Terry Morrow: 'Dallas' looks to survive, thrive without Hagman

Linda Gray is back as Sue Ellen Ewing on the new "Dallas," set for Monday day on TNT.

Linda Gray is back as Sue Ellen Ewing on the new "Dallas," set for Monday day on TNT.

Can "Dallas" survive without Larry Hagman as J.R. Ewing?

"My answer is: 'Absolutely.' He is up in Heaven, orchestrating the whole thing. He will never be forgotten," says actress Linda Gray, who plays Sue Ellen Ewing, the ex-wife of J.R., for years on the hit drama ( 9 p.m. Monday, TNT).

"We never knew (the full extent) of what J.R. did. Twenty years ago, he may have made a weird deal with somebody that will come back (to threaten the Ewings). We may find out what weird things took place years ago that's just coming to light now."

Gray says that's the fun of "Dallas" — all the twists and turns.

Hagman died in November. Scrambling to decide what to do, writers and producers thought killing off J.R. would be better than simply writing him off or recasting.

"Dallas" plans to kill off J.R. in March, but even his death will be surrounded in mystery. J.R. may die at the hands of an enemy, thus setting up another turn of the plot.

"I am thrilled about the new season," Gray says.

"I thought season one was sort of a warm-up to what you'll see (in season two). It just keeps going.

"I give major, major kudos to the writers. People are always asking, 'What do you see Sue Ellen doing?' It's not up to us.

"We're actors. We see the scripts and act it out. It's quite amazing what (writers) can do. I look at the scripts and say, 'Wow. I would never have thought of that.'"

She likes that part of being an actress. "People ask, 'What do you want Sue Ellen to be?' And I say, 'I don't know. That's up to the writers for me to play.'"

Critics of "Dallas" say Gray was sorely under-used last season. Gray doesn't mind, in retrospect.

"There were lots of people to introduce, and a lot of story to be told," she says. "In the first episode of 'Dallas' in 1978, Sue Ellen had three or four lines, and she was built from there. I kind of feel like we're back to 1978 with her again. We're rebuilding her in a way."

Terry Morrow may be reached at 865-342-6445 or morrowt@knoxville.com. Follow him on Twitter@telebuddy.

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