Dallas Decoder’s Persons of the Year: The Fans

Dallas Decoder's Persons of the Year - The Fans

Let’s face it: This wasn’t an easy year to be a “Dallas” fan.

Oh, we enjoyed the show plenty. In its third season, the new “Dallas” delivered great moments worthy of the original, including John Ross and Sue Ellen’s instant-classic kitchen-counter confrontation, Pamela’s heartbreaking jailhouse farewell to Cliff and Patrick Duffy’s triumphant return to the “Dallas” director’s chair. Even the much-maligned drug cartel storyline ended on a compelling note: the unbearably tense scene where Luis holds a gun to Emma’s head in a dingy Mexican basement.

But being a “Dallas” fan in 2014 also meant a lot of anxious waiting. Waiting for the ratings report every Tuesday afternoon. Waiting for the show to return during its four-month midseason break. Waiting to find out Which! Ewing! Dies! Waiting for TNT to make up its damn mind about whether or not it was going to reward the series with a fourth season. But as agonizing as all this was, nothing compared to the angst we felt when the network finally decided to drop “Dallas” — an announcement that came less than two weeks after a season-ending cliffhanger that left the fates and fortunes of almost every major character up in the air.

When the sad news came, we could’ve cried into our J.R. Ewing Bourbon — but that’s not what “Dallas” fans are made of, is it? Instead, we came together and embarked on a grassroots rescue effort. For six weeks, we signed petitions, jammed network switchboards, filled the inboxes of television’s top programming executives and tapped out enough #SaveDallas tweets to make our collective fingers bleed. It was a noble effort, and even though we didn’t succeed in finding the Ewings a new home, we did show the world how much “Dallas” means to us.

So when it came time for me to choose Dallas Decoder’s Person of the Year, there was no question who would receive this designation: my fellow “Dallas” fans. Who better to follow the previous honorees, Larry Hagman and Linda Gray? Like a Ewing, you fought with grit and resolve. You gave “Dallas” everything you had — inspiring me and many others along the way. It’s not the prize you deserve — that would be another season of the show — but it’ll have to do.

All of us are heartbroken “Dallas” won’t return next year, but we also know this isn’t the final chapter; it’s just another cliffhanger. Someday, somehow, the Ewing saga will resume. It might take another 21 years to see it, but that’s okay. We’re “Dallas” fans. We’re used to waiting.

Read Dallas Decoder’s list of this year’s other VIPs and share your comments below.

Goodbye, ‘Dallas’!

Dallas, Larry Hagman, TNT

Into that good night

Saying goodbye to “Dallas” isn’t hard because I never got used to the show being back in the first place. Like many fans, I grew up with the original series, watching it with my family on Friday nights for more than a decade. When “Dallas” went off the air in 1991, I kept on watching — first in cable reruns, then on mail-order VHS tapes and finally on DVD. I used to imagine the show returning someday, but I never expected it to actually happen. Once it did, it felt like I was living my own version of a “Dallas” dream season. Pam Ewing’s may have ended after 31 episodes, but mine lasted three whole years.

Like all dreams, this one was a bit surreal. On the new “Dallas,” J.R. was old, Bobby answered to “Robert” and Sue Ellen was sometimes missing in action. But once the show found its groove — and once Linda Gray moved front and center — I came to love it. This was a darker, edgier interpretation of the “Dallas” I once knew, but it was still “Dallas,” and it went on to deliver moments that became all-time favorites: J.R. returning ownership of Southfork to Bobby. Ann secretly recording Harris, then socking him. The revelation that Rebecca is Pamela. Sue Ellen getting drunk on the night before J.R.’s funeral. Bobby’s slow-motion walk away from Cliff. John Ross declaring that he’s not his father. All those Johnny Cash musical montages.

The more I watched, the more the new series transported me back to my childhood. On the morning after every episode, I received a phone call from my mom, who could hardly wait to gab about what happened to the Ewings the night before. Our conversations were a lot like the post-“Dallas” discussions we used to have around the Saturday morning breakfast table when I was a kid. “Dallas” also became something I could share with my husband Andrew, who spent years being mystified by my obsession with the original series. (The first time I sat him down to watch “Digger’s Daughter,” he dozed off before Bobby and Pam arrived at Southfork.) The new show hooked Andrew right away, though, and he came to enjoy it as much as me.

More than anything, I loved covering “Dallas” for this website. I got to critique episodes, interview cast members and compile list after list of “Dallas” minutiae. Writing about the show also took me back to my youth, when I used to sit at the kitchen table, pecking out “Dallas” story ideas that I’d mail to Leonard Katzman, the original show’s producer. He never wrote back, but my Dallas Decoder posts received lots of feedback from fellow fans who were eager to comment and share their own thoughts about the show. I loved hearing from them, as well as all the folks who helped me “fanalyze” the series during my weekly #DallasChat discussions on Twitter. Together, we became our own “Dallas” family, bonding over our shared love for the new series.

Does that sound corny? I’m sure it does, but it’s true. Yes, “Dallas” was a soap opera, a TV show, flickering images inside the box in front of the living room sofa. But to a lot of us, it meant so much more. I wrote about the series whenever I found a spare moment, whether it was late at night at home or on the train during my morning commute. I’ve also lugged my laptop to beaches and national parks, and on more than one occasion, I’ve asked Andrew to reschedule dinner reservations or rearrange weekend plans so I could complete some Dallas Decoder writing project. He never complained — not even on the night we had to delay our anniversary dinner because I had a phone interview with Julie Gonzalo. (It probably didn’t hurt that Andrew and I share a not-so-secret crush on Pamela Rebecca Barnes Ewing Ewing.)

