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.