions of the Ewing clan back in 1991. Even beloved stars Larry Hagman and Patrick Duffy, Southfork’s feuding brothers J.R. and Bobby, raspberried when they produced and starred in 1998’s downright embarrassing TV movie War of the Ewings. And yet somehow — despite the sneering caution of insiders who claimed TV remakes rarely work and the squawk of purists who didn’t want to see hallowed ground trampled on by cheap imitators — the Ewing family has roared back to life, good as ever.
The new Dallas (Wednesdays, 9 p.m. on TNT) gracefully intertwines the old guard of Hagman, Duffy, and Linda Gray with a fraught (and hot) younger generation played by Josh Henderson, Jesse Metcalfe, Jordana Brewster, and Julie Gonzalo. Buoyed by an aggressive marketing campaign that targeted loyalists as well as newcomers — like the print ads featuring the entire cast in towels in a winking homage to Bobby’s infamous shower scene — the premiere pulled in an impressive 7.8 million viewers. With the help of universally positive (if surprised) reviews, it’s since emerged as basic cable’s No. 1 new drama and has already been picked up for a second season. ”It’s almost dreamlike,” says Duffy of not just Dallas’ triumphant return but also the pleasure of once again working alongside his two best friends, Hagman and Gray. ”And God, if I wake up and find out I’m playing some gnarly grandpa in a sitcom somewhere, I’m going to be so pissed off.”
The magic of the new incarnation rests largely in executive producer Cynthia Cidre’s shrewd decision not to remake Dallas but rather drop back in on the ranch 20 years later. The trick, though, when writing the pilot was picking which former cast members to have in play. ”There was never any question that I wanted to bring back J.R., and it was definitely with Larry,” says Cidre. (Picture for a second the blasphemous image of anyone other than Hagman daring to tip J.R. Ewing’s Stetson.) ”Patrick looked fantastic, so he had to come back and be the new patriarch. And Linda looked fantastic, so she had to come back too as a remade woman.” What may come as a bit of a heartbreaker to romantics still pining for a Bobby and Pam reunion: Cidre never even considered reaching out to Victoria Principal. ”What angle was there left to play?” she asks. ”The last time we saw her she was burned to a crisp. Bobby is now mature and he’s happy with a new woman, where I can play different stories.” (Welcome Brenda Strong, who brings a great rugged sexiness to the role of Bobby’s wife.)