By JAMIE STENGLE
J.R. Ewing is gone, but his presence still looms large on “Dallas” — along with the influence of the actor who made the conniving oilman one of television’s most- beloved characters.
The third season of the reboot of the classic series, which premieres tonight on TNT, marks the first full season without Larry Hagman, who died of complications from cancer in November 2012 at age 81. But cast members say the memory and schemes of his character — who was shot to death in the second season to coincide with Hagman’s death — live on.
On the cast’s call sheets, Hagman’s name is even still listed first.
“His character was such a larger-than-life being that we still reference him on the show,” said Patrick Duffy, who reprises his role as J.R.’s brother Bobby Ewing in the new series. Duffy spoke during filming this month at the fictional family’s home base of Southfork Ranch, which is now a tourist attraction, just outside Dallas. He said while it was hard at first to continue without his friend.
“Once we got the first couple of episodes after Larry’s death, handling the demise of J.R., we knew we could do anything and it was a matter of would the audience stay with us. And they did through the end of the season,” Duffy said.
CBS aired the original “Dallas” from 1978 to 1991. As the Ewings schemed and the plot twisted season after season, the series contributed to some of TV’s most memorable moments, including the 1980 cliffhanger that left the whole world asking “Who shot J.R.?”
In addition to Hagman and Duffy, the new TNT series revival brought back Linda Gray to reprise her role of J.R.’s ex-wife, Sue Ellen, and Ken Kercheval as Cliff Barnes, the Ewings’ archenemy.
Adding to the family drama in the new series, filmed entirely in the Dallas area, are Josh Henderson as John Ross, J.R. and Sue Ellen’s son, and Jesse Metcalfe as Christopher, Bobby’s adopted son.
Just before the new series began filming in fall 2011, Hagman announced he had cancer.
But J.R., with his signature cowboy hat and boots, emerged on screen as wily as ever. When Hagman died as filming was underway on the second season, writers scrambled to rewrite scripts.
She said John Ross’ emotions run the gamut: “We see him be wicked. We see him cheat. We see him lie. We see him be unfaithful. We see him cry. We see him be crushed by things that he’s done and feel guilty about them.”
Meanwhile, Metcalfe said his character’s focus on a new love interest, played by AnnaLynne McCord.
Season three opens with Bobby standing in the family cemetery at the ranch, looking at family gravestones, including that of his brother, before riding off on horseback — back into the fray.