Texans are fond of the saying, “Everything’s bigger in Texas,” and now they have a specific example to point to instead of relying on a novelty oversized Stetson or a steak that’s basically a whole cow. TNT has made its Texas-based drama Dallas bigger with a Season 3 renewal, removing it from the list of many bubble shows whose fates are still undetermined. The third season will consist of 15 episodes, just like the recently concluded second season, and air sometime in early 2014.
A “continuation” of your mother’s favorite family drama from the ’80s, the modern Dallas follows a new generation of Ewings dealing with the same old backstabbing, adultery, and crime. Stars Josh Henderson, Jesse Metcalfe, Jordana Brewster, and Julie Gonzalo join original series vets Patrick Duffy, Linda Gray, and the late Larry Hagman, who passed away halfway through Season 2.
After setting records for TNT in its first season, averaging 3.8 million viewers when time-shifted viewing was factored in. That’s lower than most of TNT’s other original dramas, if you’re wondering. TNT has not announced verdicts for Southland or new series Monday Mornings, but final decisions should come soon.
Spoiler alert! TNT’s Dallas closed out its second season with one major revelation and reversal after another. Christopher Ewing (Jesse Metcalfe) tracked down the plastic surgeon who treated his mother, Pam (Victoria Principal), after her horrific 1987 car accident and was told that she never wanted to see him again. Cue the waterworks! But when Christopher later discovered that the doctor and a woman named Karina were closing out his mother’s Swiss bank account, he got a full confession. Pam, we learned, died of pancreatic cancer back in 1989. Prior to her diagnosis, she had fled from her family because 60 percent of her body had been burned in the accident and she deemed herself too hideous to be seen. After undergoing plastic surgery, she intended to get back to Dallas, but got sick before she could make it home. Her brother, Cliff Barnes (Ken Kercheval), kept her death a secret.
Meanwhile, Cliff appeared to be J.R.’s killer and the family plotted to plant evidence to send him to jail. Only after Cliff was imprisoned did Bobby (Patrick Duffy) confess to John Ross (Josh Henderson) and Christopher what really happened: After learning that he only had days to live, a cancer-stricken J.R. (Larry Hagman) plotted his own demise. He had his henchman, Bum, steal Cliff’s gun; Bum then shot J.R. with the intention of framing Cliff for murder and ending the decades-old Barnes/Ewing feud once and for all. As Bum told John Ross, “J.R.’s last act was an act of love for his family and for you.”
Here, executive producer Cynthia Cidre talks about the controversial decisions she made this season, and what she’s hoping to explore if TNT gives her a third year.
TV Guide Magazine: When did you make the decision to kill Pam?
Cynthia Cidre: We were probably going to let [the mystery] continue for years on end. Then there were too many questions around it and a little too much drama for us after Victoria Principal’s statement. (On March 1, Principal released a statement saying, “I cannot be held responsible for any choices made by producers once I left Dallas, but I do take responsibility for my decision not to risk tarnishing Bobby and Pam’s love story with a desperate reappearance.) And so we decided it was best to put it to rest so that there would be no more questions.
TV Guide Magazine: What did you think of Principal’s statement?
Cidre: People have to do what they have to do for themselves, but for those people who read it, I regret it kind of ruined our story for them. But it’s all good. We’re happy to have put that to rest and Christopher gets his shares of Barnes Global.
TV Guide Magazine: Just so we are clear, Pam is now unequivocally dead?
Cidre: Unequivocally dead.
TV Guide Magazine: And if Victoria Principal changed her mind and wanted to come back, it’s now too late?
Cidre: Dead. Okay?
TV Guide Magazine: Did you ever reach out to Principal about appearing on your show as her statement suggests?
Cidre: Never. From the beginning, I needed the two boys [John Ross and Christopher] to come back because they existed in the previous show and were now the perfect age. They obviously had to have girlfriends or wives, so that’s already four people. I knew Larry Hagman had to come back as J.R., and then I went online and looked at Patrick Duffy, who looked awesome. I went online and looked at Linda Gray (Sue Ellen); she looked awesome. Now that’s seven people. Victoria Principal had left the show way earlier and there was a really good chance Pam was dead, so I said, ‘Why can’t Bobby just have a new wife?’ So no one from casting ever reached out to her.
