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Thirty-six years after the original Dallas premiere, Patrick Duffy's Bobby is now the reigning Ewing. And as TNT's Dallas sequel kicks off the second half of its third season on Aug. 18, Bobby is not only the Ewing paterfamilias, but he's also at the forefront of the sudsy storylines — romance, family squabbles, business backstabbings — that make the new Dallas as fun to watch as the original.
With viewers still awaiting news about a Season 4 pickup for the series, Duffy talked to Yahoo TV about how the show is at its juiciest, the theme for the rest of Season 3, and how it's fun to make Bobby a little more complicated than he was in the 1980s.
This midseason premiere jumps right back into the action from the April cliffhanger, and Bobby is hit with all kinds of nasty surprises about the fire at Southfork, Sue Ellen's relapse, and Ann's visit to her ex. It really feels like classic Dallas, putting everything out there on the table.
It's totally classic. I think that's the perfect explanation. People ask, "What should we expect on the new Dallas?" I say, "The old Dallas." It's what we do best. We have the best writer/producer ever in Cynthia Cidre. She just gets it. There's 20 years between the old Dallas and this Dallas. The reason it was 20 years is because nobody else understood it. Several people tried, and there were very profound failures in terms of scripts. When Larry [Hagman], Linda [Gray], and I read this script, it was unbelievable, from the pilot. It is classic. Cynthia understands how to do classic Dallas. Every episode basically is a season ender. That's what the new rhythm and procedure of television now has to be. People expect that amount of intensity. I'm along for the ride.
The death of Mr. Hagman was handled beautifully, and the spirit of J.R. is still present. But the show has really hit its stride this season; there's a lot more humor, more of those outrageous situations and dialogue that throw back to the original Dallas. It is this big, fun family saga that completely embraces everything a primetime soap should be.
I agree, and I think once Cynthia and [co-executive producer] Mike Robin knew that they had the original, well-respected story [down], the mythology, etc., then their inventiveness kicked in. All the things you just listed are the things we enjoy seeing now come up in the scripts, a little more of that humor… I think that also has a lot to do with the younger cast members feeling confident in assuming mythological position in a show that has such a history. Once they got real comfortable, they loosened up in terms of their inventiveness, and the writers started to write to it. Once you reach a stride like that and you get in a rhythm, I think it's just going to keep getting better and better.
What's the overall theme of this second half of Season 3?
I think the second half of the season has to introduce a rhythm for the future of the show, for the next many seasons to come. We had a wrench thrown in it with Larry's death. I'm sure Cynthia and Mike had an arc as to where the possibilities were for each of the characters. Larry's death threw a detour sign in that, and the rest of [Season 2] had to accommodate that.
This season following now is the new establishment of what Dallas is going to look like. From the second half of the season, we really have to, and I think it does lead people to sit back a little in their chairs and say, "OK, I'm going to watch Dallas now until it's off the air. I'm now a member of the club." I think all good shows do that. I know Breaking Bad did it… There was a point where you just went, "OK, I'm in." I think the end of this season of Dallas is going to do that for its audience. They're going to be able to sit back and go, "OK, I see everybody, where they're going, I get it all, and I'm in. Count me in."
You've lived with these characters, with Bobby especially, for so long. Can you still be surprised by his action, by storylines, or even dialogue?
I can be maybe not surprised, but I can be encouraged to expand what was the 1980s Bobby parameter into a 2010s Bobby parameter. I am encouraged when Bobby does not have to be quite as pure as he was needed to be in the '80s, the character of a good guy in that time period, although we were considered a bit edgy as a show. I still have pretty strict guidelines as to, even myself, self-imposed [guidelines] of what that character should do and how to maintain his position as the "good guy" on the show.
Television has changed enough now that it's surprising but enjoyable when Bobby can skate on the edge of his own morality or his own sense of values or ethics to do something. I think that's a result of modern television, the ability to make heroes behaving negatively at a certain time justifiable. It makes it enjoyable to be Bobby, because he can be a wider Bobby than he used to be.
What has been the most fun Bobby storyline for you so far in the new series?
I think the most fun part is Bobby's passion, where he used to be passionate about doing the right thing. I love the scenes I have with [Brenda Strong] now, because they reflect a real marriage. When [Ann and Bobby] have problems, it's very interesting for me as Bobby to be obviously in love and committed to a woman who you have problems with. They write that very well. Bobby and Ann have fights, and they disappoint each other. Gee, 42 years of my own marriage [to wife Carlyn]… I've been down that road a few times. It's nice to shine a light on it and say, "This is real, and we can work it out." If it takes five or six episodes to do so, so be it. Bobby doesn't have to wear a white hat; it can be a beige hat.
You mentioned future seasons. What is the status for the series right now? Is a Season 4 greenlight imminent?
We don't know. I have a feeling. This is the first time I've ever been involved with a show [where] we've split the season. I know that's become quite a standard thing, especially on cable and even on network television. I'm assuming, because I am not a business person in terms of this, but I'm assuming they're going to look at the ratings over the first few episodes and see if we maintain the interest level that we had going out. Those decisions are generally made in September. I'm assuming a couple of weeks of episodes, and then TNT will probably announce their whole lineup all at the same time. We'll either be included or not in that lineup, but I'm anticipating being included. I haven't spent any of that money yet, though.
When the show [was being developed], and all the casting was done, Larry hosted a dinner at his house in California. We had all the primary cast members and Cynthia and Mike there. I stuck my foot in it, and I said, "This pilot is so good, I'm going to guarantee seven years." I obviously can't guarantee it, but my determination is that the show is good enough — and it so far hasn't failed me — that we could be a very viable seven-year episodic show.
Dallas Season 3 returns on Aug. 18 at 9 p.m. on TNT.