If You Like Dallas Decoder, Please ‘Like’ Us on Facebook

Dallas, J.R. Ewing, Larry Hagman

Mr. All-American

Have you “liked” Dallas Decoder on Facebook? If not, I hope you’ll consider doing so. You’ll find lots of special content there, including holiday “cards” like the one shown here and J.R. and Sue Ellen’s wedding album.

Dallas Decoder is also on Twitter, where I conduct one-hour #DallasChat discussions most Monday nights at 9, as well as Pinterest.com.

If you have ideas for Dallas Decoder, please share them in the comments section below or e-mail me at dallasdecoder-at-gmail.com. I always love to hear from you.

Thank you for reading, and Happy Independence Day!

New Season, New Features

Dallas, John Ross Ewing, Josh Henderson, J.R. Ewing, Larry Hagman, TNT

Look what’s in store

The start of “Dallas’s” second season signals some changes at Dallas Decoder. Here’s what you’ll see:

“Burning Questions.” This weekly feature, which debuts today, will address the questions left unanswered at the end of the previous “Dallas” episode. The goal: to help fans refresh their memories before TNT telecasts the latest installment each Monday night.

Critiques and Scenes of the Day. Like I did last season, I’ll review each new episode and highlight one notable scene. My critique of “Battle Lines,” the first half of tonight’s two-hour opener, will be posted tomorrow, while my “Venomous Creatures” review will be available Wednesday. I’m taking a break from critiquing the classic series for awhile, but those posts will return eventually.

“Drill Bits.” This is where you’ll find news about “Dallas’s” ratings, as well as trivia and other tidbits. I hope to post a new “Drill Bits” each Wednesday, although you might see this feature pop up on other days too.

Tweets and Facebook posts. I plan to tweet throughout the East Coast telecast of each new episode, beginning tonight at 9. Please join me! My Twitter handle is @DallasDecoder and I’d love to hear from you during the show. Also: If you haven’t done so already, please consider “liking” Dallas Decoder’s Facebook page.

If you have ideas for other things you’d like to see, please share them in the comments section below or e-mail me at dallasdecoder-at-gmail.com. I want to make this site lively, fun and above all useful to my fellow fans, so if there’s something I’m not doing that I should be, please let me know.

Thanks for reading and enjoy the new season of “Dallas”!

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.

A Very Merry Thank You

Christmas, Dallas, Larry Hagman, J.R. EwingWith the holidays upon us, I want to take a moment to thank everyone who reads Dallas Decoder. Your support is the gift that keeps giving, and I appreciate it.

Special thanks go to the folks who share their thoughts in the comments section of each post. Reading your feedback is always the highlight of my day. Your opinion counts as much as mine, and I always learn a lot from you. I feel fortunate to have so many smart, thoughtful and polite readers.

In many ways, this is a bittersweet holiday season for “Dallas” fans. We all feel saddened by Larry Hagman’s death, but I know the community we’re building here at Dallas Decoder will do its part to keep his memory alive next year and beyond. (By the way: The terrific image of Hagman you see here comes from a 1981 People magazine cover.)

So thank you again. I’m going to take a break from posting for a few days, but I’ll be back soon. Until then, have safe and happy holidays.

J.R. Ewing, Larry Hagman and Me

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

My hero

Like his famous alter ego, Larry Hagman dodged death so many times, I assumed he was going to live forever. Waking up to the news last Saturday morning that Hagman was suddenly gone left me feeling a little dazed. Without putting much thought into it, I grabbed an old J.R. Ewing publicity shot, scanned it and reached for my laptop to tap out a quick tribute for Dallas Decoder.

As fate would have it, my previous post was a transcription of the next-to-last scene from “The Search,” the “Dallas” episode where Jock is presumed dead. When I logged into my site, I was greeted by a shot of Bobby standing in the Southfork dining room, breaking the news to Miss Ellie that Daddy isn’t coming home. In that instant, I wondered: Where is Patrick Duffy right now, and does he look as heartbroken as he does in this old picture?

That’s when I lost it.

I couldn’t believe what was happening. I was weeping over the death of a television actor, a man I’d never met. Yes, I’m a “Dallas” fanatic, but I’m not much of a crier. So as I sat on my sofa shedding tears, I kept telling my husband Andrew how silly I felt. He held my hand and told me I shouldn’t feel embarrassed.

I see now that Andrew was right. Whether or not I knew Larry Hagman wasn’t the point. What mattered is that he had touched my life. Maybe J.R. Ewing wasn’t a real person, but the sense of loss I felt at that moment was very real.

It took me a few days to figure all this out and find the words to express it. The breakthrough came when I realized J.R. has been part of my world almost from the beginning. I don’t remember when I watched “Dallas” for the first time, but it must have been in the spring or summer of 1980, when the show was 2 and I was 6. I didn’t always understand the stories I saw on “Dallas,” but I couldn’t get enough of the glamorous trappings – the ranch, the offices, the cars. Mostly, though, I loved the rapscallion at the heart of it all.

