Drill Bits: ‘Dallas’ Returns to TNT — and So Do Viewers

Christopher Ewing, Dallas, Jesse Metcalfe, John Ross Ewing, Josh Henderson, Return, TNT

Nice job, boys

“Dallas” returned for its third season on February 24 — and so did the TNT dramas’s loyal fans. The episode, “The Return,” drew 2.7 million viewers, matching the show’s audience average on Monday nights last year.

“It was a big night of television and ‘Dallas’ held its own. That’s good news,” says Marc Berman, editor in chief of the industry news site TV Media Insights.

“Dallas” went head to head with the second half of NBC’s two-hour season premiere of “The Voice,” which drew 15.7 million viewers, the show’s second most-watched episode after its 2012 post-Super Bowl special. “That’s difficult competition, so the fact that [‘Dallas’] held onto last year’s audience is positive,” Berman says.

“Dallas’s” February 24 haul included 1.1 million adults between ages 25 and 49, a demographic that cable channels like TNT target, as well as 946,000 adults between 18 and 49, the group advertisers pay top dollar to reach. Berman predicts the audience for “The Return” will climb to more than 3 million once people who recorded the show on their DVRs and watch it later in the week are included.

“Dallas’s” season premiere was also a hit on Twitter, where the show’s actors live-tweeted the telecast and helped “trend” hashtags such as #DallasTNT and #JohnRoss.

Additionally, in a time when social media buzz is increasingly important to television shows, “Dallas” is gaining steam. By our count, the series has recently picked up more than 47,000 “likes” on its official Facebook page, which now boasts 1.5 million likes altogether. The show’s Twitter feed has more than 82,000 followers, up several thousand from a few days ago.

One of the “Dallas”-related hot topics on Twitter during the telecast was the introduction of the show’s retro-style split-screen opening credits — a switch Berman heartily endorses.

“As a longtime fan, it was great to see the actors’ faces in the credits again. They should have been there all along,” he says.

No Pain at These Pumps

Dallas, John Ross Ewing, Josh Henderson

Service with a smile

“Dallas” was also a hit with New York City motorists yesterday.

Business was brisk at the Manhattan service station where TNT staged a one-day takeover to promote the third-season premiere.

TNT branded the station “Ewing Energies” and even brought in a Ewing tanker trunk, but the big draw was the bargain-basement price: The gas sold for just $1.98 a gallon, roughly half the national average.

Of course, it also didn’t hurt that Josh Henderson showed up to pump gas for a while.

Sue Ellen’s Publicity Tour

The “Dallas” cast has taken over the talk-show circuit in recent days. One of the highlights: Linda Gray’s visit to Bravo’s “Watch What Happens Live,” where she was as charming as ever, reminiscing warmly about Larry Hagman, whom she lovingly referred to as her “bestie” for 37 years.

Altogether now: Awww!

Also, be sure to read her fun interview with the Washington Blade, the gay newspaper in Dallas Decoder’s hometown of D.C. Gray’s comments about Barbara Bel Geddes are especially hoot-worthy. Who knew Mama was such a card?

“Drill Bits,” a roundup of news about TNT’s “Dallas,” is published regularly. Share your comments below.

Let’s Discuss ‘The Return’ Tonight on #DallasChat

Dallas, John Ross Ewing, Josh Henderson, Return, TNT

So good at being bad

You’re invited to join Dallas Decoder’s next #DallasChat on Twitter, which I’ll hold Tuesday, February 25, from 9 to 10 p.m. Eastern time. We’ll discuss “The Return,” TNT’s third-season “Dallas” opener.

This will be #DallasChat’s first appearance in its new Tuesday time slot, and to mark the occasion, I’m going to shake up our format. Starting this week, I want you to help decide what we discuss.

Leave your suggested questions about “The Return” in the comments section below, tweet them to me @DallasDecoder or post them to my Facebook page. I’ll choose one or more questions and ask them during tonight’s discussion.

If you’re new to #DallasChat, here’s how it works: For one hour, I tweet a series of questions to my fellow “Dallas” fans. Each question is numbered and includes the hashtag #DallasChat, so your answers should do the same. Please include the show’s official hashtag, #DallasTNT, in your tweets too.

Here’s a sample exchange:

Q1. What did you think of John Ross’s latest scheme on #DallasTNT this week? #DallasChat

A1. He’s so bad … but I can’t help but love him. He’s just like his daddy. #DallasTNT #DallasChat

Here are two tips:

• During the discussion, enter #DallasChat in Twitter’s search field. This will help you watch the search results so you can follow the conversation. Click “All” to see all the related tweets.

