Patrick Duffy is everything you would expect him to be: smart, thoughtful, funny and above all, kind. I was honored to interview him recently, and I’m excited to share our conversation with my fellow “Dallas” fans.
It’s been eight months since “Dallas” was canceled. How’s life treating you?
Well, it’s been more than a year since the show ended because we were canceled long after we finished filming the third season. It’s been a year of catching up with your own private life, which you never put totally on hold when you’re working, and spending time in the place that you really love to be. I do miss the day-to-day experience of being with those close friends of mine from the show.
Let’s talk about the cancellation. Why do you think TNT dropped the show?
I think it’s not even a secret as to why it was canceled: the regime change at TNT. We had two very strong advocates in [executives] Steve Koonin and Michael Wright. They both left, and in that vacuum, other people wanted to make their mark. They thought “Dallas” harkened back instead of leaning forward. They wanted to clean house, and we happened to be one of the victims.
It’s still heartbreaking for fans. How about you?
As Linda [Gray] will tell you, this isn’t our first day at the picnic. We’ve both had shows canceled before. It was a bit of a shock because it was more unexpected than in previous cancellations, where you know the ratings are dying and it’s just a matter of time. This one caught most of us by surprise.
The ratings did drop in the third season, though. What do you attribute that to?
I think everyone would assume part of it was Larry [Hagman] dying. I would not even assume that. I would take that as a definite. [TNT] also split the third season, and we were doing very well under the old method of airing a full season at a time. I don’t really know what to think. I feel the quality of the shows — oddly enough — improved in the third year. Larry’s passing made everybody up their game, which is why I was more than a little surprised and disappointed that we weren’t picked up.
I agree that in a lot of ways, the show was only getting better.
I really thought we had the potential to prove to the world that the show is not about one person. Larry said that year after year. The show is “Dallas,” and “Dallas” can be anything if it’s done correctly. He said that when I left the show, he said it when other people left the show, and he would have said it when he left the show. It would have been harder for him to say it. … [Laughs]
Some fans cite the drug cartel storyline as an example of the new “Dallas” straying too far from its origins. What’s your take?
I don’t know if I agree with that. We see a lot of news about the influence of the drug trade in mid- to southern Texas. So I didn’t object to it. I thought it was a viable subject line. I think it might have been overemphasized. It might have been better as a tangential story instead of an absolute focus, and I think we expanded our cast a bit precipitously. I loved every regular cast member we added, but “Dallas” has always been about the Ewing family, and when you expand it too much and too soon, I don’t think the show stayed as “pure” as it might have been. But those are little things.
You inspired a lot of fans during the #SaveDallas campaign. What was it like to see so many people rallying behind the show?
I had a double feeling about it. I was so encouraged that so many viewers saw value in our show. At the same time, it was bittersweet because I was more than 75 percent sure nothing was going to happen at TNT. I knew that they weren’t going to say, “Oops” [and reverse the cancellation]. And I knew just enough of the financial complexities of making “Dallas” that it would be next-to-impossible for a new network or entity to take it over. So I felt it was wonderful [that #SaveDallas] was so wishful and positive and hopeful, and yet the Titanic is going down. You can bail as much as you want — and God love everybody who had a bucket — but it’s still going down.
A lot of fans haven’t given up.
I know. I go on Twitter and see how many people are still hashtagging #SaveDallas. And I don’t want to deter anybody from fulfilling every conceivable idea they might have. I live my life that way. I encourage everybody to do their best. I’ve had both my boys in competitions of various sorts over the years, and as a parent you sometimes think, “Oh my God, they’re going to lose so bad.” But what do you do? You don’t say to your kid, “You know, you’re going to lose son, but. …” So you just say, “You can do it. Come on!”
You weren’t involved in the behind-the-scenes discussions, but as far as you know, was there ever a point where the show came close to finding a new home?
I know that [showrunners] Cynthia [Cidre] and Mike [Robin] were desperately meeting with people — bona fide executive meetings all over the place. And Peter Roth at Warner Bros. was devastated when the show was canceled. He wanted to do everything conceivable to see if there was a place where it could reside. But when I would talk to them and they would report with ever-increasing regularity how this conversation fell through, and how that deal couldn’t happen, I started to just think, “Well, I have a feeling we’re putting this one to bed.”
It sounded as if the CW was a real possibility at one point.
Yeah. I think the reason is because of the CBS and Warner Bros. affiliation and the connection to Les Moonves [the CBS president and chief executive officer who once worked for Lorimar, producer of the original “Dallas.”] There were a lot of historical lines there. If a family member was going to bail you out, maybe that would be the one. But again, I think the financial complexity just doomed us.
So you think “Dallas” is over for good?
I’ve learned to never say never. I died once and came back, but I don’t see the situation resolving itself. You would have to gather together the same group of people who’ve been spending the past year moving forward with their careers. But if it happened and I were available, I’d be the first person in line for wardrobe.
Bobby was the steward of Southfork. Would you be interested in taking a creative role behind the scenes — becoming the steward of “Dallas”?
I don’t know if I’m the type of creative person who can do that. “Dallas” is unique. If I understood it and if Larry understood it, the final reunion movie [1998’s “War of the Ewings”] would not have been the turkey it was. We were in charge of that one and it was terrible. I’ll be the first to admit that. So no, I don’t believe I could pick up the reins and produce a continuation of “Dallas.” Cynthia could, and I think she would do it in a heartbeat if she were available and somebody asked her to pick it up again. But I don’t think I know anybody else that could do it.