Through it all, watching, writing and chatting about “Dallas” was an extended, please-don’t-wake-me moment — with two exceptions. The first came two years ago, when my childhood hero Larry Hagman died. Like all “Dallas” fans, I hated losing him, although I was grateful the new series gave him an opportunity to leave us playing the character he loved most. The second tough moment was far more personal: the death of my older brother last year. Growing up, Rick was our family’s version of J.R. He was forever breaking the rules and landing in hot water with people — including the multiple girlfriends he was always juggling — but since he possessed one of the world’s great smiles, you could never stay mad at him. One month after Bobby stood at J.R.’s gravesite and paid tribute to his big brother, I found myself standing in a church, eulogizing mine. Losing Rick is the hardest thing I ever experienced, but I’m so glad I had this website, which offered a welcome distraction when I needed it most.

“Dallas” also provided me with one of the coolest experiences of my life: Earlier this year, the show’s costume designer, the wonderful Rachel Sage Kunin, allowed me to shadow her for a “day in the life” story for Dallas Decoder. Andrew joined me as we followed Rachel around and watched her prepare the cast’s wardrobe for the third-season finale. She also took us on a tour of the soundstages; we actually got to wander around the Southfork living room and the Ewing Global offices! I could hardly believe my good fortune. I planned to post the story after the season finale aired in September, but then TNT canceled the series and I shifted into #SaveDallas mode. Now that those efforts have ended, I look forward to finally sharing the piece soon.

Speaking of #SaveDallas: As I wrote last week, I was proud to be part of the legion of fans who came together and tried to rescue the series after its cancellation. We didn’t succeed in saving the Ewings, but we did let the world know how much they mean to us. As for the cancellation itself: I believe “Dallas’s” ratings drop can be attributed to a lot of factors, including its tough time slot and the loss of fans who felt the show strayed from the spirit of the original series. Some of these folks are Dallas Decoder regulars, and even though they don’t share my affection for the new series, they never begrudged me my opinion. I thank them for this. I also thank all the readers who did love the show and came along with me for the ride. I hope you had fun.

So even though I’m disappointed “Dallas” is ending and even though I’ll miss it, it’s not hard to say goodbye. My favorite TV show returned for three years. I got to watch it, to write about it, and to share it with my family and fellow fans. It was a joyful experience; to ask for anything more almost feels greedy. I thank the cast for delivering so many performances that moved me, and I thank the many gifted people who worked behind the scenes. Once again, I also thank everyone who reads this site. Make no mistake: “Dallas” has ended but Dallas Decoder is going to stick around. I still have things I want to say about the show, and I still want to hear what all of you think. We have great conversations ahead.

That brings me to the other reason it isn’t hard to say goodbye to “Dallas,” which is this: It’s not a final farewell. We’re unlikely to see another “Dallas” series anytime soon, but that doesn’t mean the Ewings won’t return with new adventures in the future. Maybe it won’t be a TV show; perhaps the stories will be told through other forms of media. Consider the serendipity of the timing of “Dallas’s” end, which came a few days shy of the anniversary of Mr. Hagman’s death. Just as J.R. will never really leave us, I refuse to believe we’ve seen the last of his family. Someday, somehow, “Dallas” will return — and with any luck, I’ll be here to take the ride all over again.

After all, who says dreams can’t come true twice?

How do you feel about the end of “Dallas”? Share your comments below and read more opinions from Dallas Decoder.

It’s Time to Renew ‘Dallas,’ TNT

Dallas, John Ross Ewing, Josh Henderson, Judith Light, Judith Ryland, TNT

Give us what we want, TNT

Will TNT renew “Dallas” for a fourth season? I have no idea, but there’s no shortage of reasons why this show deserves another year.

Let’s start with the numbers:

• TV ratings. Yes, they’ve dropped. “Dallas” averaged 1.9 million viewers on Mondays this year, down 28 percent from its second season, according to Nielsen. However, the audience includes approximately 592,000 adults between ages 18 and 49, a demographic TNT is eager to court. Among these viewers, “Dallas” fares better than three other TNT dramas — including “Murder in the First,” which just got renewed.

• DVR ratings. “Dallas” gets a nice boost from DVR users who record the episodes and watch them a few days later. Example: The third-season finale opened to 1.7 million viewers on September 22, but within three days, DVR users lifted the audience to 2.4 million viewers. Although this is the smallest DVR-boosted audience that TNT has reported for “Dallas,” it still means the finale’s viewership grew roughly 40 percent — not bad when you consider the two-hour episode debuted amid the crush of fall premiere week, when DVRs fill up fast.

• Social media. “Dallas” has 1.6 million Facebook fans, more than any other TNT drama, and 94,000 Twitter followers, second only to “Rizzoli & Isles.” Also, five times during the past six weeks, “Dallas” has cracked a weekly ranking of cable’s 25 buzziest shows on social media — including last week, when the season finale ranked fifth.

Is any of this good enough for TNT? Let’s hope so. The network’s executives are likely weighing a lot of other numbers that fans like us aren’t privy to, including “Dallas’s” production costs and revenue from product placement, DVD sales, merchandising and foreign broadcasts.

But this decision shouldn’t be about numbers only.

