"Who Shot J.R.?" was the Dallas mystery that sparked a nationwide mania in 1980. Now, as the TNT reboot of the series opens its second season Monday (9 ET/PT), the question is: How will they kill J.R., and honor the memory of Larry Hagman?
Five of Season 2's 15 episodes had been filmed before Hagman, 81, died of cancer in November. Executive producer Cynthia Cidre says a leftover scene featuring Hagman will be incorporated into the sixth episode, then Episode 7 will begin posing questions about J.R.'s absence.
How J.R. exits won't be revealed until Episode 8 on March 11. Cidre promises a mystery; "There are no straight lines on Dallas. That's why people tune in."
But she does promise a proper sendoff for the character, and for the actor who made him a household name. The funeral and memorial service, says Dallas co-star Linda Gray (Sue Ellen Ewing), is done with "beautiful dignity," and will help bring closure to fans.
Guests will include original cast members including Steve Kanaly (Ray Krebbs) and Charlene Tilton (Lucy Ewing). Others, not yet announced, may include actresses who played "ex-wives and former girlfriends" on the original Dallas, Cidre says.
While a few scripts had to be scrapped after Hagman's untimely death, much of Season 2's story arc will continue fleshing out the story that began last year when Dallas returned to TV after more than two decades. The reboot was one of last year's top cable dramas, averaging more than 6 million viewers in its first season.
When the debut season ended in August, J.R.'s son, John Ross (Josh Henderson), and Bobby's son, Christopher (Jesse Metcalfe), were still battling over the future of Ewing Energies. That fight became more complicated when it was revealed Christopher's wife, Rebecca (Julie Gonzalo), is the daughter of Ewing nemesis Cliff Barnes (Ken Kercheval), who is scheming to take over Ewing Energies.
On the romance front, Elena Ramos (Jordana Brewster), on the verge of marrying John Ross, instead falls back into Christopher's arms after Rebecca's betrayal is exposed.
"The show continues to be about the fight for Ewing Energies and the love stories among the young people" says Cidre. "But now there's an overarching story about what happened to J.R.," a story line that will envelop the season "completely and absolutely. His presence and personality, and how he affected his son and the rest of his family, and his absence, should permeate the rest of the season."
Hagman's castmates will be reminded daily of his absence. "It's a tough one for all of us," says Gray who, like Patrick Duffy as J.R.'s brother Bobby, had been close to Hagman for more than 30 years.
"I keep expecting him to come on the set," she says. "And I keep reading the script thinking 'where's our scene together?' It's hard to envision going on without him, although knowing him as well as I did, that's what he'd want."
Duffy says he'll miss Hagman, but takes comfort in memories of his friend. "I was and still am so saturated with 35 years of my best friend. So going back to work is going back to work. We'll address the situation and I'll act my (butt) off because inside I'll be happy. Bobby's got to be in mourning, but inside he's still my best friend."
Henderson, who says he saw Hagman as a father figure, says his goal going forward is to have Hagman's spirit live through him. "I haven't known this show yet without J.R. always over my shoulder, so this is a different thing for me," Henderson says. "A lot of times you shoot a film or a TV series and a character may pass away, but it's just for the story. This is completely different."
Meanwhile, Hagman's Airstream trailer remains on set. Production call sheets still carry his name. And before every episode, Hagman's name will roll with the rest of the credits.