Do you have any idea what was in store for Bobby? There were a few scripts written for the fourth season. Everyone is dying to know what was in those storylines.
[Laughs] Nothing ever crossed my desk to read for the fourth season, but Cynthia and I were very close and hopefully will remain so for the rest of our lives. And she was telling me what would happen and a lot of it had to do with Christopher’s death. What does it do to Bobby to lose his adopted son, and then what’s in the history of “Dallas” that would eventually bring him out of that? And there are a lot of characters invented in the first incarnation of “Dallas” that could be brought in to play on the new show in a very appropriate way.
Ooh. Can you give an example?
I know Steve [Kanaly] was going to be brought in for a lot of episodes in Season 4. Cynthia knew that he was a definite positive for the show.
So maybe we would finally have seen Bobby’s other son, Lucas, who was raised by Ray Krebbs?
Well, I think that’s got to be the elephant in the room whenever you talk about Bobby losing one son — who is an adopted son. Family was the most important thing to Bobby. So where is the handoff in his mind of who takes over when Bobby dies? That’s his mission, to find that person. So I can’t imagine that they would leave that stone unturned.
I’m also curious about this half-sister of John Ross’s. Any idea who J.R.’s daughter was going to be?
I don’t know at all what they had in mind in terms of casting. I can’t imagine. It’s not uncommon for Texas oil billionaires to have dual families. H.L. Hunt had two families simultaneously for years. And Larry talked about the idea when he was alive. What if J.R. had an entire second life?
So when you look back on the new “Dallas,” what are the highlights?
For me, personally, I loved the maturation of the character of Bobby. I thought Cynthia hit the right note with his aging process, who he was after we saw him after that length of time. She maintained Bobby’s essence, but she gave him that sort of calm outlook. “I’ve lived long enough now. I’m not quite as fiery as I used to be. I know the drill.” I really liked that. I felt very comfortable in his shoes at that time. And speaking of shoes, when the new show was starting production, I went back and thought, “Well, maybe Bobby’s not so cowboy anymore.” And I told wardrobe, find me a really nice pair of Italian slip-on shoes for Bobby to wear. And I put them on the first day of work and went back to Rachel [Sage Kunin, the show’s costume designer] and said, “Dear God, get me the boots. I cannot be Bobby Ewing in these shoes!”
Really! It didn’t feel right. Linda told me years ago that she can’t be Sue Ellen in flats. She’s got to wear high heels. Sue Ellen wears heels. Bobby has to have boots, and once I came to that realization, then I was okay. [Laughs] But I agreed with everything that Cynthia put him through in the course of those three years. Certain things I objected to, but I know they were right.
Can you give an example of something you objected to?
Well, the thing that I thought was devastating to the character of Bobby was in the reading of [J.R.’s] will when we find out Mama gave half of Southfork to John Ross.
Yeah, what’s up with that?
Yeah, well, that’s exactly what I said when I read it in the script! First, I called Cynthia and said, “What the hell?” [Laughs] I thought, “Nooo.” First of all, how did that stay hidden for 30 years? But it added such a tension in the storyline. It made me as an actor find different things to do. But I never would have entertained that if I had been in charge and somebody would’ve suggested it. I would have said, “No, that can’t be. That wouldn’t happen. Mama wouldn’t do that. I’m sorry.” But it was the right thing to do.
It really helped elevate Josh Henderson’s character to be Bobby’s new adversary.
And he had one of the hardest parts. How do you be the new J.R. Ewing? But Josh’s growth pattern as an actor playing that part for three years was probably the largest bell curve. And he really filled that responsibility. Brenda Strong had the other hardest part. How do you replace Pamela?
She also had to replace Miss Ellie, in a sense.
She had to replace everybody! [Laughs] She had to replace Sheree [J. Wilson], she had to replace Pamela, she had to replace Mama. My favorite horse, my dog. She had a thankless job and she did it. She was the perfect choice and the perfect rendition of who could fill those responsibilities on “Dallas.”
You’ve mentioned Larry. Do you miss him?
No, I don’t. I’ve said that from the day after he died. I don’t think I’ll ever miss him in the sense that — right now, I’m looking at a picture of the two of us. I’m sitting at my desk and there’s a picture of him and me here, holding a big fish between us that we caught in the river that runs through my ranch.
I think we saw that picture on the show.
Probably. We donated a lot of pictures for the show. But I think until the day I die, I will be so satiated with my relationship with Larry. There are no empty spots. There is a sense of longing for the day-to-day connection. That I miss. I miss the phone ringing and he’d go, “Hi-ditty-ditty.” He would always do a little Irish tune before he would say, “Hey.” Those are the moments I miss. But just as I was telling you that, I hear it in my ear. I hear it as clear as if the phone had just rung and he had done it.
I know you remain close to Linda, who’s getting ready to publish her book. Will you write one?
Nope. I admire Linda for writing her book. Larry wrote his. I am too private a person. My private life and my private feelings are exactly that, and if you write a book, it should make you want to be honest. I’ve always had the title of my autobiography, which is “What I Choose to Recall.” I stole the lyrics from Merle Haggard song.
I love that song.
Yeah, and to me it’s the perfect title for an autobiography that’s not totally honest.
That song played during “J.R.’s Masterpiece” during the memorial sequence.
Really? [Singing] “Everything does change, except what you choose to recall.” [Laughs] Had I written it, that would have been the title of my autobiography.
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