“Dallas” also deserves another season because the show is a creative success. Vets like Patrick Duffy and Linda Gray are doing some of the finest work of their careers on the new “Dallas,” while Josh Henderson has become a breakout star. The production values are also first-rate, and even though some of us diehards quibble with the storytelling now and then, “Dallas” remains one of the most absorbing hours on television.

This brings me to the other big reason “Dallas” deserves another year: Loyalty.

It’s one of the show’s major themes, but it’s also part of the fabric of “Dallas” fandom. Few shows inspire this kind of devotion. Some of us have been watching “Dallas” for more than 30 years — we tuned into the original show on Fridays nights in the 1980s, and then we watched the reruns and DVDs — while others are newcomers who’ve stuck with the TNT series through time slot changes, long hiatuses and split seasons.

TNT has a history with “Dallas” too. Back in 1991, when the network was still new, it showed “Dallas” reruns weekday mornings at 10, right after Bugs Bunny cartoons. TNT even ran a contest inviting viewers to submit lyrics to the theme. None other than Larry Hagman showed up to introduce the winning entry, which went like this:

Oh we own this

And we own that

As far as the eye can see!

From Texas soil

We pump Ewing oil

Daddy Jock, brother Bobby

And me!

Yes, I’m J.R.

I’m known near and far

A rat in a town

That’s cat-free!

I make big deals

And I’ve got one that’s real

Merging “Dallas” with TNT!

TNT, “Dallas” isn’t just part of our heritage. It’s part of yours too. Renew it today, and keep the tradition going.

Why do you think “Dallas” should be renewed? Share your comments below and read more opinions from Dallas Decoder.

‘Dallas’s’ Return Offers Answers, But a Big Question Remains

Dallas, Denial Anger Acceptance, Emma Bell, Emma Ryland, John Ross Ewing, Josh Henderson, Julie Gonzalo, Pamela Rebecca Barnes Ewing, TNT

Call to arms

“Dallas” fans are heading into next week’s “midseason premiere” with lots of questions on their minds, beginning with this: Will the series return for a fourth year? We probably won’t know the answer until the ratings for the summer episodes come in, but virtually everything else we’ve been obsessing over will be addressed in the August 18 opener, which TNT sent to TV critics and bloggers last month.

The episode, “Denial, Anger, Acceptance,” picks up immediately after the frenzied spring finale, which left Southfork in flames and Pamela in convulsions after she lured John Ross and Emma into a kinky, kooky three-way. By the time the closing credits roll on Monday, we’ll know why Pamela initiated the threesome and who survives the fire, along with who started the blaze. We’ll also find out what Judith does after spying Harris and Ann smooching outside her window, and there’ll be some twists you may or may not see coming: One character makes a dramatic confession, another bites the dust and at least four couples are left facing uncertain futures.

In other words: It’s business as usual on “Dallas,” with a notable exception — most of “Denial, Anger, Acceptance” takes place in a hospital, where almost the entire cast converges after the fire and Pamela’s overdose. It recalls the “Dallas” season premieres of yore, which often found the Ewings and Barneses rushing to the emergency room to deal with whatever shooting, suicide attempt or car crash was imperiling their loved ones at that moment. Most of those season openers from the 1980s aren’t remembered as “Dallas’s” strongest episodes today, although they invariably laid the groundwork for the classic storylines that followed. Perhaps we’ll one day say something similar about “Denial, Anger, Acceptance.”

The question is: How many of us will be watching? No matter how good “Dallas’s” remaining episodes are this season, if the ratings don’t meet TNT’s expectations, we might not get to see the Ewings rebuild Southfork. I don’t think that will be the case, but I’m also not taking anything for granted. If “Dallas” fans want to see the show return next year, we all need to be in front of our television sets on Monday night, watching the show — and hopefully chatting about it on Twitter and Facebook, since social media is so important to generating TV buzz these days.

Make no mistake: The answer to “Dallas’s” biggest cliffhanger — will the show continue? — lies with us. It’s the kind of power J.R. himself would have envied.

Are you looking forward to “Dallas’s” return? Share your comments below and read more opinions from Dallas Decoder.

If TNT Wants Younger Viewers, Look No Further Than ‘Dallas’

Dallas, John Ross Ewing, Josh Henderson, Julie Gonzalo, Pamela Rebecca Barnes Ewing, TNT

Young love


To: Jeff Bewkes, chairman and chief executive officer, Time Warner Inc.

From: Dallas Decoder

Re: “Dallas”

So TNT wants to start chasing younger viewers, huh?

That’s what you told investors yesterday, and it sounds like a smart plan to me. As you pointed out, TNT traditionally targets somewhat older audiences — a strategy that served the cable channel well for a long time, but not so much these days.

The numbers tell the tale: According to the Los Angeles Times, TNT’s prime time audience has declined 13 percent during the past five years, from 2.2 million to 1.9 million viewers, while the median age has gone up, from 47 to 52 years.

So yeah, I see why you think it’s time for a new strategy.

The good news is your lineup includes “Dallas,” a show that could become a cornerstone in your plans to rebuild TNT.

Yes, it’s true “Dallas’s” ratings are down: The show averaged 2.7 million viewers last season, including roughly 958,000 adults between ages 18 and 49, the demographic often used to gauge a show’s youth appeal. This year, “Dallas” is averaging 1.9 million viewers, including roughly 630,000 18-to-49-year-olds.

