FOR actor Linda Gray, the character of Sue Ellen Ewing, the long-suffering wife of Texas oil tycoon J.R. Ewing, was a gift. During the original series of Dallas, which aired from 1978 to 1991, she went from beauty queen to trophy wife, from alcoholic to sober superwoman.
''Look at history, all the interesting women were deeply flawed,'' Gray tells The Guide. ''Why not sink your teeth into it as an actor? This is going to sound horribly egostistical but I think she was the most interesting female character on television in the '80s.''
Dallas was one of the icons of the decade of excess. It spawned imitators such as Dynasty and Falcon Crest, and a long-running spinoff in Knots Landing. When it wound up in 1991 it was followed by two telemovies, J.R. Returns and War of the Ewings.
Talk of a remake, sequel or even a big-screen reboot simmered for years but never came to fruition. That changed last year. The show's three original stars - Larry Hagman and Patrick Duffy, who played duelling Ewing brothers J.R. and Bobby, as well as Gray - were approached about reprising their roles in a new iteration. ''We all read the script, called each other and said 'What do you think?' And the consensus was, 'Let's do it','' Gray says.
The new series picks up the story in the present day, with J.R. and Sue Ellen's son John Ross (Josh Henderson) and Bobby and Pam Ewing's adopted son Christopher (Jesse Metcalfe) clashing over the fate of the family's Southfork Ranch. John Ross wants to drill for oil while Bobby and Christopher, in deference to the family's now-deceased matriarch Miss Ellie, whose family owned the ranch, want it preserved by a conservation foundation. And so the stage is set for war.
Gray says the new series is same same, but different. ''Southfork is Southfork. Dallas is Dallas. Things have obviously changed in 20 years but it was a seamless transition from one era to the other, it was amazing.''
Co-producer Michael Robin says the show endures because its story of family conflict is timeless. ''Those are things that have worked throughout history in literature,'' he says.
The script was written by co-producer Cynthia Cidre, a passionate fan of the original series. ''[The new show] has everything everyone loved about the original show: the family conflict, the really big plot moves, the double-crosses, the triple-crosses,'' she says.
It also sets the stage for a reunion between TV's biggest villains, J.R. (Hagman) and his now former wife Sue Ellen. ''I think it's one of those dysfunctional relationships, like the Liz Taylor and Richard Burton relationship,'' Gray says. ''It's volatile, they can't live with each other, they separate, and then they can't stay away from each other, but they can't be together. Underlying this is a great love and we know it's dysfunctional but it's there.''
In addition to new characters, the new series features cameos by some of the show's iconic original characters, including niece Lucy Ewing (Charlene Tilton), half-brother Ray Krebbs (Steve Kanaly) and family nemesis Cliff Barnes (Ken Kercheval).
Fans of the show are already asking when Bobby's former wife Pamela Ewing (Victoria Principal) and black sheep Gary Ewing (Ted Shackelford) and wife Valene Ewing (Joan Van Ark) will appear.
''It would be great but I think [the writers] have this daunting task in front of them, there are 10 episodes and five new regular characters,'' Gray says. ''[But] one of the enduring things about Dallas is that people love to see that core family, as dysfunctional as it was.''
Robin says the show's mythology is considered canon by the writers and anything is possible. ''Everything that existed inside the Dallas mythology when the show went off the air is completely in play now,'' he says. ''Any of those characters could - and a bunch of them do - come back through the course of the season. Everybody is fair game.''
Nine, Wednesdays, 9pm