How Dallas Planned a Truly Emotional Funeral -- After Using a Bit of Magic to Extend J.R.'s Life

Dallas / EP202In many ways, Larry Hagman‘s final appearance on TNT’s Dallas… wasn’t.

Though the beloved actor had three scenes in last week’s episode — culminating with the moment in which J.R. was shot by an unseen assailant — each of those sequences was fashioned from preexisting footage and dialogue, as producers scrambled to reconfigure Season 2 in the wake of Hagman’s passing. Reflecting on the process, executive producer Cynthia Cidre tells TVLine, “‘Crafty’ is a good description” for what they pulled off.

But well before that bit of FX magic came into play, the Dallas brass needed to figure out how J.R. would exit the canvas — and what that canvas would look like afterwards — upon hearing the tragic news of Hagman’s passing in late November.

HOW THEY SHOT J.R.
Reflecting on that time, Cidre says the question was: “How do you say goodbye to such an iconic character and such an iconic actor in a way that pays tribute to him and also makes the fans happy? It was a huge challenge, but we knew we had to accept it and rise to the occasion.”

To that end, Cidre says that she, fellow EP Michael M. Robin and their writing team “kind of threw away the rest of the season as we had plotted it, just for the moment, to free our minds about what else we could do.” After a couple of weeks and considering “what must have been 30 different” scenarios, “I think we came up with a really good one,” she says. “The next challenge was: OK, now let’s reintegrate all of the really good moments that we had already planned. And I think we ended up keeping 80 percent of it.”

The storyline conceived to accommodate Hagman’s death, as now revealed, involved killing off TV’s greatest love-to-hate character Dallas, Larry Hagmanby way of a murder mystery. And while the original idea was to simply have J.R. shot off-camera during a one-way call with Josh Henderson’s John Ross, “Post-production put together all the lines of dialogue Larry had recorded, and we the writers figured we could reverse-engineer the John Ross side of it,” Cidre says. “Our editor was able to come up with something extremely clever.”

Robin explains that the episode-ending phone call was built off of an Episode 4 scene between J.R. and Pamela Barnes’ No. 1, Frank, who had just delivered the upsetting news that John Ross was sleeping with the enemy (ergo J.R.’s distressed reaction). The FX guys then stripped out the original background (J.R.’s room at Southfork) and dropped in the walls of the motel room in Mexico where the oily tycoon is ultimately found murdered. Add in the sound of approaching foot-steps, cut to John Ross’ reaction when shots ring out and… “We were like, ‘Son of a gun!'” Robin shares.

But lest that one scene feel tacked on to an otherwise J.R.-less episode, the editors and post-production wizards cobbled together two others — J.R. in a limo, and then a phone call with Bum — to create a three-beat final arc for the character. (The second scene involved tweaking a spliced-in snippet of Season 1 Hagman dialogue from, “What are you doing about that rat [Harris Ryland]?” to “What are you doing about that race?”)

Dallas / EP208

THE MOURNING AFTER
One aspect of Hagman’s sendoff that was extremely real, however, was the emotion heavy in the air around as longtime castmates, present and past (including Steven Kanaly’s Ray Krebbs, Charlene Tilton’s Lucy and Ted Shackleford’s Gary), reacted to the character’s and/or Hagman’s passing.

Though TV dramas regularly film scenes out of order, Robin says, “I asked our first assistant director to shoot as much in order as we could” for this episode. “You can kind of make that request, especially when big emotional throughlines are involved.” As Cidre explains, “Actors need to travel to the emotion” of something as resonant as a funeral scene.

And make no mistake, much of what viewers witness at J.R.’s gravesite tonight is not so much Southfork residents walloped by a loss, but the stars of Dallas tributing one of their own.

“One of the things that makes this a remarkable hour is that the emotion is honest, from everybody involved,” Robin notes. “That line was blurred for everybody who knew Larry.”

Crew members included. Robin shares that for the lensing of a scene centered on Linda Gray’s Sue Ellen, “I didn’t have anybody in that room other than a camera operator, a focus puller, a dolly grip and a sound guy, to keep it small for her. And the focus puller was just clearing tears out of his eyes. Everybody, everyone, was quite choked up.”

Will you be attending J.R. Ewing’s funeral tonight at 9/8c?

Comments are monitored, so don’t go off topic, don’t frakkin’ curse and don’t bore us with how much your coworker’s sister-in-law makes per hour. Talk smart about TV!

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28 Comments
  1. Tom says:

    Absolutely. Hope the show continues to be great, even without its largest icon.

  2. Dave says:

    Never saw the original to get who the returning characters are but I’m sure it’ll be great

  3. mspenn1013 says:

    It will be so bittersweet. I’ve got a fresh box of tissues ready.

  4. RIP says:

    Sad.
    I knew they had to craft using old footage.
    Done well enough.

  5. yes i will be watching

  6. Sal F says:

    I would not miss it…I like this show so much I have gone back and started watching the original one since I never did growing up…

  7. Curly says:

    I just teared up while reading this article, this episode will be so hard for me to watch. I really had no idea how much I liked JR/Larry Batman until I started to watch the new Dallas. I always hated him the first time around- he certainly created a heck of a memorable character.

