PASADENA, Calif. — More than a dozen years on "Dallas" still wasn't enough to help Linda Gray go back.
"I had to do a lot of homework. I wondered: What did she do in the past 20 years? Who would she be?" Gray, who played the troubled Sue Ellen Ewing during its original run, says, leaning forward from the hotel suite couch where she's being interviewed.
"I thought long and hard about what, on a psychological, spiritual and emotional level, she would be like these days."
Gray — along with former "Dallas" co-stars Patrick Duffy and Larry Hagman — returns for the new "Dallas," which follows the next generation of the Ewing clan and their backstabbing exploits. The new series launches 9 p.m. Wednesday on TNT.
Having Cynthia Cidre on board as executive producer and writer (her other credits include films "The Mambo Kings" and "In Country"). In true Sue Ellen style, Gray met with Cidre over lunch and picked her brain.
Sue Ellen wouldn't, for example, turn out to be an excessive and lazily rich "Real Housewives"-type who would have her scandal-filled life documented for reality TV. Instead, she's a woman in the golden years of her life who's wise because of trials and richer than her former husband, J.R.
But she's still a mother, one who will stand beside her greedy son, John Ross, even though she's about to ruin his grandmother's legacy to make a few dollars. Standing in his way is cousin Christopher, who is Bobby's son and very much an environmentalist.
To complicate matters more, the men both love the same woman.
For Gray, the best part of having Cidre on board was the fact she's a woman. "Most of the time, 'Dallas' was written by men," Gray says.
Gray doesn't look as if it had been almost 20 years since "Dallas" ended its network run, closing a piece of TV history. There may be a few more wrinkles and some gray in her hair, but she remains a striking figure.
During its heyday, "Dallas" had an audience larger than today's heaviest hitters "American Idol" and "NCIS," and gave legitimacy to the nighttime soap opera format. Shows from "Beverly Hills, 90210" to "Mad Men" owe a bit of their success to the standard "Dallas" brought to bear.
The soap, which chronicled the saga of the oil-rich Ewing family and their backstabbing ways, was revived with two TV movies in the mid-1990s and then faded to black, seemingly permanently.
This next chapter of "Dallas" keeps up with the times. Fighting over an oil company isn't paramount. Instead, the environmental implications of drilling is. The Ewings aren't as interested in their Ewing Oil company as they are the land of Southfork Ranch.
In the opener, one of the characters is told he has a fatal illness, something millions die from in real life as opposed to the made-up diseases soaps are known to conjure.
These new developments excite Gray.
"What an opportunity for an actor and what a responsibility to (not disappoint) fans of the original series," Gray says.
Other highlights for the week of June 10-16. All times Eastern. Listings subject to change. Check local listings:
n "The Tony Awards" (8 p.m. CBS). Neil Patrick Harris is host; "Once" leads the nominations with 11.
n "Mad Men" (9 p.m. AMC). How do you end a season that's already included the suicide of a major character, sexual compromise and a cancer scare? It won't be easy.
n "True Blood" (9 p.m. HBO). The fifth season of this action-dark comedy digs up a variety of guest stars — from Christopher Meloni to Independent Spirit Award winner Dale Dickey to Carolyn Hennesy ("General Hospital").
n "Tia & Tamera" (8 p.m. Style Network). The reality show about twin actresses Tia Mowry Hardrict and Tamera Mowry-Housley is back as they deal with a new baby and marriage.
n "Untamed America" (9 p.m. National Geographic Channel). This new two-part documentary probes wildlife habits closer to home: rare footage of black bears waking up and puma cubs learning to hunt.
n "Hurricane Hunters" (9 p.m. Weather Channel). This new series looks at how hurricanes are studied, such as one Air Force group's mission to fly into hurricanes.
n "Barter Kings" (9 p.m. A&E). This new reality show looks at two skillful and cunning entrepreneurs as they trade up low-value items for things worth more.
n "Teen Mom" (10 p.m. MTV). The final season launches, following the trials of being a young mom with babies in tow.
n "The Choice" (9 p.m. Fox). Joe Jonas looks for a date on this reality competition installment.
n "Piranhaconda" (9 p.m. SyFy). Director Roger Corman's latest hybrid monster has a half piranha and half anaconda attacking a film crew.
© 2012, Knoxville News Sentinel Co.
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