“Sue Ellen isn’t done. It’s just kind of like we were getting started”
Linda Gray joined us at UltimateDallas.com to discuss the cancellation of Dallas on TNT and the fans fight to save the show.
Ultimate Dallas: We’re joined here on Ultimate Dallas with Linda Gray, who everybody knows as Sue Ellen on the long-running DALLAS. Linda, welcome!
LInda Gray: Thank you very much Josh, Colin, and Melanie.
UD: So, we got some news last week. TNT declined to pick up season four. Obviously the fans are upset. Everybody was upset at the time. How are you feeling about everything at the moment?
Linda: I think the situation for the cast and the crew was that we had waited and waited and waited to hear something, whether we were picked up or not picked up.
It was a very long wait and a very long summer not hearing anything. There had also been—and I think a lot of the fans didn’t know this—there was a change of management at the top level of TNT and Warner Brothers. They had not filled those positions yet. Steve Koonin had left TNT; he was one of our biggest fans. They didn’t have a replacement yet during the summertime and things were in flux. I think they were looking around to find someone to replace him.
We loved Steve, he was a cheerleader for us. Also, Michael Wright, head of Warner Horizon, was also a huge fan of all of us, of Dallas, our producers, he just loved the show. He left his position to go to Dreamworks. So, the top two guys who had been our cheerleaders left those positions and they were trying to figure out who was going to replace them, what they were going to pick up, what the new regime wanted, what shows were going to be cancelled, etcetera. So it was a very long summer waiting for news, either cancelled, renewed, or when we were going to start if we were renewed. All of us had a suitcase half-packed!
We didn’t know whether we were going back to Dallas or what was going on. Obviously, we were all excited about going back. The second part of season three premiered in the states August 18th and we did a lot of social media. We were excited; we thought the shows were great; everybody loved them. When the fire came and Christopher was in that car, that came as a shock to everybody and social media went crazy. The press leading up to that event was very exciting and then there was the scene where John Ross is on the phone and there’s a sister involved.
I think a lot of the fans were enraged because they cancelled the series and they left a lot of things hanging—a lot of questions that were not answered. It really wasn’t a completion. There are the long-standing fans from the original DALLAS series and they felt cheated because there wasn’t closure. Things were not tied up in a nice little package and finished properly. So, they felt cheated and rightfully so. There were a lot of questions at the end, you know—“What do you mean, a sister? Is Christopher really dead?” It needed to be handled a bit more respectfully.
UD: It’s almost better going into a season knowing if it’s going to be your final one so it can be written that way.
Linda: In our industry you don’t assume anything. That’s not a good word. (laughs) You assume nothing. You don’t want to have everything as if it’s complete like the big cliffhangers we’ve had. You couldn’t wait to tune in to the next season. The “Who Shot JR?” episode—you know, “Is he dead? Who killed him?” Blah blah blah, whatever. Those were always exciting. To cancel a show—well, not that you tell everybody it’s your last season, but I think it could’ve been handled a bit more respectfully.
UD: When you say that, do you mean that TNT kind of allowed it to wrap up in that way?
Linda: You never know. The thing that I even posted in one of my tweets just recently is that in the states we were on on a Monday night opposite very, very powerful shows on networks. We were opposite “The Voice” and then the Emmys came on, and now there’s Monday Night Football. We’re up against some pretty stiff competition. My question was that I didn’t know why they didn’t move us to another night. With the original series, DALLAS started on I think a Saturday night and we didn’t do very well. Then we went over to Sunday night and we still didn’t do so well. Then they put us on Friday night and that’s when we took off. People don’t remember that because you have to be my age to remember that.
(all laugh) Networks at that time—they saw a show, they loved the show, and then they found a home for it. They nurtured it. Now, if you don’t have ratings immediately, they kind of throw you off. In the early days they found the night that worked for you. Even though now it’s so different with Tivo and things like that, it was still interesting then. They wanted to make the best show possible and put it on when people would hopefully tune in on that night. This was always interesting to me—and again, I emphasize the fact that I know nothing about the business workings of TNT—but in my naïve mind as far as that is concerned, I thought that maybe they could’ve given us a little help.
UD: I can just imagine how many great shows in our past would not have survived today if they were on today because they would be cancelled so quickly. A lot of great programming would have gone out.
Linda: Exactly. With the original series there were only three networks in the states. Now there’s three million and you can get it on your phone or anywhere. It’s a whole different ball game now which is fascinating to me and lovely at the same time. You can get anything, anytime, anywhere which is wonderful. It’s still an amazing amount of content—and thank God for Tivo & DV-R because you’d have to be glued to your television or computer all the time. Now you can see it in your leisure time or when you choose. I think it’s fabulous right now. Honestly, I personally don’t have time. I have to download everything and binge-watch it. Then you find you don’t have time for that anymore. It’s like “What are we doing?” (all laugh) It’s like “Yes, but you have to watch DALLAS no matter what you do.”
UD: It’s interesting to know how the cast gets told and how that information comes down from above.
Linda: Yes, our producers (who we call mom and pop) Cynthia Cidre and Michael Robin both called. When you see your phone and it says “Cynthia and Mike” it’s like “Uh-oh”. It’s either really good news or not so good news. This was not such good news. They are so amazing to us and have been since day one. I don’t know if you know the story but when Larry, Patrick, and I signed our contracts, Cynthia and Mike took us out to dinner. It was just the five of us for a lovely get-to-know-you dinner. We really hadn’t met them yet; we had been talking to legal people about signing the contracts. We set up a beautiful dinner at a restaurant and we got to know them as human beings, people, leaders, our “mom & dad” who were going to take us into a new experience of DALLAS. They were absolutely lovely from the very beginning and they remain that to this day. When we got the call, it was like “Okay, TNT has cancelled us” and all the cast started tweeting back and forth. I think Juan Pablo (di Pace) was in Monaco and all kinds of tweets were coming in—love and kisses and condolences to everybody. That went on for most of the evening and then it started again about six o’clock Saturday morning.
