Welcome back, Ewings. Where y'all been? Only in television limbo, it turns out, because everything that ever was on TV eventually is reborn. (Out of desperation, apparently. What else explains the soon-to-return Munsters?)
Dallas is back as a "new" series tonight at 8 p.m., with a two-hour premiere on cable's TNT. (Join the Observer at the Angelika in Mockingbird Station tonight for a free screening of the first episode. Get there early to stake claim on a good seat.) Larry Hagman reprises his role as J.R. Ewing, the oil-rich-then-poor-then-rich-again family's wickedly brilliant patriarch. Patrick Duffy's back as nicer brother Bobby. Linda Gray alights from the time machine as Sue Ellen. New Ewings will be played by Josh Henderson, Jesse Metcalf, Jordana Brewster, Julie Gonzalo and Brenda Strong. (Look for Dallas actress and singer-dancer Linda Leonard in a sweet scene a few minutes into tonight's episode.)
The Ewings' homestead is still Southfork ranch (which is actually north of Plano), but little shooting for the new show will be done on location here in Big D. Not much of the original Dallas, which aired on CBS from 1978 to 1991, was shot here either after the first five episodes. In later years, they got sloppy about letting LA double as D-town. It was fun to spot the palm trees and mountains rising from Southfork's back 40.
Dallas isn't the only major TV series to have its roots here, however. These five did, too:
Walker, Texas Ranger aired on CBS from the spring of 1993 to May 2001.
Created by Leslie Greif and Paul Haggis (two-time best screenplay Oscar winner for Crash and Letters from Iwo Jima), the show starred martial arts instructor-turned-actor Chuck Norris as a crusading lawman who used his chopsocky expertise to take down bad guys. Besides inspiring a hilarious, long-running bit on Conan O'Brien's late-night show that has Conan pulling a lever to cue up random Walker moments, the series provided a decade of lucrative employment for Dallas-area actors. Credits-wise it was to Dallas thespians what Law & Order was to New York actors. It's hard to find a local actor here who doesn't have a part on Walker on his or her bio. Walker's sidekick was played by Clarence Gilyard, who, after the series went off the air, entered grad school at SMU and taught acting classes there. The show ended with a made-for-TV movie titled Trial by Fire that concluded with a cliffhanger. That means there's still a chance that, like Sherlock Holmes, Cordell Walker could return someday to solve more crimes with his famous fan kick. The series still airs in more than 100 countries. Enjoy this clip from the episode "Black Dragons," dubbed in French.
Friday Night Lights shot primarily on location outside Austin, but did enough scenes on Dallas turf and used enough Dallas/Fort Worth acting pros to qualify as close-to-home. Based on Buzz Bissinger's 1990 book about West Texas high school football, and the 2004 movie adaptation, the NBC series starred Kyle Chandler as head coach of the small-town Dillon Panthers. The show tackled storylines about racism, drug abuse, abortion, grade-fixing, poverty, illegal recruiting of players and cuts in school funding. Chandler won an Emmy for his performance, as did scriptwriter Jason Katims.
Critics loved this series and it earned the esteemed Peabody and Humanitas Awards, but NBC took it off prime time after two seasons. DirecTV carried its third, fourth and fifth seasons, ending in 2011. Plenty of Dallas actors got career boosts from appearing on this show. Liz Mikel, who played the character Smash Williams' mom, appeared last year on Broadway in the musical Lysistrata Jones and stars this summer in Dallas Theater Center's Joseph and the Technicolor Dreamcoat. She also just finished filming a role in the new Ben Stiller movie, a remake of The Secret Life of Walter Mitty. Cedric Neal portrayed a thug on the FNL's final season; he's currently on Broadway in the cast of the Tony Award-winning The Gershwins' Porgy and Bess. Stacey Oristano played a stripper named Mindy for the run of the show. Now she's on the new ABC Family channel series Bunheads.
Barney & Friends It started as child-friendly song-and-game videos produced and distributed by a couple of Plano housewives. The first episodes on video starred Texas native Sandy Duncan alongside the big purple dinosaur. Then PBS picked up the show and shot hundreds of episodes that aired daily between 1992 and 2002. Did you know Demi Lovato and Selena Gomez appeared on the series as child actors long before they emerged as fodder for tabloids? (Ms. Gomez is, for all intents and purposes, the current Mrs. Bieber.) Teaching gentle lessons about sharing and caring, with songs that stuck in parents' heads like musical Velcro (don't start!), Barney became a legend, its title character as famous with little ones as Kermit the Frog. Trivial-but-true: Baby Bop, Barney's squeaky sidekick, was voiced by Dallas actress Julie Johnson. She's currently starring in the road company of the Broadway musical Memphis. Here's video proof that Demi Lovato and Selena Gomez once played pattycake with the big purple beast named Barney.
Prison Break, which aired on Fox for four seasons (2005-'09), may be the only show so far that has generated a spin-off series specifically produced for mobile phones. Many episodes of the TV version were filmed in and around Dallas. Dominic Purcell starred as Lincoln Burrows, wrongly convicted of murdering the brother of the Vice President. Wentworth Miller played his brother, devoted to clearing his brother's name. But instead of trusting the appeals system, he helps his brother escape from the pen, setting off four years of chase scenes. Robert Knepper played the show's best character, Thomas "T-Bag" Bagwell, a ruthless psycho convict. The show still has a rabid fan following online, and it inspired a Prison Break magazine and a spin-off novel.
The Good Guys It only lasted about half a season in 2010 on Fox, but it's worth a nod for shooting all of its episodes in Dallas, using a slew of local talent on locations in Deep Ellum, Oak Cliff and Fair Park. West Wing star Bradley Whitford starred as an old-school alcoholic, womanizing Dallas cop named Dan Stark. Colin Hanks played his partner Jack Bailey, a rule-following, straitlaced detective. Its scripts were cliché-ridden and episodes were horrendously edited (every transition was signaled with an obnoxious gunshot sound effect), but there was something quirky and enjoyable about this series - at least until all the air went out of it in the fall of 2010. Like the other shows on this list, it provided welcome union-wage employment (that means health insurance) for a bunch of Dallas actors. No crime in that.