But here’s the thing: Even though “Dallas’s” numbers have dipped, it still performs pretty well when compared to TNT’s other original dramas — especially where the younger crowd is concerned. For example, this winter, “Rizzoli & Isles” averaged about 952,000 adults between ages 18 and 49, while “Perception” grabbed approximately 574,000 viewers in this category.

Also, all the shows boost their audiences when you add DVR users who record the programs and watch them later in the week. Sometimes, the increase is dramatic: Thanks to DVR users, “Dallas’s” season premiere hit 1.4 million 18-to-49-year-olds, while the midseason cliffhanger snagged 1 million viewers in the demo.

There’s also this: “Dallas” is TNT’s biggest show on social media — and we all know how the kids love to post, tweet and share these days. “Dallas’s” official Facebook page has 1.6 million “likes,” while the show’s Twitter feed has 89,000 followers. By comparison, “Major Crimes,” TNT’s most-watched show, has 491,000 Facebook likes and 12,500 Twitter followers.

You also told investors you think TNT’s programming should be a little edgier. Well, my goodness, did you see “Dallas’s” midseason finale? It wasn’t everybody’s cup of tea, but it sure got people talking.

I guess it all comes down to this, Mr. Bewkes: As the head honcho at Time Warner — the conglomerate that owns TNT, the channel that televises “Dallas,” and Warner Bros., the studio that produces it — the show’s future rests in your hands.

And since you’re a smart fellow, surely you can you see how “Dallas” can serve as your bridge to the younger, media-savvy viewers you’ve set your sights on. It’s one more reason this show deserves a fourth season.

A word of caution, though: Just because TNT is going to start chasing younger viewers, don’t get any wacky ideas about sidelining “Dallas’s” veterans. This show has always had multi-generational appeal, and even though fans love the new generation of buff, young Ewings running around Southfork these days, we still want longtime favorites like Bobby and Sue Ellen to get plenty of screen time.

In other words: Mess with Miss Texas and you’ll receive a much different memo from Dallas Decoder.

Why do you think TNT should renew “Dallas”? Share your comments below and read more opinions from Dallas Decoder.

‘Dallas’ is Bringing the Heat. Now Let’s See Some Heart.

Dallas, John Ross Ewing, Josh Henderson, TNT


Did “Dallas” go too far by showing John Ross, Pamela and Emma’s three-way in last week’s midseason finale? I say no. The scene put a fitting punctuation mark on a storyline that’s been building all year while continuing some longtime “Dallas” traditions, including the original show’s practice of pushing the envelope in its depiction of sexuality. I liked it, but now it’s time for the new series to get back to emulating its predecessor in other ways — starting with restoring its focus on the Ewings and delving deeper into their lives. To put it another way: “Dallas” has shown us the heat; now it needs to show us some heart.

Before I get to that, let’s address the controversy over the threesome. Many viewers have taken to Facebook and Twitter to decry the scene, saying they were offended by the sight of John Ross, Pamela and Emma making out — especially when the women kissed. If you find this distasteful, probably nothing I can say will change your mind, but let me point this out: These characters are consenting adults. They’re acting in the privacy of a hotel room, and no one is being forced to do anything against their will. (Yes, Pamela is under the influence of drugs, but she apparently decided to sleep with her husband and his mistress before she popped the pills.) Contrast this with J.R.’s extra-marital affairs on the old show, which almost always took place behind Sue Ellen’s back. To me, that’s more immoral than a consensual threesome.

Some fans also say the “Dallas” three-way is too graphic. I suppose whether or not you agree depends on your definition of “graphic.” In this case, there’s a lot of kissing but not much nudity: John Ross takes off his shirt, but the women remain in their lingerie. It strikes me as much less explicit than what I saw a few nights later on another cable drama, “Mad Men,” when Roger Sterling woke up in a room full of half-naked bodies after an orgy. For the record, this didn’t offend me either because it helped illustrate Roger’s ongoing womanizing, which is central to his character.

Ultimately, this is why I believe “Dallas’s” threesome works: It serves the story. From the beginning, the John Ross/Pamela/Emma triangle has been about the characters using sex to achieve some other purpose: John Ross sleeps with Emma to gain access to her father’s secret files; Pamela buys a sexy corset to surprise her husband and help him take his mind off his problems; Emma buys the same outfit to seduce John Ross and one-up Pamela. In the midseason finale, sex is once again used as a tool when Pamela lures John Ross and Emma into the ménage a trois, only to spring a drug-induced seizure on them. It’s kind of poetic.

Let’s not forget that sex has always been part of “Dallas.” The first episode in 1978 showed the teenaged Lucy rolling around in the hay with silver-haired Ray. “Dallas” went on to break ground in other ways too: Lucy became engaged to a closeted gay man in 1979, which ended up being one of television’s first sympathetic portraits of homosexuality, and during the mid-1980s, the show hinted Grace was more than a mere “assistant” to Angelica Nero. “Dallas” also gave us prostitutes, J.R.’s affairs and Sue Ellen’s foray into the lingerie business — which included plenty of shots of Mandy Winger modeling nighties that were every bit as revealing as Pamela and Emma’s corsets — along with countless scenes of shirtless men kissing women wrapped in bed sheets. Sometimes it was tawdry and sometimes it was romantic — just like on the new “Dallas.”

