Bad Dreams: When Bobby Ewing Returned to Dallas


In the closing moments of Dallas's ninth season finale on May 16, 1986, Pamela Ewing awoke to the sound of running water. Walking into the bathroom, she saw her ex-husband, Bobby Ewing—the very dead, recently-run-over-by-a-speeding-vehicle Bobby Ewing—greet her with a smile.

The Associated Press called it the “most famous shower scene since Psycho.” Viewers were shocked. According to Patrick Duffy (who played Bobby Ewing), not even the cast, crew, or CBS executives knew the scene had been shot. It was edited in less than an hour before airtime; Victoria Principal, who played Pam, hadn’t even been on set with Duffy. She was reacting to another actor in the shower.  

It was the show's most audacious move since they created a mystery around who tried to murder Larry Hagman’s J.R. Ewing six years prior. For the next four months, viewers wondered if this Bobby was a twin, an imposter, or if the entire previous season had been a bad dream.

Speculating on the latter, TV Guide wrote that it was the least likely. “Besides rendering the entire past season’s episodes meaningless,” they wrote, "what a cheat that approach would be for audiences.”


For most of its run, Dallas had enjoyed the kind of ratings dominance that was feasible only in the 1980s, when three networks ruled and audiences had an appetite for bigger-budgeted versions of the daytime soaps. When Duffy’s Bobby Ewing was struck by a hit-and-run driver in the eighth season finale in May 1985, more than 300 million viewers in 80 countries watched as cast members cried real tears over his deathbed: Duffy was well-liked, particularly by lead actor Larry Hagman.

Duffy, however, felt he had taken Bobby as far as he could. Sensing film opportunities, he decided to leave the series and shut the door on any potential for a return by allowing the character—one of the heirs to the Ewing oil fortune—to choke on rubber. As the fan site described the narrative fallout, the Ewings promptly collapsed in the wake of his death:

An emotionally-numb J.R.'s only response is to angrily lash out at Sue Ellen, who had just returned from having lunch with Dusty while the Ewings were at the hospital. "Where were you Sue Ellen? While momma and everybody were cryin' their eyes out, where the hell were you? Go back to your bottle! Go back to your cowboy! I don't care where you go, just get out of my sight!"

Duffy’s departure coincided with a regime change behind the scenes. Longtime executive producer Leonard Katzman left, replaced by Philip Capice. The switch irritated Hagman, who got along better with Katzman and felt adrift without Duffy on set. During the post-Bobby season, the series fell from number one to number seven in the ratings. A network poll indicated Dallas was one of the shows experiencing a measurable decline in audience interest. As show producer/executive story editor David Paulsen put it, warring brothers J.R. and Bobby were a take on Cain and Abel; now that there was no Abel, the narrative steam had been drained.

One day, Duffy came home to a message on his answering machine. It was from Hagman, who wanted to meet for dinner. He asked whether Duffy would be interested in returning. Duffy’s wife, Carlyn, joked that the only way that could happen was if the entire ninth season had been a dream.

Katzman—who had been reenlisted by a barnstorming Hagman—didn’t think it was so funny. Independent of Carlyn’s joke, he envisioned a scenario in which Bobby’s fatal hit-and-run would be nothing more than the result of Pam’s restless sleep. Duffy, who had appeared in a few TV movies but had otherwise not experienced the career surge he had been expecting, was agreeable to returning—if not for the creative possibilities, then for the bump in pay he’d be getting, from $40,000 to $75,000 per episode.  

In April 1986, CBS announced that Duffy would be appearing on the show, but whether it would be as Bobby Ewing was still a secret. Katzman and Duffy went to a New York sound stage—the show filmed in Los Angeles—and set up a shoot they declared was a commercial for Irish Spring soap. Duffy lathered up, turned, and said, “Good morning.” Out of context, it didn't mean much. The footage was later spliced into a reaction shot of Principal, who believed her character had just stumbled upon the dead body of her new husband, played by actor John Beck.

As the episode aired, however, the reports of Duffy’s return seemed premature. The show had already set off two bombs during its climax, seemingly expending what dramatic energy it had. It was only in the remaining 30 seconds that Principal discovered Bobby, leading to rampant speculation about who, exactly, she had found.


