Can TNT’s ‘Dallas’ Succeed Without Larry Hagman?

The cast of 'Dallas.' (Credit: TNT)

Dallas remains one of TV's most iconic shows, thanks in large part to its impact on pop culture. The drama perfected the TV cliffhanger and introduced arguably TV's biggest villain, both of whose success is credited to the late Larry Hagman. While TNT's (a subsidiary of Time Warner (NYSE: TWX  ) ) version of Dallas (which returns tonight) marched on in the wake of Hagman's passing, many are curious if they can keep it up for another season.

Generation gap

TNT's Dallas works because unlike other reboots, it didn't completely ignore the past; instead it embraced it. The addition of previous cast members such as Hagman, Patrick Duffy, and Linda Gray made it a hit and helped cross the bridge between generations of TV viewers. The show was at times a nostalgic blast that netted solid ratings.

In addition to the established talent, producers also added in Josh Henderson, Jesse Metcalfe, Jordana Brewster, and Julie Gonzalo as the next wave of characters set to inhabit the legendary Southfork Ranch. The quartet quickly proved they were up to the challenge and the notorious rivalries the original version was known for were fired up again and in grand fashion.

The new generation of 'Dallas.' (Credit: TNT)

J.R.

The celebration quickly turned to grief though as prior to the launch of the second season, Larry Hagman passed away from cancer. Audiences mourned along with the cast and crew as they came to terms with the death of one of TV's most charismatic performers. With the permission of Hagman's family and longtime friend and co-star Patrick Duffy, the show decided to carry on in the actor's memory. The series reintroduced the famed "Who Shot J.R.?" storyline and used it to give Hagman the sendoff he deserved.

Now with the "Who Killed J.R.?" angle over, the focus moves onto season 3 where audiences will have to decide if they are still interested in a Dallas without J.R. Ewing. Hagman's larger than life personality is still a major factor -- on-set his name remains number one on the call-sheet and on-air his legacy still carries the same swagger he was known for his entire life. Producers have also assured viewers that while Hagman may be gone, J.R. will still have a strong presence in the show's plot, even if largely in memory.

The future

TNT's decision to renew the show for this third season wasn't an easy one, but it was the right one. It should be up to the audience whether they want to stick with the series. Dallas executive producer Cynthia Cidre and her team have crafted a new group of storylines that inhabit the same feisty and soapy spirit that made the show a long-running hit in the first place. If they can keep it up and continue to draw viewers, it makes it more likely TNT will have the ammo it needs to justify a fourth season.

However TNT's also knows right now it can afford to gamble on Dallas. The nostalgia factor is still in play, and quite frankly it has the timeslot to spare. That won't be the case for long -- TNT has two very strong "event series" type dramas prepping for a summer 2014 bow and if Dallas struggles, it'll likely be the odd show out.

This summer TNT will premiere The Last Ship starring Eric Dane (Grey's Anatomy), Rhona Mitra (Boston Legal), and Adam Baldwin (Chuck), and Legends headlined by Game of Thrones' Sean Bean. Both series have been in the works since early 2013 and are very much in line with where the network is looking to go with its original programming.

While legal procedurals like Major Crimes and Rizzoli & Isles are still on the roster, larger-scale, bigger-budget series like Falling Skies are the new push and that will continue into pilot season where the action series Agent X, starring Sharon Stone, is seeing major buzz.

Cable TV no longer holds the monopoly on off-peak programming as the broadcast networks are beginning to realize the appeal of year-round scheduling. As a result something's eventually got to give, but it remains to be seen if that something will be Dallas.


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