The reboot of the classic show was in the midst of shooting its sophomore season when star Larry Hagman died unexpectedly from complications of leukemia, leaving the producers scrambling to both save "Dallas" and pay tribute to Hagman's iconic character.
Hagman made his debut as J.R., the conniving older brother of the Texas oil family, in 1978, and played him through all 14 seasons of the original "Dallas," two made-for-TV movies, occasional appearances on the spin-off series "Knots Landing," and the first 17 episodes of the reboot.
In Monday's episode, airing at 9/8c on TNT, "Dallas" will stage a funeral meant to serve as much as a memorial for Hagman as for the villainous oil man.
"A lot of what was said [in the episode], I think fits both [Hagman and J.R. Ewing]," said executive producer Cynthia Cidre. "It fits the fictional character and Larry, and so the actors who also knew Larry are kind of doing a like a parallel funeral for both actor and character."
The character's final appearance was cobbled together from footage of Hagman already in the can.
"Post-production put together all the lines of dialogue Larry had recorded, and we the writers figured we could reverse-engineer [J.R.'s son] John Ross side of it,” Cidre said. “Our editor was able to come up with something extremely clever.”
In the episode from March 4, shots can be heard off screen while John Ross Ewing (Josh Henderson) is on the phone with his father.
"The episode will definitely be a tearjerker, provide a few laughs and a few familiar faces from the previous incarnation of 'Dallas,'" Cidre said. "It also continues a brand new 'Who shot J.R.?' mystery."
The 1980 "Who Shot J.R.?" campaign drummed up anticipation leading into the fourth season of the original series. The arc, which began with the season finale of the third season, culminated in the episode "Who Done It," then the highest-rated episode in U.S. television history, watched by 93 million people.
Cidre said a similar mystery seemed like the only way to give the character the sendoff he deserved.
"There were two ways to go - either J.R. died of natural causes, which seemed inordinately boring and not appropriate to the show or the character, or he died of unnatural causes, at which time you examine, he fell off a building, a helicopter blew up," Cidre said. "There's endless numbers of these and... you come full circle to the point where you then decide to do homage to what happened originally, and then you try to do it one better. That's how we got back to who shot J.R."
The funeral, which airs Monday night, brings back a slew of characters from the original series, including Lucy (Charlene Tilton) and Gary (Ted Shackleford) Ewing and Ray Krebbs (Steven Kanaly).
“One of the things that makes this a remarkable hour is that the emotion is honest, from everybody involved,” said Cidre's co-executive producer, Michael Robin. “That line was blurred for everybody who knew Larry.”
Larry Hagman died Nov. 23, 2012, at the age of 81.
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