PASADENA, Calif. -- TV is rife with remakes and reboots, from "Star Trek: The Next Generation" to a new "Beauty and the Beast" (based on the 1980s CBS show) due to air on The CW this fall. But a continuation of a long-running hit that picks up 21 years after the original series ended with original cast members intact is more unusual. And that's exactly what TNT's "Dallas" does.
Premiering this week with two back-to-back episodes Wednesday at 9 p.m., the new "Dallas" continues the story that effectively ended with the last "Dallas" TV movie that aired in 1998.
And although this new "Dallas" introduces a younger roster of cast members, "the big three" -- as executive producer Cynthia Cidre ("Cane") calls Larry Hagman (back as J.R. Ewing), Patrick Duffy (Bobby Ewing) and Linda Gray (Sue Ellen Ewing) -- remain prominent in every episode alongside a younger cast, several of whom were born the year of the "Who shot J.R.?" cliffhanger.
"It was never the intent to use the big three as bait for the new show," Ms. Cidre said at a TNT news conference in January. "It was really to integrate them fully with the new cast. ... It's not two separate story lines."
Executive producer Michael M. Robin said the new "Dallas" attempts to honor all the intricate plots of the original.
"Basically we've dropped back in 20 years later, and a lot of the storytelling elements are very similar in terms of the way that you have this big, epic family conflict," he said.
Indeed, that last TV movie was titled "War of the Ewings," which could also be the title for the first season of this "Dallas" continuation as J.R. and Bobby battle over Southfork and their sons, John Ross (Josh Henderson, "Over There") and Christopher (Jesse Metcalfe, "Desperate Housewives"), fight over whether the family should continue to drill for oil or invest in alternative energy.
"The interpersonal dynamics and the interpersonal fights are in place," Mr. Robin said. "We've tried to make sure that as we've brought this forward and freshened it with all these new faces that you get to watch the real generational fight within the family. These are the things that people love."
Some fans also love continuity, something Ms. Cidre said she never wanted to violate from the past 357 episodes of the series.
"Whenever we were making a choice in the present, somebody's researching all 357 episodes. ... We just want to honor the original show and the original conception of the show, its history," she said. Not that there will be perfect continuity; something is bound to slip through the cracks. "Surely there will be an email about something but it was an accident. It was not meant to be that way."
For the show's original returning cast members, who do seem legitimately chummy in a way that defies the fake Hollywood family story so often ascribed to TV show casts, the opportunity to work together again was seen as a godsend.
Mr. Duffy said he never expected to work with his co-stars again, calling that "the heartbreak of my career.
"These two," he said, pointing to Mr. Hagman and Ms. Gray, "are two of my closest friends, and I actually knew somewhere in my heart that we would never work together again because the three of us couldn't come into a scene without everybody saying, 'Oh, there's J.R., Sue Ellen and Bobby.' And that hurt me. I really wanted to work with them again. So this is the best thing that could happen in my career life."
Ms. Gray said the original series should have been a sitcom because the cast had so much fun between takes.
"I laughed every single day that we were on the set, and nothing has changed, nothing," she said.
For Mr. Hagman, returning to the role of villainous J.R. was like "putting on an old pair of slippers.
"How many people do you know working at 80," he said, "and doing a job they love with the people he loves? Oh yeah, I'm a very lucky man."
Last fall before production on post-pilot episodes of "Dallas" began, Mr. Hagman was diagnosed with a treatable form of cancer that didn't prevent him from participating in the series.
"They gave me a little time off, but, you know, in this business, you can shoot three or four shows at the same time," Mr. Hagman said in January. "My treatment's going along very well, and I've been fine. I worked yesterday. I had three major scenes yesterday. ... No, they're not writing me out by any chance, no, no."
In addition to "the big three," other characters from the show's past pop up in this first season of new episodes but through the first seven there's no sign of Pam (Victoria Principal), Bobby's ex-wife. Bobby is now remarried to Ann (Brenda Strong, "Desperate Housewives") but there is a reference to Pam, who was last seen wearing a white veil after a car crash and running off with the plastic surgeon who reconstructed her face.
"Pam is not dead," Ms. Cidre said. "We create it one season at a time, and hopefully we'll get a second season, and we'll sit down and see where we're going with it."
The first season of the new "Dallas" was filmed entirely in Texas; something the old show never did, opting to film in Los Angeles with occasional trips to Dallas to shoot some scenes. Like the old "Dallas," the new series will end its first season with multiple cliffhangers. And there will be fights, including between J.R. and Sue Ellen.
"Yesterday we did a scene, and after 13 years, she gave me my first slap," Mr. Hagman said, smiling broadly.
"Sshh, you're not supposed to say that," Ms. Gray said, trying to take back Mr. Hagman's mini-spoiler. "But it was great."
TV writer Rob Owen: firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-2582. Read the Tuned In Journal blog at post-gazette.com/tv. Follow RobOwenTV on Twitter or Facebook. First Published June 10, 2012 4:00 AM