Dallas Decoder’s Man of the Year: Larry Hagman

Dallas, J.R. Ewing, Larry Hagman, TNT

The man

A few days after Larry Hagman’s November 23 death, his son Preston told a television interviewer that his father’s work on TNT’s new “Dallas” series extended Hagman’s life during his struggle with cancer. I believe it. I also believe the relationship between star and show was mutually beneficial. “Dallas” kept Hagman alive, but he kept “Dallas” alive too.

Two thousand twelve was the year “Dallas” became a hit all over again, and no one was more responsible for its success than Larry Hagman. The actor long ago established J.R. Ewing as one of television’s most fascinating characters, but on TNT’s “Dallas,” Hagman made J.R. even more complex. In old age, J.R. was often downright demonic, but he could also be shockingly vulnerable and at times even sweet. It was the performance of Hagman’s career.

Critics loved it, finally giving Hagman the acclaim he deserved but didn’t receive during the original “Dallas’s” heyday. Viewers embraced J.R. too, including a new generation that discovered him for the first time. More than 8 million people watched TNT’s “Dallas” opener within a week of its June 13 debut. The full 10-hour season averaged 6.1 million weekly viewers. I’m convinced Hagman is what kept people coming back. Even in the episodes where J.R. only had a scene or two, Hagman’s presence loomed large. “Dallas” was still his show.

To be fair, the actor received plenty of support from the new “Dallas’s” creative team, which gave J.R. some of his best-ever material. (“Family Business,” the first season’s penultimate episode, written by Bruce Rasmussen and directed by Michael M. Robin, is one the finest hours of “Dallas” ever made.) Hagman also got a boost from longtime friends and costars Patrick Duffy and Linda Gray, with whom his chemistry remains unrivaled, as well as from Josh Henderson, who held his own against the actor and made John Ross a terrific partner in crime for J.R.

I’m naming Hagman Dallas Decoder’s first man of the year in recognition of his crucial contributions to the “Dallas” franchise in 2012. This won’t my last tribute to the actor, either. Before Hagman’s death, he completed a handful of episodes of the new “Dallas’s” second season, which TNT will begin showing Monday, January 28. Something tells me his final performances as J.R. will be every bit as good as what we saw in 2012.

My goal is to make my man or woman of the year selection an annual tradition. Twelve months from now, I hope to honor someone else who has made a Hagman-sized contribution to “Dallas.” And make no mistake: As much as I love Hagman and J.R., “Dallas” is bigger than both of them. The themes David Jacobs established when he created the Ewings 35 years ago – family, loyalty, ambition – are timeless. If the storytelling is good, the show can go on.

In thinking about “Dallas’s” future, I keep coming back to the classic scene from the fifth-season episode “Head of the Family.” J.R., depressed over Jock’s recent death, tells his youngest brother, “It’ll never be the same, Bob.” Bobby’s response: “Maybe it won’t. [But] if this family quits just because he’s gone, he didn’t leave us very much, did he?”

My guess is these words describe how many of us feel today. We know “Dallas” won’t be the same without J.R., but we also know how much the show meant to the great actor who portrayed him. Larry Hagman kept “Dallas” alive, and now it’s up to all of us – fans and the people who make the show alike – to continue the tradition. In the end, that might be the best tribute we can offer him.

Share your comments about Larry Hagman and J.R. Ewing below and read more opinions from Dallas Decoder.


  1. Bravo! Excellent choice (&, let’s face it, the only logical choice, right?). And I agree with you, in that Dallas can go on without him, and it MUST go on without him. If this had happened during the original series, I would have said to cancel it. And if they’d tried to create this new series, while he was still alive, but without him, I would have said it was impossible, and not watched it. But he was there for the relaunch, as he should have been, and I think he would want it to continue on without him. I think that’s the best way to honor his memory, continue building on the foundation that he laid.

  2. Anonymous says:

    Great again! The parallels you point out are unrivaled. For as long time Barbara Curan’s book about Dallas was the best source for a fan of this series.
    But your work here is uncomparable!

  3. I love your reference to the 5th season episode where they discuss Jock’s death. That’s an excellent reference for how Dallas should be able to endure without Hagman, although they will never really be “without” him, as his legacy will endure.

  4. Chris, that was beautiful! I am making a toast to the man of the year!

  5. the_lost_son says:

    “It’ll never be the same, Bob.” I am stunned how you come up with such great parallels.
    This is the best site about Dallas in the world. Perfect!
    And I appreciate it deeply that you take the time and reply to every comment here.
    Great from tip to toe!!! I’m always looking forward to your work.

    • Wow! Thanks so much, TLS. What a nice thing to say. I appreciate your nice words. I have so much fun doing this site. It’s a labor of love. And it’s my pleasure to respond to comments. Hearing from readers like you is always the highlight of my day. Thank you again!


  1. […] 2012, I chose Larry Hagman for the inaugural honor in recognition of his work during TNT’s first season of “Dallas.” […]

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