Did the producers of the TNT series go out of their way to be a little more provocative than usual with the three-way? Of course they did. They wanted to grab as big an audience as possible in order to keep fans hooked during the show’s four-month hiatus. This is also nothing new: Cliffhangers are a “Dallas” tradition going back to the days of “Who Shot J.R.?” By today’s standards, this latest stunt was a success: The midseason finale, “Where There’s Smoke,” debuted to 2.1 million viewers on April 14. It was “Dallas’s” second biggest audience of the year, although it’s probably nothing compared to the chatter the episode inspired on social media and around office water coolers. People are buzzing about a “Dallas” cliffhanger again. When was the last time that happened?

So does this mean the new show should spice things up even more? I think that would be the wrong lesson to take from last week’s ratings bump. Instead, I hope the producers will remember this: Sex on the original “Dallas” was always balanced by moments of familial warmth, like the quiet scenes where Miss Ellie dispensed wisdom to one of her troubled children or the humorous occasions where Bobby bested J.R. with a wink and a grin. There’ve been flashes of these kinds of scenes this year — the women of Southfork sit around the patio planning Pamela’s wedding, Bobby introduces John Ross to the lesser prairie chicken — but they’ve been too far and few between. In their place, we’re getting scenes about Mexican drug lords, upscale brothels and misguided quests for “justice.”

More problematic is this: Two-and-a-half seasons into TNT’s “Dallas,” fans still aren’t sure what makes some of the main characters tick. Jordana Brewster is a terrific actress, but poor Elena has whiplashed from being “good” to “bad” and back again. Constantly adding new players to the mix isn’t helping us get to know the people we should be paying attention to. It’s not like the new “Dallas” isn’t capable of delving deep: One of the reasons “J.R.’s Masterpiece” remains the TNT show’s high-water mark isn’t just because it paid such loving tribute to Larry Hagman’s character — it’s also because it opened a window into Sue Ellen’s psyche and allowed Linda Gray to deliver one of her finest performances.

The closest we’ve come this year is the powerful scene where John Ross confronts his mother about her alcoholic relapse. Frankly, this is another reason I’m willing to cut the show some slack when it comes to that now-notorious threesome. I’ve seen what Josh Henderson’s character can do when his clothes come off, but I’ve also seen what happens when John Ross bares his soul. Doesn’t everyone else on “Dallas” deserve the same opportunity?

What do you think? Share your comments below — please be respectful — and read more opinions from Dallas Decoder.

In Season 3, ‘Dallas’ Resets the Chessboard, J.R. Style

Dallas, John Ross Ewing, Josh Henderson, Linda Gray, Return, Sue Ellen Ewing, TNT

Welcome back, darlins

Who misses J.R.? We all do, but the third season of TNT’s “Dallas” still manages to be fun, freewheeling television — even if our beloved Larry Hagman is no longer there to breathe life into his most famous character. Watching next week’s season premiere is a little like attending a family reunion after the loss of a favorite uncle. You can’t help but wish the old guy was still around, but isn’t it nice to see everyone else again?

Besides, it’s not like J.R. is gone altogether. His memory looms large in Season 3’s first two episodes. Some examples: John Ross inherits his daddy’s Southfork-sized belt buckle and hires contractors to renovate the house using blueprints J.R. commissioned before his death. Bobby, once again at odds with his ambitious nephew, growls that John Ross isn’t “half the man” J.R. was. Bum, the Ewings’ go-to private eye who now doubles as John Ross’s conscience, urges him to “grow into your father’s greatness, not his weakness.” There’s even a much-improved painting of J.R. hanging in the Ewing offices, allowing Hagman’s visage to peer over the shoulders of the other actors as they move around the set.

With so many verbal and visual references to J.R., isn’t the show just reminding us that this franchise has lost its marquee player? Yes, but since most of us can’t tune into “Dallas” without thinking about Hagman anyway, the producers might as well acknowledge the ghost in the room. Besides, when your franchise is built on a character as endlessly fascinating as J.R. Ewing, why not use him to pull everyone’s strings from the great beyond?

That’s why “The Return,” the third-season premiere, resets the “Dallas” chessboard, J.R.-style. The episode — penned by Cynthia Cidre and Robert Rovner and directed by Steve Robin — picks up 12 hours after last year’s finale, when we learned J.R. was dying of cancer and masterminded his own “murder” so archenemy Cliff Barnes could be framed for the crime, thus ending the Barnes/Ewing feud. (Ha!) The finale also positioned John Ross as J.R.’s heir in every way, and so at the beginning of “The Return,” we learn why the young newlywed went to that hotel room to cheat with Emma, who appears to have traded her pill habit for an addiction to risky encounters with John Ross.

We’ll also hear how John Ross justifies the fling to Kevin Page’s Bum; his excuse will sound familiar to longtime “Dallas” fans who remember how J.R. used to rationalize his cheating on Sue Ellen. This storyline has upset a lot of fans of the John Ross/Pamela pairing, but it allows Josh Henderson to display the sly charisma that makes him almost as much fun to watch as Hagman was in his heyday. And even though John Ross is a cheat, we can’t help but feel charmed by his relationship with Julie Gonzalo’s Pamela, whose smoldering gaze makes her the ideal match for the oh-so-suave Henderson. Let’s acknowledge something else too: As much as we despise Emma, there’s no denying that Emma Bell is terrific in this role. Not since Mary Crosby’s Kristin have “Dallas” viewers had a vixen who’s so much fun to hate.