  8. Montie says:

    I wonder why they hadn’t had a Plan B, so to speak, in place before. He had been ill for quite some time. Even though I was shocked by his passing, it couldn’t have been that much of a surprise for people involved with the show. Obviously, he had been well enough to film some scenes for Season 2 but not as much as Season 1. Did he take a sudden turn for the worse?

    • dude says:

      He died because of complications. It wasn’t like he got progressively worse, it was quite sudden, they thought he was coming around.

  9. Jen says:

    I was at the Paleyfest yesterday and got to see tonight’s episode. Definitely a three hankie affair! Kudos to the whole cast especially Linda Gray and Patrick Duffy.

  10. jesse says:

    Looking forward to tonites episode, its cool they rought back cally and mandy, hopefully a few more old faces too, will be interesting to see where the show goes post j.r.

  11. TM says:

    I definitely remember that bar scene which was re-used from when JR was in Dubai last season. Same crazy acting blonde extra sitting near him!

  12. JBC says:

    I don’t watch the new remake of Dallas, but I watched the Original, and will be definetly tuning into tonight to see the tribute to J.R., the wonderful Mr. Larry Hagman.

  13. shar says:

    Although I will greatly miss JR, I still look forward to seeing the show from now on. I have gotten really fond of John Ross, and I have always been a fan of Sue Ellen’s. I just hope they don’t have her start drinking again. I do miss Gary and Val, and I am glad Gary is on the show now. I wish he would stay for good.

  14. MLO says:

    “Reflecting on that time, Cidre says the question was: “How do you say goodbye to such an iconic character and such an iconic actor in a way that pays tribute to him and also makes the fans happy? It was a huge challenge, but we knew we had to accept it and rise to the occasion.”

    … and so they came up with ‘Who shot JR?’ Wow – I’m blown away. No wonder they get paid the big bucks.

    • Alex says:

      You can keep your snotty little comments. I think this is a great tribute to Larry Hagman, and so do his friends and co-workers, who have said so publicly. Let’s see YOU do a better job at writing a TV show.

      • MLO says:

        Bullcrap! It was just lazy and unimaginative. And as for writing a better show – I betcha I probably could.

        • Mac says:

          And yet you and your imagination aren’t responsible for bringing any of this to life. Hmm…

          As the old saying goes, “everyone’s a critic…” OR, as my Dad would say, “opinions are like ***holes: everyone’s got one.”

        • I suspect that you have not seen the original Dallas? This was the perfect way of sending of J.R. – The only other possibility would be to have him sacrifice himself for the rest in a situation as the episode before, with the Venezuelans. ‘Who Shot J.R.?’ is one of the best cliffhangers of TV history, and what made Larry Hagman as big as he was, and revisiting it and making another plot with the same characteristics, suspense and curiosity is the perfect way to send off J.R.
          They were not lazy, they made a perfect episode in which your pay tribute to both Larry Hagman as an actor and J.R. as a character, and it let Patrick Duffy and Linda Gray say good bye the way they should.
          I’m sorry, but what you’re saying is just not true. How would you have written the episode, and J.R.’s death? Please do tell!

  15. Chloe says:

    Thank you for explaining how those scenes last week were done. I had been wondering, since they sounded almost as though they were filmed with the end of JR in mind. The producers worked wonders & gave us a chance to enjoy Larry one last time.

    Yes, I will be watching, just as I’ve been watching all along since 1978. And I will keep watching, although it will not be the same without JR. I don’t know who killed JR but I suspect he/she will go down as one of the most hated people in TV history.

  16. Lulu says:

    So curious to see how they will pay tribute to maybe the most iconic ‘love to hate’ tv character ever (maybe with Tony Soprano)..

  17. Teresa says:

    What was the name of the song they sung at JR ‘s Funeral?

  18. Sunshine says:

    It was an amazing farewell to a beloved actor.
    I remember him from Dallas & I Dream of Jeanie. The only thing that would have made it perfect would have been having her come back as Lee Ann De La Vega.

  19. MARILYN says:

    WAS DONE VERY GOOD. WISH THEY HAD REFLECTED BACK WITH SOME SCENES FROM THE ORIGINAL SERIES OF HIM WITH EVERYONE.

  20. Regina says:

    An amazing tribute to a wonderful actor. J.R.’s character will be truly missed, right along with Larry Hagman. Dallas has been an amazing show from the beginning. No one will ever replace J.R. His character will go down as a legend.

  21. Jackson Taub says:

    Lee Ann De La Vega would not have returned because she hated JR for having dumped her…. all those jilted lovers…. imagine the parade! Since Vanessa Beaumont was older than JR, it stand that she prolly passed before him… from what I understand, Sasha Mitchell isn’t in good shape anymore…. so ergo no James Beaumont… wouldn’t it have been something if Callie had mentioned something about James being such a good dad, doing something with J.R.s child?!

    • jpelletti says:

      @Jackson Taub, in regards to Sasha MItchell, he is awesome condition! He’s bigger, more muscle, still works out, and still practices martial arts! Not sure where your info came from, maybe from many years ago, not sure. He’s more the size of Hulk Hogan or Arnold now, but still good on the eyes, still acting. He would fit perfectly into Dallas now! He could create more chaos and mayhem!

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