• Be sure to include #DallasChat in your tweets. This allows the other participants to see your contributions to the conversation.

This will be our 40th #DallasChat since last year, which means the discussion will include the 400th #DallasChat question. Will it be yours?

The Dal-List: 5 Women Who Spied for Cliff Barnes

Dallas, Elena Ramos, Jordana Brewster, Return, TNT

Welcome to the club, honey

Say what you will about Cliff Barnes (Ken Kercheval), but the man knows how to get women to spy on the Ewings for him. In “The Return,” TNT’s third-season “Dallas” opener, Elena Ramos (Jordana Brewster) becomes the latest gal to go undercover on Cliff’s behalf. Here’s a look at five others.

Dallas, J.R. Ewing, Julie Grey, Larry Hagman, Tina Louise

His kind of traitor

5. Julie Grey. When J.R. began taking his secretary/mistress Julie (Tina Louise) for granted, she got even by sneaking Cliff documents that proved the Ewings had bribed a state senator. Cliff exposed the Ewings and Julie left town, but she came back and pretty much did the same thing all over again — feeding J.R.’s secrets to Cliff. This time around, Julie wound up dead and Cliff wound up in jail, framed for her murder — courtesy of J.R., natch.

Cliff Barnes, Dallas, Deborah Rennard, Ken Kercheval, Sly

Reflections of a rat

4. Sly Lovegren. In an attempt to beat the Ewings at their own game, Cliff blackmailed Sly (Deborah Rennard), J.R.’s loyal secretary, into leaking him Ewing Oil secrets by threatening to have her brother’s parole denied if she didn’t cooperate. Sly reluctantly went along with the scheme — until J.R. caught wind and turned Sly into a double agent, using her to feed Cliff bad information that brought his company to the brink of disaster.

Dallas, Deborah Shelton, J.R. Ewing, Larry Hagman, Mandy Winger

The shadow knows

3. Mandy Winger. Here we go again. When J.R.’s mistress Mandy (Deborah Shelton) suspected he was cheating on her — how could he! — she tried to get revenge by getting him to divulge Ewing Oil secrets, which she gave to Cliff. J.R. was wise to Mandy’s game, though, and turned the tables on her and Cliff. But poor J.R.: He seemed genuinely hurt by Mandy’s betrayal — which should’ve been our first clue this was all a dream.

Cliff Barnes, Dallas, Ken Kercheval, Pam Ewing, Victoria Principal

Double spy

2. Pam Ewing. By the time Pam (Victoria Principal) remarried Bobby, she had become Cliff’s business partner. This put her in competition with J.R. and Bobby and made her life hell. Cliff didn’t help matters when he asked Pam to divulge which companies the Ewings wanted to acquire — and she did! J.R. would’ve been mad, except he used Pam to find out which companies Cliff wanted. Who knew she could be so valuable?

Dallas, Julie Gonzalo, Pamela Rebecca Barnes Ewing, TNT

Daddy’s girl

1. Pamela Barnes. To destroy the Ewings once and for all, Cliff sent his daughter Pamela (Julie Gonzalo) to infiltrate the family by posing as “Rebecca Sutter.” She married Christopher — her own cousin! — and dutifully did Daddy’s bidding, eventually helping him gain control of Ewing Energies. And how did he repay her? By blowing up the Ewing Energies rig, causing her to lose her unborn babies. We can’t help but wonder: Elena, are you sure you want to do business with this guy?

What’s your favorite “Dallas” spy story? Share your comments below and read more “Dal-Lists.”

The Dal-List: 5 Ewings Who Had Multiple Southfork Weddings

Dallas, J.R. Ewing, Larry Hagman, Linda Gray, Sue Ellen Ewing

First couple, second wedding

In “The Return,” “Dallas’s” third-season opener, Pamela (Julie Gonzalo) says she’s “feeling a little shy” about having another wedding at Southfork. Sue Ellen’s response: “Trust me. You won’t be the first bride to have had multiple weddings here.” She ain’t kidding. Here are three others, along with two grooms who couldn’t stop tempting the notorious Southfork wedding jinx.

