Film and TV

J.R.'s Not Dead. He's Just Resting.

I've always wanted to write a book. Maybe there's one in the making--or, rather, the unmaking--of the movie version of Dallas. God knows it'll be better than the film. When it happens. If it happens. Please, sweet baby James, don't ever let it happen. The not happening is so much better.

In case you've forgotten all the drama so far, here's a quick recap. Stick with it. It gets good...if, that is, you care about things like movies being shot here. (Hint: The movie's on hold. Again. For God knows how long. Everyone's been...fired. Oh, goody.) In March, the city of Dallas and, specifically, the Dallas Film Commission launched their campaign to get the big-screen version of Dallas shot, ya know, in Dallas. Went to the trouble of making bumper stickers and T-shirts and caps bearing the slogan "Shoot JR in DALLAS!," which Dallas Film Commission director Janis Burklund, Dallas Convention & Visitors Bureau president and CEO Phillip Jones and the mayor debuted at City Hall. The idea was, and still is, to sell the products, pocket the change and use the money to lure 20th Century Fox and New Regency, the production company making the movie, to the city. Burklund herself spent months begging and pleading with producerMichael Costigan to shoot the movie here and not in Louisiana or some other state with the tax incentives Texas can't offer since the state legislature can't be bothered to actually fund Texas Senate Bill 1142, which would put Texas on a level playing field with 30 other states offering tax breaks and other discounts to movie studios and production companies.

In short, a lot of people did a lot of things to get a lot of Dallas shot in Dallas. And, in June, it looked like some of that hard work paid off: It was announced that at least a portion of the movie would be shot here, which meant some of the money would be spent here. As it says on the commission's Web site: "We are happy to report that the Dallas area is under consideration for a larger portion of the total shoot than initially suggested." Good for us. Waytago, Dallas!

Only now comes word that the movie, which was scheduled to begin shooting next month (or January, depending on various reports), ain't happening at all. Not now and not in the near future. Why? After the jump.

Late last night, movie industry trade magazine Variety reported that New Regency has decided to retool the movie by firing the entire cast, including Luke Wilson (who was to play Bobby Ewing), Katie Cassidy (Lucy) and Shirley MacLaine (Miss Ellie). The only one who will be kept is John Travolta, who will, of course, play J.R. This comes after one director's already been replaced (Robert Luketic, who most recently made Monster-in-Law, gave way to Bend it Like Beckham's Gurinder Chadha), the screenplay's been rewritten myriad times, Jennifer Lopez bailed on the part of Sue Ellen and Jessica Simpson was rejected for the part of Lucy. Meg Ryan and Scarlett Johansson had also been mentioned as possible cast members.

According to Variety, Chadha and New Regency are now considering making the movie with lesser-known actors, figuring the only character anyone really cares about is J.R. If nothing else, they claim, if they go with a younger cast, maybe they'll get a younger audience--which has just been dying to see a movie version of a TV show they've never even seen or probably heard of. Awesome. In truth, the ditching of big names means the ditching of big salaries. The reported budget for the movie right now is $65 million, but should Michael Costigan go with unknowns, well, he could knock that number back by quite a few figures.

Maybe that's good news for the city; maybe Costigan will have a few extra coins in his pocket and make the thing here after all. Or maybe it'll shoot in Louisiana or on a Hollywood backlot or in outer space. Or maybe it'll get made with puppets and Jessica Simpson. Or maybe it'll never happen ever. One thing's for certain: The movie will never be nearly as good as the story about how Dallas got made...or didn't get made. --Robert Wilonsky

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Robert Wilonsky
Contact: Robert Wilonsky