UD: Did you find out the day that the press did as well?
Linda: I think so. We found out early because what they didn’t want was us to read about it or hear about it by somebody calling us and saying “Oh, I’m so sorry you’re cancelled.” They were very respectful of the fact that they wanted us to know immediately before we heard it by some other medium.
UD: I pulled out the JR Bourbon that night. I was not too happy.
Linda: (laughs) Well, no, JR Ewing would not be happy. Not happy at all.
UD: Do you think the ratings were the reason, or is it the change in the network, or a combination of things?
Linda: It’s really anybody’s guess. I don’t know, it could be a combination. They could’ve looked at the ratings. I think I read some of the press that said they were not happy with the ratings. I don’t even know how one correlates all of the ratings on cable anyway. You have that first night viewing, Tivo viewing, etc. When they dipped, we had that big summer lapse. We weren’t on the air for months. I think they’re doing that with a lot of shows and I really don’t know the reason for that. It’s another network thing that I don’t understand. It’s a bit challenging. I’m not the one to ask about that—it could be ratings or with the new regime they could’ve looked at only the ratings. I think sometimes corporate gets in the way and doesn’t look at the creative processes and what the fans want. They just look at a number and said “Okay, done. Next!” I don’t know. I wish I had that magic wand and crystal ball to say “This is really what happened.”
UD: Does the cast ever discuss the ratings at all?
Linda: No, because we’re here to entertain you. We adore our jobs, we love our characters, the cast, the crew, our producers. We’re this happy family (laughs) and I mean it. We’re just really connected. We’re this wonderful group of gypsies and nomads that pack our little suitcases, go off to Texas, and have the best possible time. We love going to work every day. We adore performing for you. We’re thrilled when you like a performance, a scene, a look—we wallow in it. We eat it up. We’re just so thrilled that you guys like it. It’s like doing theater when the audience sits there and you know they like whatever you did. That’s an actor’s dream. That’s what you do. You want to take those words that you see on a white piece of paper called a script and breathe magic into them. You want people to get excited and go into fantasy world. The Ewings are crazy, dysfunctional people and people love that. It makes their lives look fabulous; their problems don’t look as big when they look at the Ewing family. To play them is delicious. That’s the disappointment for us—we can’t keep you entertained now and it’s sad. It makes me sad.
UD: That brings us to Patrick’s quote over the weekend. He said he’s not done with Bobby Ewing. Cynthia gave us a statement yesterday and she’s fighting for the show. So this brings up the whole #SaveDallas campaign. What has been your reaction?
Linda: Oh, it’s fabulous! I feel that the fans and social media have a huge impact and it’s so rewarding for us to see the outpouring of people that are not happy. They’re the viewers. The network has to pay attention, and if they don’t then other networks will. They’ll go “wait a minute, there’s a lot of people out here who want this show back and they want it now.” It’s like instant gratification. We couldn’t be happier. It just makes me so happy when I read the emails and tweets from my fans—all the love that’s pouring out, and they have the power. They’ve brought a lot of shows back, so God bless them.
UD: It almost seems like nowadays cancellation is almost like in sports when the team doesn’t want you and you become a free agent and go to whoever wants you. That’s what it feels like.
Linda: Sure! You want to be wanted. You want someone who wants you. That’s a human condition. We’re an entertaining business; that’s what we do. We want to be with people who want us.
UD: Do you think there’s a good chance of something happening based on the momentum? It was mentioned on “Live with Kelly and Michael” yesterday.
Linda: Oooh! I like it!
UD: Do you think there’s a chance of it finding a new home?
Linda: Absolutely! And I love the fact that we’re not sitting here going “Poor us. We’re the victims. We got cancelled. Poor us.” No, we’re not that kind of people. It’s like “Are you kidding me? Well, you didn’t want us, but somebody else will.” We’re in that mode of “We’re not done and we want to be with people who want us and cheer us on.” We’re looking for people, so why not? That’s what we do.
UD: And the Ewings don’t take “no” for answer.
Linda: Don’t mess with us, baby. (laughs)
UD: So you’re ready to go whenever they contact you?
UD: What message do you have out there for the fans as a whole?
Linda: I thank them hugely. They have been faithful to us. So many people I run into all the time have been faithful since day one. They love us and they’re part of the family and a huge part of the reason we were on the air for so long on the original series and had such a warm welcome coming back. I have love, gratitude, and such thanks from my heart for all of the support that they have given us throughout the years. Not just the last three—they’re included—but they have been so supportive. I just thank them.
UD: What are your immediate plans while you’re waiting? Projects, time with the family?
Linda: All of them. You always have the magic wish list of things you’d like to have happen. I feel much like Patrick—Sue Ellen isn’t done. It’s just kind of like we were getting started. It felt like that to me. We were on a new run here, we weren’t finished. Sue Ellen isn’t finished yet. Josh Henderson hit his stride in this last season. A lot of people just kind of got in the groove and we all meshed together as characters. I feel that we’re not through. The wish list is that yes, we get to go back for a couple of years—no numbers, but to have a bit more completion. I don’t know why, I’m just talking from intuition here, but it doesn’t feel complete and I think when there’s such enthusiasm with the cast and we get along so well, there’s a sadness. School’s over, but we’re not finished yet. Anyway, that’s how I feel. The wish list is that we will be renewed and maybe go to another network.
Interview and transcription by Colin Hunter, Josh Eilberg, and Melanie Joy
The following two tabs change content below.