Talk about a comeback. A year ago this week, after saving his beloved Pam (Victoria Principal) from an oncoming auto, Patrick Duffy departed Dallas in a death scene so weepy it could have cured a West Texas drought. Even mean ole J.R. (Larry Hagman) broke down at the hospital bedside when Duffy breathed his last as Bobby Ewing, J.R.’s white-hat younger brother. After seven seasons as the Goody Two-boots of that feuding Big D dynasty, Duffy left the show because he wanted to trade in “boring” (his word) Bobby for more complex roles.
This week, Duffy does Dallas again. The 37-year-old actor will rise from the ashes like a phoenix and return to the show in the season-ending cliff-hanger. Someone who looks an awful lot like Bobby is expected to make a brief, mysterious appearance as a very unexpected guest at the wedding of Pam and Mark Graison (John Beck). “Duffy literally appears in a flash at the wedding,” says one source. “Neither the characters nor the audience know exactly who he is.”
Duffy’s return comes none too soon for Dallas, once a perennial No. 1 or No. 2, whose ratings this season have often dropped out of the Nielsen Top 10. “Without Bobby we lost the white knight to J.R. and the Romeo to Victoria Principal’s Juliet,” admits Dallas’ executive producer Leonard Katzman. “With Patrick back we can return to the family drama that made the show.”
Just how Duffy returns is a question that’s creating drama among scrambling journalists. “We’re not above leaking scripts to throw people off,” notes Katzman. But a trip to South-fork’s branch office—the Lorimar studios in Culver City, Calif.—reveals four possible scenarios:
•Bobby is an evil, long-lost twin brother who was thought to have died at birth.
•He’s an evil imposter, hired perhaps by one of J.R.’s many in-house enemies, to do bad in Bobby’s good name.
•He’s yet another long-lost half brother, perhaps the illegitimate son of Jock Ewing, Dallas’ late patriarch.
•He’s still alive. “Bobby died,” Duffy has said. “I was there.” But omniscient Katzman offers yet another possibility. “Maybe his eyes opened up on the way to the morgue. Don’t rule out resurrection.”
The cast was told about Duffy’s return several weeks ago, on the day Pam’s wedding was shot, but no plot details were discussed. Instead, Duffy filmed his scene at an undisclosed spot, with no other actors present. “Nobody on the show knows exactly where the moment comes,” says Katzman, who claims the scene was never put into a script. “There are going to be a lot of surprised actors when the show airs.”
The behind-the-scenes scenario began in early April, when Lorimar chairman Merv Adelson asked Hagman to bring Duffy back into the fold. Hagman willingly complied. “I need somebody to bounce off of,” he explains. “We didn’t have much fun on the show this season, and it showed in the ratings. We got away from our family format—and our male-chauvinistic pigism.”
Hunting and fishing partners, and notorious for their food fights on the set, the actors met for lunch at Hagman’s Malibu home. Like an older brother, Hagman had once warned Duffy about the dangers of leaving the show. “I’d told him it’s hard enough to get a top-rated series, much less leave one.” Duffy—whose post-Dallas solos ranged from playing a goat in a TV adaptation of Alice in Wonderland to starring in the syndicated TV movie Strong Medicine—admitted he was ready to reconsider. “He missed us,” says Hagman, “and we missed him.”
If Hagman is happy, so is Duffy’s accountant. Duffy, who had been getting about $40,000 per episode at the time of his departure (Hagman makes $100,000), this time reportedly will earn $75,000—plus, it is said, a $1 million bonus for returning. Not bad for a guy who started out underwater in the 1977 series Man From Atlantis.
But Duffy’s comeback doesn’t guarantee buoyed ratings. “You can only stretch credibility so far,” says John Beck, who will know later this month whether his character will be back next season. “It can’t be shoved down viewers’ throats.” A villainous Duffy moreover may be particularly hard for viewers to swallow. Dynasty fans firmly rejected Linda Evans’ evil double character earlier this season. Now Dallas execs have to wonder, as Dynasty co-creator Esther Shapiro puts it, “Is it Duffy or Bobby that viewers love?” As far as the future of Dallas is concerned that question might be the ultimate cliff-hanger.