During last year’s execution of the Ewings’ “master plan” against Cliff, almost all of the characters got in touch with their inner J.R., but Season 3 finds the good guys returning to familiar terrain. Patrick Duffy’s Bobby slides back into his role as the heroic guardian of Southfork traditions, while Jesse Metcalfe’s Christopher gets a refreshingly angst-free romance with Heather, a new ranch hand. This role is played with equal parts spunk and sex appeal by AnnaLynne McCord, who was the best part of the CW’s “90210” and makes a welcome addition to “Dallas,” a far better revival.

(Oh, and even though “The Return” begins 12 hours after Season 2 ended, Christopher now sports a face full of scruff. How did he grow a thick beard in a half-day? It’s probably better not to ask. Let’s consider it this era’s version of Sue Ellen’s hair, which magically shortened itself between seasons in the early 1980s, even though mere minutes had passed on screen.)

“The Return” also recasts Elena, once this show’s romantic heroine, into a shrewd schemer out for revenge — or as she calls it, “justice” — after Cliff revealed J.R. once stole oil-rich land from her father, just like Jock supposedly cheated Digger out of half the Ewing fortune. This might seem like a thin premise to extend the Barnes/Ewing feud, but it gives the underappreciated Jordana Brewster something to do besides moon over Henderson and Metcalfe’s characters. Cliff and Elena’s unlikely alliance also includes Nicolas Treviño, a dashing young billionaire played by Juan Pablo Di Pace, another strong addition to this ensemble.

Now, I know what you’re thinking: What about Sue Ellen? It’s no secret Linda Gray’s character is once again headed for rock bottom this season, although she goes nowhere near a drop of booze in “The Return.” Some fans hate to see Sue Ellen drinking again; I’m not wild about the idea either, but I have no doubt Gray will deliver another knockout performance, just like she did last year. She’s Hagman’s truest heir in a lot of ways, including this one: Like him, Gray can say more with an arched eyebrow or a wry smile than most actors can with a script full of dialogue. She exudes Old Hollywood star power, and whether Sue Ellen is drunk or sober, Gray always delivers riveting television.

“Dallas” fans also want to know about a couple of other favorites, including Brenda Strong’s Ann and her dastardly ex-husband Harris, played to menacing perfection by Mitch Pileggi. Regarding them, I’ll only say this: Just because you haven’t read much about their characters in “Dallas’s” pre-premiere publicity doesn’t mean they have nothing to do in the first two episodes. I also don’t want to give anything away about Judith Light’s character Judith Ryland, except to say her return in the season’s second hour, “Trust Me,” is a hoot.

That episode, written by Bruce Rasmussen and directed by Millicent Shelton, features a Ewing family gathering that showcases the brilliance of costume designer Rachel Sage Kunin, who never fails to impress, and hairdresser Charles Yusko, whose contributions to the success of this series shouldn’t be overlooked. You’ll also want to watch “Trust Me” to see the long-awaited reunion between two characters who had a charming scene last year, along with one of the most audacious moments I’ve ever seen on “Dallas” — or any other show, for that matter.

Most importantly, the episode ends with a shock that rocks two characters and will make you reconsider everything you think you know about a third. It’s a twist you’ll never see coming — and another reason this show remains so much fun, even without the man who got the party started.

“Dallas’s” third season begins Monday, February 24, at 9 p.m. Eastern on TNT. Are you excited? Share your comments below and read more opinions from Dallas Decoder.

… And the Rest: Dallas Decoder’s Other VIPs of 2013

Cynthia Cidre, Josh Henderson, Ken Kercheval, Patrick Duffy, TNT, Victoria Principal

Linda Gray is Dallas Decoder’s Woman of the Year, but she isn’t the only person who shaped the “Dallas” franchise in 2013. Here are five more.

Cynthia Cidre, Dallas, TNT

The boss

Cynthia Cidre. Larry Hagman’s death forced the “Dallas” showrunner to rewrite Season 2 on the fly, but she proved up to the challenge — and then some. Cidre penned the exquisite “J.R.’s Masterpiece” funeral episode, which lovingly honored the franchise’s biggest star and kicked off the fun, freewheeling “Who Killed J.R.?” mystery. Cidre also deserves applause for answering the question that has bugged “Dallas” diehards for 25 years: Whatever happened to Pam Ewing? Some fans didn’t like the answer, but if you ask me, Cidre redeemed the character and fixed one of the old show’s biggest blunders. Bravo.

Bobby Ewing, Dallas, Patrick Duffy, TNT

The glue

Patrick Duffy. This was the year Bobby Ewing got pissed! He also got sad, frustrated and more than a little devious. Duffy did a beautiful job conveying Bobby’s internal conflict, especially when he read J.R.’s letter in the moving season finale. And just as Bobby held the Ewings together, Duffy played an influential role behind the scenes. Before Cidre proceeded with the twist ending to “Who Killed J.R.?” — he was dying of cancer and arranged his own death — she sought the blessing of two people: Hagman’s son Preston and Duffy. That says a lot about the respect people feel for Patrick Duffy. He’s earned it.

Dallas, John Ross Ewing, Josh Henderson, TNT

The future

Josh Henderson. No one on the new “Dallas” has faced as much scrutiny as Henderson, who had the unenviable task this year of sliding into the boots of the legendary Larry Hagman. But if Henderson felt any temptation to imitate his on-screen daddy, he wisely resisted it. Where Hagman swaggered, Henderson struts. Where J.R. was confident, John Ross is cocky. In other words: Henderson has given John Ross his own brand of cool. This young actor has become the future of the “Dallas” franchise, and if his performance this year is any indication, we’re in good hands. I can’t wait to see what he does next year.