TV Guide Magazine: Did it ever cross your mind to try to reintroduce Pam?
Cidre: It crossed my mind once because it had become such a question. It was a fleeting thought but never enough to actually make a phone call and find out if she was interested. I knew I had to fish or cut bait. And I decided it was best for the show long term all around to cut bait and not keep teasing the audience about it. Even before Larry passed away we already had a plan that Christopher would try to find what he assumed was his third [share of Barnes Global]. Internally, we all decided we had enough characters and liked the way the story was going. It is almost impossible to keep up with our 12 main characters. So it was never a real reality.
TV Guide Magazine: Why did you choose for Pam’s death to be from pancreatic cancer?
Cidre: That’s the one cancer that’s fast. What I thought was clever about the storyline was that it killed three birds with one stone. [Besides killing off the character], Pam was not cruel to her son for 24 years, so Christopher can feel that he was not abandoned. She was trying to come back to him and loved him. It would have been very hard to redeem a character who decided the Barnes/Ewing feud was so terrible that she couldn’t even see her son. That was unacceptable in my opinion. We wanted Christopher to stop feeling bad about what had happened. Then we could spin it to make Cliff even worse. He had kept that a secret from his nephew for his own evil purposes. That was the way to go.
TV Guide Magazine: Any significance to the date of death you chose for Pam’s death certificate: July 14, 1989?
Cidre: I was asked by props to come up with something so someone suggested Bastille Day, and I said, ‘Sounds good.’
TV Guide Magazine: Why not cast the original actor who played Dr. David Gordon in 1988?
Cidre: We looked and couldn’t find him. Our casting director thought he found him, but it turned out it was a different actor with the same name.
TV Guide Magazine: Did you ever consider Pam having had another child prior to her death? Maybe even Bobby’s child?
Cidre: We remembered that Pam, right before she died, found out she could get pregnant, so we did think about that. But we have explored every possible relative and illegitimate child who could come back. We had to wrap up what we had rather than keep creating new stuff.
TV Guide Magazine: Did J.R. know about Pam’s death and Cliff’s cover up?
Cidre: I’m going to say no.
TV Guide Magazine: How did Katherine Wentworth [Pam and Cliff’s half sister] die, and is she really dead?
Cidre: I don’t know if she’s really dead. There’s no proof of that. There’s always the chance that Cliff was also faking her death. That she’s living in the Cayman Islands supported by Cliff just so he could control her third of the shares. Anything’s possible. The only thing definitive about Katherine is that she gave her beautiful emerald earrings to Cliff, and Pamela Ewing (Julie Gonzalo) now wears them.
TV Guide Magazine: Some feel Cliff Barnes, who was sympathetic on the original series, was the victim of character assassination over the past two seasons. He had his daughter marry Christopher as a way of infiltrating the Ewing family. He had a hand in killing his daughter’s babies. And he kept news of sister Pam’s death a secret. Why make a former underdog so vile?
Cidre: I had a theory that in the years that had passed, Cliff had not gotten over the feud and it had gotten worse. He had become slightly Howard Hughes-ish; that he’d crossed into madness. There was a certain goofiness to him before. Once Larry passed, we needed a villain and Harris Ryland wasn’t involved in a blood feud. Ken Kercheval, by the way, has never been happier with his material. He’s been fabulous.
TV Guide Magazine: How do we justify Bobby setting up an innocent man for J.R.’s death?
Cidre: Bobby did feel bad about that and gave Cliff an out for a moment in the jail. Bobby had to take his brother’s shoes, which was very hard for him and was done with some regret. He protected his family and did what his brother asked him to do and now gets to put his white hat back on.
TV Guide Magazine: One bit of confusion. There was a line explaining that Carlos del Sol bought the gun used to kill J.R. But we know the gun was stolen from Cliff’s locker.
Cidre: We sadly had to cut a couple Carlos scenes in the last episode that made this more easily understood. Carlos was J.R.’s partner in all this who helped him perpetrate this fraud. That line was one of the lies to tell John Ross and Christopher.
TV Guide Magazine: What was up with the drug stilettos?