J.R. Ewing was my hero. I can remember spending Saturday afternoons “playing ‘Dallas’” with Joanna, the girl who lived next door. Together, we would recreate the scenes I had watched on the show the night before. In our backyard world of make-believe, I always cast myself as J.R. Joanna was assigned all the other roles: Sue Ellen, Kristin, Cliff.

In middle school, my love of “Dallas,” “Knots Landing” and the era’s other prime time soaps was one of the things that made me realize I was different from the other boys. The other boys realized this too, and they made my life miserable. That’s when my appreciation for J.R. deepened. Even though I saw him do a lot of bad things each Friday night, I so admired how he carried himself. No one pushed J.R. around. Words never stung him. It was the kind of power I wanted for myself.

I used to fantasize about silencing my sixth-grade tormentors with clever, J.R.-style ripostes. Sometimes I’d imagine staging fiendish acts of revenge to make the mean kids sorry for picking on me. What these imaginary ploys entailed, I cannot recall. I couldn’t have been older than 11 or 12 at the time, so how devious could my maneuvers have been? Was I going to frame one of my bullies by making it look like he’d copied his homework?

I eventually outgrew my secret desire to plot and scheme like J.R., but I never outgrew my admiration for his swagger. J.R. never apologized for who he was, and eventually, I learned to be proud of who I am. Don’t get me wrong: I’m not the kind of person who brims with self-confidence. I’ll never have J.R.’s moxie. But I did learn a lot from him about standing up for yourself and having the courage to go after the things that matter to you.

Since I started Dallas Decoder and began re-watching the original series with fresh eyes, I’ve found myself thinking about Larry Hagman as much as I do J.R. What a phenomenal talent. Much has been made in recent days about Hagman’s gifts. There’s not much I can add here, except to say this: Larry Hagman wasn’t an actor. Larry Hagman was a wizard. He didn’t perform. He made magic.

People who knew Hagman have talked a lot this week about how the lines that distinguish him from J.R. blurred with time. I don’t doubt it. But I also believe there was a part of Hagman that was just plain Larry.

I thought about this a few days ago, when I watched the “Dallas Reunion: The Return to Southfork” retrospective. At the end of the special, Hagman and his longtime co-stars are sitting in front of an audience, reminiscing. At one point, the camera cuts to a shot of Hagman laughing. He’s so tickled, his eyes crinkle. This isn’t J.R.’s mischievous chuckle. It’s Larry’s hearty guffaw. It made me think: I know J.R. and I love him, but I wish I could have known Larry too.

I was lucky enough to have one encounter with Hagman. It happened during the fall of 2004, when I was working as a newspaper reporter. CBS announced a conference call for journalists to interview Hagman and Linda Gray about that “Return to Southfork” special, which was going to air in a few days. My editors weren’t interested in a story about a “Dallas” clip show, but I sure as hell wasn’t going to let that stop me from participating in the call. This was my chance to finally speak to my hero.

When the time came, I sat at my desk in the newsroom, dialed the number on the press release and listened to the moderator’s instructions. Each reporter would be allowed to pose a single question to Hagman and Gray. Fair enough. Except when it was my turn, I didn’t ask a question. Not really. I gushed. I went into full-fledged fanboy mode, telling Hagman and Gray how much I loved them, their characters and all things “Dallas.” At one point, I acknowledged I sounded like a sycophant. Hagman chuckled and called me “sickie.” J.R. Ewing took a shot at me! I was over the moon.

I’ve thought about that call a lot this week. I cherish the memory, but I also wish I could get a do-over. I wouldn’t gush this time, and I wouldn’t ask Hagman a question. I’d simply thank him.

What did Larry Hagman mean to you? Share your comments below and read more opinions from Dallas Decoder.

… And We’re Back

Announcement - And We're Back copy

Nice to be back

After taking a breather in August, Dallas Decoder is back.

This week, I’ll post “Best & Worst” reviews for each of the original “Dallas’s” first three seasons, as well as my wrap-up of the TNT series’ inaugural season.

Next week, I’ll resume critiquing the classic show’s episodes, picking up where I left off in the middle of the fourth season. I also plan to add some new features and drop older ones – and then before you know it, 2013 will be here and it’ll be time to dive back into TNT’s “Dallas,” which is slated to begin its second season in January.

I want to take this opportunity to thank everyone who reads Dallas Decoder. Your support means a lot to me. I hope you’ll continue to read and share your feedback – and if you haven’t already done so, please consider “liking” Dallas Decoder on Facebook and following us on Twitter and Pinterest.

Enjoy Labor Day and I’ll see you back here tomorrow!

Summer!

Dallas, Linda Gray, Sue Ellen Ewing

Thanks, Teresa

I’m making some changes at Dallas Decoder, just in time for summer.

Starting next week, I’m going to begin critiquing “Knots Landing” episodes that feature J.R., Bobby and other “Dallas” characters. If you haven’t seen these installments, think of them as the Southfork saga’s lost chapters. My “Knots Landing” posts will be sprinkled among my usual “Dallas” critiques, in the order in which the episodes were originally broadcast.