Cliff Barnes, Dallas, Ken Kercheval, TNT

The genius

Ken Kercheval. After Hagman, Kercheval has always been “Dallas’s” most fascinating actor. In 2013, he was as electric as ever. Longtime fans still wonder what made Cliff so evil, but I just sat back and enjoyed the ride Kercheval took me on, especially in the shocking scene where Cliff ordered the bombing of the Ewing Energies rig. Besides, as Cliff tightened his squeeze on the Ewings, Kercheval offered more flashes of his old character’s combustability. The scene where Bobby hands his enemy the keys to the Ewing kingdom? That was classic Cliff. You may hate his character, but Kercheval is brilliant.

Dallas, Pam Ewing, Victoria Principal

The enigma

Victoria Principal. Hill Place Blog suggested I include Principal on this list as a joke, but the more I thought about it, the more it made sense. As Hill Place put it: What other “Dallas” star generated more discussion, debate and dissent this year without appearing in a single frame of film? Principal remains a powerful figure in the “Dallas” mythology. Like a lot of my fellow Principal fans, I wish Pam had come home to Southfork in 2013, but the actress’s public statement in March made it clear she has no interest in reprising the role. (Sigh.) So rest in peace, Pam. Like your old rival J.R., you won’t be forgotten.

Who did I miss? Share your choices for “Dallas’s” 2013 VIPs below and read more opinions from Dallas Decoder.

Dallas Decoder’s Woman of the Year: Linda Gray

Dallas, Linda Gray, Sue Ellen Ewing, TNT

Brunette on the couch

Good actors make you believe. Great actors make you feel. In 2013, Linda Gray made us feel every emotion Sue Ellen Ewing experienced — the disappointment over losing the election, the shame over losing her sobriety, the heartbreak over losing J.R. Gray shone all season long, but especially in “J.R.’s Masterpiece,” the funeral episode where she bared her soul and became the audience’s avatar. Through her, we were able to express our own grief over the death of our hero. When Sue Ellen called J.R. the love of her life and touched his casket, it wasn’t just the climax of a great performance. It was a moment of shared catharsis for “Dallas” fans.

Linda Gray is Dallas Decoder’s Woman of the Year because no one else moved us, delighted us and impressed us quite like she did. Sue Ellen has been “Dallas’s” heroine for a long time, but in 2013, Gray stepped into the void created by the death of Larry Hagman, her longtime friend and co-star. Like Hagman — and like Dame Maggie Smith, one of Gray’s own idols — Gray creates thrilling television just by showing up. Consider the “J.R.’s Masterpiece” scene where Sue Ellen sits in J.R.’s bedroom and takes her first drink in 20 years. It was a mesmerizing moment — just as moving if not more so than the graveside eulogy — and yet Gray never uttered a single line of dialogue. The scene consisted of little more than Sue Ellen, a bottle of bourbon, an old wedding picture, an unopened love letter and that sad, sad song (Tara Holloway’s “The Bottom”) playing in the background. That’s it. But when Gray is your star, what more is needed?

To be fair, Gray gets plenty of support from the rest of the “Dallas” cast — as strong an ensemble as any working in television today — and the people behind the scenes, including Michael M. Robin, who directed “J.R.’s Masterpiece” and has a knack for eliciting wonderful performances from his actors. Gray’s most crucial collaborator, though, is probably showrunner Cynthia Cidre, who gave her some of her best material ever as Sue Ellen. Between the two of them, Gray and Cidre showed us Sue Ellen in all her complex, contradictory glory: The fiercely protective mama bear. The take-no-prisoners businesswoman. The struggling alcoholic. And most fascinating of all: the playful flirt, whose vibrant sexuality at age 70-something makes Sue Ellen a prime-time pioneer.

Looking Back

Choosing Gray as Woman of the Year will come as no surprise to Dallas Decoder readers. By now, my admiration for this actress and her character are no secret. Gray was kind enough to grant me an interview a few months ago, and the hour or so that I spent sitting at my dining room table, talking to her on the phone, remains one of the great experiences I’ve had since starting this website. But please know this: My affection for Gray is rooted in my genuine respect for what she has achieved as an actress. Like Sue Ellen, she has worked hard for her success.

Consider: Sue Ellen had to fight for her place in the world. She was not born into the Ewing family, and marriage to J.R. offered public prestige but private pain. For years, he neglected Sue Ellen’s needs and dismissed her potential, and she turned to the bottle to cope with her unhappiness. But the ex-beauty queen’s spirit ran deeper than anyone knew, including Sue Ellen herself. Eventually, she conquered her demons and won the admiration of the other Ewings, including J.R.

Gray’s career has had its ups and downs too. During “Dallas’s” earliest days, she was notoriously dismissed as “the brunette on the couch” and excluded from the show’s opening credits. Slowly, the producers noticed her talent and chemistry with Hagman and beefed up her role. At the height of “Dallas’s” popularity, Gray even picked up an Emmy nomination for best dramatic actress. By the time she departed the original show at the end of its 12th season, Sue Ellen rivaled J.R. as “Dallas’s” most popular character. (It’s no coincidence the show plunged from 26th to 43rd in the yearly Nielsen rankings after Gray left.)