Cidre: Oh, the cocaine shoes. (Laughs) We found out that there are all sorts of ways to smuggle drugs. One is high-impact cocaine in the shape of high-end women’s shoes. When they arrive at the location, there is a chemical reaction that reduces them back to cocaine.
TV Guide Magazine: Was that new portrait of J.R. painted by the same artist who created the portrait of Jock and Ellie that hangs in Southfork?
Cidre: Yes. It was painted by our construction designer, Richard Berg.
TV Guide Magazine: Is it true that the heirs of the late Jim Davis, who played Jock, won’t allow you to use the classic Jock portrait seen on original series?
Cidre: I believe that’s true, yes, but I have no idea why.
TV Guide Magazine: Who is this mysterious Joaquin character Elena went to visit? A drug lord? And where was that scene set?
Cidre: I’m very, very excited about this. This is somebody from her past, who was perhaps a street kid. I don’t think he will be a drug lord. I’m very excited to cast this part. The scene took place in Mexico but we found the compound down some country road about 20 minutes from Southfork.
TV Guide Magazine: At Joaquin’s compound, Elena announces herself and says, ‘My brother and I grew up with him in Mexico.” Hasn’t it been established that Elena and Drew grew up on Southfork?
Cidre: They lived in Mexico until they came to Southfork when Drew was 9 and Elena was 7.
TV Guide Magazine: With the Barnes/Ewing feud now over, you seem to be planting the seeds for a Ramos/Ewing feud. But the Ewings were always so good to Elena and her mother. It was only J.R. who double-crossed Elena’s father and he’s dead. How can we accept Elena turning evil and taking down all the Ewings?
Cidre: I’m not sure that’s where we’re going with this. We’ve just reenergized her character. Jordana Brewster (Elena) is so much fun when she plays anger. And I’m not so sure the Barnes/Ewing feud is over. We’ll see. Howard Hughes’ hair and nails are sure to be growing down in Mexico.
TV Guide Magazine: What is in Ryland’s briefcase that Emma stole for John Ross?
Cidre: We have discussed that ad nauseum and have a lot of ideas. There is a lot of fun stuff in there.
TV Guide Magazine: Are Cliff, Ryland and Drew all gone from the show?
Cidre: Oh gosh, no.
TV Guide Magazine: What are you being told about a third season?
Cidre: Nothing except, ‘Hang in there; we love you.’
TV Guide Magazine: Why is the decision taking so damn long?
Cidre: There are some TNT negotiations. I don’t think it’s personal. They couldn’t be nicer to us.
TV Guide Magazine: What are you hoping to explore in a third season?
Cidre: Obviously the Elena/Joaquin relationship. John Ross and Pamela’s marriage. John Ross/Emma. Emma/Judith. Judith/Ryland. Christopher without Elena.
TV Guide Magazine: Any new characters you’re conceptualizing?
Cidre: Ann has to have relatives we haven’t met yet. She may have a brother.
TV Guide Magazine: Lastly, with Pam definitely dead and Katherine likely dead, are there any remaining veteran characters still alive that you’d like to bring back? Like Jenna (Priscilla Presley) and Donna (Susan Howard) perhaps?
Cidre: I think we tried to get them for J.R.’s funeral but they weren’t available. We’d love to see them and the fans love them, but no specific plans. I’m sure they’ll be a reason for more of them to come back in the new year.
Lost‘s Bernard (the lesser-seen half of the Rose and Bernard coupling) will appear in next week’s two-hour Dallas season finale in a key role that should resolve the mystery of what happened to the original Pam Ewing.
Sam Anderson will assume the role of Pam’s plastic surgeon, Dr. David Gordon.
The character was last seen in 1988 when Pam (then played by Margaret
Michaels after Victoria Principal’s departure) informed brother Cliff that she never wanted to see her family again and had fallen in love with her doctor. After Cliff left, Pam turned to Dr. Gordon and revealed the real reason she gave Cliff the brush off: she was dying and didn’t want to burden Bobby and Christopher with another painful goodbye.
Dallas producers told me they made an attempt to locate the actor who originally played Dr. Gordon but were unable to find him. (That guy needs a new manager!)
This isn’t Anderson’s first time on Dallas; he appeared as Inspector Frank Howard in a pair of episodes on the original show back in 1985.
The season finale of Dallas airs Monday, April 15 at 9/8c on TNT.