Bridal mama

Mother of a bride

5. Miss Ellie. Mama’s wedding to Jock wasn’t seen in the 1986 prequel “Dallas: The Early Years” (where she was so memorably played by Barbara Bel Geddes lookalike Molly Hagan), but we did get to hear Ellie describe the nuptials on the original series, explaining how her daddy hired a Parisian seamstress to make Ellie’s wedding dress and how Jock kept tugging at his collar during the ceremony. In 1984, years after Jock’s death, Ellie wore a simple purple suit and pearls when she wed second hubby Clayton Farlow.

Charlene Tilton, Dallas, Lucy Ewing

Princess bride

4. Lucy. Jock and Ellie’s spirited granddaughter (Charlene Tilton) donned Grandma’s dress when she wed Mitch Cooper in a lavish 1981 ceremony that became one of “Dallas’s” most-watched episodes. (Twenty-eight million viewers!) Lucy and Mitch divorced the following year, but — bless their hearts — they tried again in 1985 with a scaled-down ceremony in the Southfork living room. This marriage fared no better, but at least the nuptials inspired Bobby to propose again to ex-wife Pam.

Dallas, Linda Gray, Sue Ellen Ewing

Try, try again

3. Sue Ellen. Since J.R. and Sue Ellen had been married for several years when “Dallas” began, we never saw their ceremony. However, a framed photo from the wedding occasionally popped up on the show, and we once caught a glimpse of the invitations, which confirmed the nuptials occurred at Southfork in 1970. One year after their 1981 divorce, they walked down the aisle during another huge ceremony that ended up with everyone fighting in the swimming pool. Would we expect anything less?

Bobby Ewing, Dallas, Patrick Duffy

Groom’s Day scenarios

2. Bobby. Now here’s a Ewing who refuses to give up on love. Bobby (Patrick Duffy) and Pam’s first wedding took place in New Orelans, but their remarriage in 1986 occurred at Southfork. In between, Bobby tried to marry Jenna at the ranch, but she jilted him. In 1990, three years after Pam ran away, Bobby wed April, who was killed on their honeymoon. Poor Bobby! We don’t know where he and Ann got hitched, but we pray it wasn’t at Southfork. Otherwise, their union is probably as doomed as the rest.

Dallas, J.R. Ewing, Larry Hagman

Repeat offender

1. J.R. Like Bobby, J.R. (Larry Hagman) had three weddings at Southfork, but in J.R.’s case, all three counted. (Remember, when Bobby and Jenna had their wedding, she left him standing at the altar.) In addition to J.R.’s nuptials to Sue Ellen in 1970 and 1982, he got hitched to Cally at the ranch in 1989. Technically, this was J.R.’s fourth ceremony since he and Cally also had a ceremony in Arkansas, where her brothers forced him to to say “I do” at gunpoint. But that experience is probably best left forgotten, don’t you think?

Which Southfork weddings are your favorites? Share your comments below and read more “Dal-Lists.”

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.

New ‘Dallas’ Episode Titles Surface

Ann Ewing, Bobby Ewing, Brenda Strong, Dallas, Patrick Duffy, TNT

What’s in a name?

The titles and airdates for the first six episodes from “Dallas’s” new season are starting to pop up on TiVo and online TV listings. Stop reading now if you don’t appreciate breathless speculation about even the tiniest “Dallas” tidbits.

Here are the titles and dates: “The Return,” February 24; “Trust Me,” March 3; “Playing Chicken,” March 10; “Lifting the Veil,” March 17; “D.T.R.,” March 24; and “Like Father, Like Son,” March 31.

The listings also include a brief synopsis for “The Return,” the season’s first episode: “Sue Ellen plans a wedding for John Ross and Pamela; John Ross and Bobby dispute their joint ownership of Southfork; Elena returns to Dallas with a secret agenda; a mysterious stranger arrives.”

Keep in mind: This kind of stuff is subject to change, so take all of it with a grain of Southfork soil. Nevertheless, it’s worth considering what we might glean from this minutiae. For example, doesn’t “Lifting the Veil” seems like a good bet to be the wedding episode that brings Ray (Steve Kanaly), Lucy (Charlene Tilton) and Afton (Audrey Landers) back to Southfork? As for “D.T.R.”? Urban Dictionary tells us this expression is slang for “define the relationship,” although I wouldn’t put it past those crafty “Dallas” writers to give the acronym its own twist.

Thanks to Dallas Decoder reader Joe Siegler for tipping us off to the titles and airdates.

What do you think of the new “Dallas” episode titles? Share your comments below and read more news from Dallas Decoder.