In addition, I plan to write about the new “Dallas” episodes that TNT will telecast on Wednesdays, beginning June 13. My goal is to post these items on Thursdays and then take Fridays off because, hey, even “Dallas” fanatics deserve a little down time in the summer, right?

In this spirit, I want to thank everyone who reads Dallas Decoder. I’m having a blast blogging about “Dallas” and I appreciate your support. I hope you’ll leave some comments on my posts. I really want to hear what you think.

(Also, don’t forget to “like” Dallas Decoder on Facebook and follow Dallas Decoder on Twitter and Pinterest.)

With the premiere of TNT’s “Dallas” just 16 days away, this promises to be the Ewings’ biggest summer since 1980, when the whole world waited to find out who shot J.R. Let’s enjoy this “Dallas” renaissance and make the most of it.

See you at the Southfork swimming pool!

‘Dallas’ and Me

Me, summer 1980

My earliest memory of “Dallas” isn’t watching it – it’s wearing it.

In the summer of 1980, when I was 6, I was one of the millions of people swept up in the hysteria over J.R. Ewing’s shooting. I begged my mom to get me one of the “I Shot J.R.” t-shirts everyone seemed to be sporting – a tough request for her to fulfill since finding the shirts in kids’ sizes wasn’t easy.

Of course, she somehow got the job done – moms always do, don’t they? – and I proudly wore my shirt during our family’s outing that summer to the local amusement park, where I remember getting my share of strange looks.

I now understand why. I mean, what 6-year-old wears a shirt declaring he shot someone? For that matter, what kind of parent allows their kid to watch a show like “Dallas?” Most baffling of all: Why did I want to watch it?

I’m guessing I became a “Dallas” fan out of inertia. In its early years, the show followed two of my other childhood favorites – “The Incredible Hulk” and “The Dukes of Hazzard” – in CBS’s Friday night lineup, so the first time I encountered the Ewings, my eyes were probably so glazed over, I didn’t notice the absence of green monsters and car chases at Southfork.

I must have started paying attention to “Dallas” around the time J.R. was shot. Once I did, the show captured my imagination and never let go.

At that young age, I was too young to understand everything I saw on “Dallas,” and I suppose that’s why my parents didn’t mind me watching it. Besides, “Dallas” was one show everyone in our house could agree on. Appropriate or not, we watched together. (And as I’ve since discovered, lots of people watched the show when they were kids.)

Today, “Dallas” is like an alternate set of home movies from my childhood.

The show debuted a year before I started kindergarten and ended a year before my high school graduation, so whenever I recall moments from that 13-year span, I can’t help but associate them with what was happening to the Ewings at the time.

My older sister got married and left home a month before J.R.’s shooter was revealed. I started middle school three weeks before Bobby’s “funeral.” Bobby married his second wife April on the night my grandmother suffered a heart attack.

As I got older, I drifted away from “Dallas” – until last year, when TNT announced plans to revive the series with all-new episodes. My DVDs came off the shelf and I rekindled my love affair with the Ewings.

Now, I’m starting Dallas Decoder to relive my “Dallas” memories and maybe figure out, once and for all, why I love the show as much as I do.

This project is proving more fun than I could have dreamed. I’m discovering things about “Dallas” I never noticed before, and my husband Andrew recently began watching the show for the first time, so now I get to see it through his eyes.

Andrew recently watched the “Who Shot J.R.?” storyline play out without already knowing the shooter’s identity. Can you imagine?

Come to think of it, Andrew’s birthday is tomorrow. (He was born 365 days before “Dallas” debuted, which I’ve always considered a sign we were destined to be together.)

An “I Shot J.R.” t-shirt would make a nice birthday gift, but where could I get one on such short notice?

Mom, help!

Why do you love “Dallas”? Share your comments below and read more opinions from Dallas Decoder.

Decoding ‘Dallas’

Dallas, J.R. Ewing, Larry Hagman

Between the lines

Hello, darlins!

My name is Chris and I’ve been watching “Dallas” since I was a kid. I’m starting Dallas Decoder to pay tribute to the show, explore its enduring appeal and maybe figure out why I love it as much as I do.

My goal is to critique each “Dallas” episode in the order in which they were originally broadcast and post a new review each weekday. I also plan to offer a daily transcript of a memorable “Dallas” scene, along with occasional essays about the show’s broader themes.

Other periodic posts will focus on the fashions seen on “Dallas” and the photography used to publicize the series during its original run from 1978 until 1991. There’ll also be some surprises along the way, and when TNT’s “Dallas” revival begins in June, I’ll write about the new show, too.

Please visit regularly and share your comments – and be sure to check out Dallas Decoder on Twitter, Tumblr and Facebook.

Hopefully, Dallas Decoder will become a forum for fans to gather and celebrate “Dallas,” which is as fascinating now as it was when it debuted, 34 years ago today.

Let the fun begin!