Yet when TNT brought “Dallas” back last year, it felt a little like déjà vu all over again — and not in a good way. The producers struggled to find a place for Sue Ellen in the storyline, leaving her out of two early episodes altogether. Fans were outraged, and the Powers That Be soon learned the same lesson their predecessors did: Don’t mess with Miss Texas. In Season 2, Sue Ellen once again became a force to be reckoned with, wheeling and dealing against the Ewings’ enemies, even as she wrestled privately with her old demons and J.R.’s loss.

Moving Forward

Some of my fellow fans are concerned about Sue Ellen’s future. Cidre has confirmed the character will continue drinking when “Dallas” begins its new season in February, and I get the feeling Sue Ellen’s problems are going to get worse before they get better. But I’m not worried. For one thing, I’m confident Gray is going to continue to deliver great performances, no matter what she is called upon to do. I also believe Sue Ellen will eventually get back on track and start moving forward again. She’s come too far to turn back for good.

Just look at the above TNT publicity still, which comes from the 2013 episode “A Call to Arms.” It shows Sue Ellen seated on the edge of the sofa in the Southfork den, where she’s helping her fellow Ewings formulate a plan to fight back against their latest foes. She wears a determined expression and looks like she’s about to spring into action, which is precisely what happens in that scene. The photo tells us everything we need to know about this actress and the character she has embodied for so many years. Linda Gray is still the brunette on the couch, except now the brunette is the star of the show and her character is helping to call the shots.

Don’t mess with Miss Texas.

Share your comments about Linda Gray and Sue Ellen Ewing below and read Dallas Decoder’s list of the year’s other VIPS.

One Year Later, Larry Hagman’s Legacy Lives

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

Remember the titan

The first anniversary of Larry Hagman’s death is November 23, although to me, he never really went away. Hagman’s old “Dallas” episodes run on a seemingly endless loop in my house. I watch him all the time, and that would probably be true even if I didn’t write and edit this website. Larry Hagman still brings me joy. The other day, I re-visited the 1983 segment where J.R. goes to the Oil Baron’s Ball and slyly insults every relative seated near him. With each gleeful quip, Hagman’s smile couldn’t be contained. Neither could mine.

Do I wish Hagman were still around, filming new episodes of TNT’s “Dallas” revival? Of course, although given the remarkable body of work he left behind (more than 380 appearances as J.R. in the various “Dallas” shows, spinoffs and sequels), to want more from him feels almost greedy. Likewise, while I’ll always regret that I never met my hero, I did get to speak to him on the phone once. How lucky am I? By most accounts, Hagman was a hell of a guy — joyful, generous, wise, progressive, amusingly eccentric — and so one year after his death, whatever sadness I feel is reserved for the people who knew him best. As a fan, I lost an actor whose work I admired from afar. But Hagman’s family and friends? They lost a real, special man.

Don’t get me wrong: Hagman’s death upset me a year ago. He died on the day after Thanksgiving, giving Black Friday a whole other meaning. Now the timing feels kind of cosmic. The anniversary of his death will always come two days after the anniversary of the “Who Shot J.R.?” revelation and around Thanksgiving, reminding us to feel grateful for the wonderful performances he gave us. We can also feel thankful to the people who help keep Hagman’s memory alive, including the folks who run his Facebook page, which offers a treasure trove of rare photographs and other mementos. For that matter, we should also give thanks to the “Dallas” producers and cast members,  who have done an impressive job honoring their show’s biggest star. The episode where Hagman’s alter ego is laid to rest, “J.R.’s Masterpiece,” lived up to its title, but the tributes haven’t stopped there. Showrunner Cynthia Cidre has promised to keep Hagman’s name atop the production call sheets for the duration of the series, reminding the cast and crew that “Dallas” is the house Hagman built.

There are also hints that J.R. will figure into next season’s storylines, wheeling and dealing from beyond the grave, and a recent tweet from the set suggests Josh Henderson will sport his on-screen daddy’s signature wristwatch and belt buckle. If the producers are looking for one more way to honor Hagman, “Dallas” fan Joe Siegler has a nifty suggestion: Instead of continuing to have the cast take turns delivering each episode’s “Previously on ‘Dallas’” voiceover, why not use Hagman’s version exclusively? This would be a small gesture, but I can’t imagine a better way to start each new hour of “Dallas” than by hearing J.R.’s voice.

Of course, Hagman’s legacy extends beyond the show he made famous. We live in a golden age of television drama, populated by antiheroes like Walter White and Don Draper. None of them would exist if J.R. Ewing hadn’t come first. What a shame so many TV critics neglect to mention that. Even more shameful: Hagman’s omission from the special tributes during this year’s Emmy broadcast and his snub in the dramatic supporting actor race. Few performers deserved Emmy recognition more than Hagman this year — and not just because he didn’t receive a trophy during the original “Dallas’s” heyday. Hagman did some of the best work of his career on the TNT series. One example: last year’s “Family Business” episode, which showcased his powerful, poignant portrait of the aging J.R.

On the other hand: Who needs Emmys? If the past year has taught me anything, it’s how much affection “Dallas” fans have for Hagman. Our love for him is deep and real, and it will sustain his legacy for a long time to come. It’s another reason I don’t feel a strong sense of loss as the anniversary of his death approaches. The truth is, Larry Hagman isn’t really gone; he just lives in our hearts now.

How will you remember Larry Hagman and J.R. Ewing? Share your comments below and read more opinions from Dallas Decoder.