In interviews, Duffy and Katzman were coy about how Bobby Ewing could be revived. They eventually softened up to narrow it down to three options, all of which were shot at a cost of $25,000, one of which included Bobby surviving the car impact and recuperating in private. To throw tabloids off their trail, Katzman even had some still photos taken of Duffy in head bandages. Closer to the fall premiere, CBS took out an ad in TV Guide declaring one of the three explanations was correct, but that viewers would have to tune in to find out which one.

Airing opposite NBC’s increasingly popular Miami Vice, Dallas revealed all on September 26, 1986. Principal—who now sported slightly longer hair owing to the break in shooting—explained to Bobby that she had dreamed his death.  

“Pam, what’s the matter?” Duffy asked. “You look like you’ve seen a ghost.”

For many viewers, that may have been a better alternative. Katzman’s dream explanation essentially wiped out a year’s worth of continuity, resurrecting one actor’s character killed the year before (Jenilee Harrison, bombing victim), erasing Pam’s marriage to Beck, and eroding the audience’s faith in the show. Though Dallas lasted another four seasons, it never again captured the top slot, ceding the top nighttime soap honors to Dynasty.

Hitting the reset button seemed the logical solution at the time. For his part, Duffy remained unapologetic, calling it a “get out of jail free card” and bemoaning the fact that Bob Newhart’s sitcom, Newhart, got away with depicting its entire run as the dream of Newhart’s former character on The Bob Newhart Show. When TNT revived Dallas in 2012, it ran an ad with the cast—including a returning Duffy—in the shower, promising fans “No, you’re not dreaming.”

Disney Enterprises, Inc.
9 Things You Might Not Know About National Treasure
Disney Enterprises, Inc.
Disney Enterprises, Inc.

Released in 2004 to mixed critical reviews but a positive audience response, director Jon Turteltaub’s National Treasure has grown into a perfect rainy-day film. Stumble upon it on a streaming service or a cable channel and the fable about historian-slash-codebreaker Benjamin Franklin Gates (Nicolas Cage) excavating the truth about a reputed treasure map on the back of the Declaration of Independence will suck you in. Check out some facts about the movie’s development, its approach to historical accuracy, and why we haven't seen a third film.


Originally planned for a summer 2000 release, National Treasure—based on a concept by Disney marketing head Oren Aviv and DreamWorks television executive Charles Segars—had a Byzantine plot that kept it in a prolonged pre-production period. Nine writers were hired between 1999 and 2003 in an attempt to streamline the story, which sees code-breaker Benjamin Franklin Gates (Cage) pursuing the stash of riches squirreled away by Benjamin Franklin and his Freemason cohorts. Filming finally began in summer 2003 when Marianne and Cormac Wibberley got the script finalized. Turteltaub, who spent three years in development before finally starting production, told Variety that “getting Cage was worth [the wait].”


Nicolas Cage and Justin Bartha in 'National Treasure' (2004)
Disney Enterprises, Inc.

Fact and fiction blur considerably in National Treasure, which uses history as a jumping-off point for some major jumps in logic. While it’s not likely the Declaration of Independence has a secret treasure map written on it, Franklin and other Founding Fathers were actually Freemasons. Of the 55 men who signed the document, nine or more belonged to the society.


It can be tricky to secure permission to film on government property, which is why producers of National Treasure probably considered themselves fortunate when they discovered that Walter Knott of Knott’s Berry Farm fame had built a perfect replica of Independence Hall on his land in Buena Park, California back in the 1960s. The production used it for a scene requiring Cage to run on the Hall's roof, a stunt that was not likely to have been approved by caretakers of the real thing.


One of Cage’s cryptic clues in the film is reading a time of 2:22 on the clock depicted on the image of Independence Hall on the $100 bill. Bills in circulation at that time really did have an illustration that pointed to that exact hour and minute, although it was changed to 10:30 for the 2009 redesign. There’s no given reason for why those times were picked by the Treasury Department, leaving conspiracy theorists plenty to chew on.


Speaking with The Washington Post in 2012, guards and escorts for the National Archives reported that the National Treasure films have led visitors to ask questions that could only have been motivated by seeing the series. One common query: whether or not there really is a secret map on the back of the Declaration of Independence. “I call it ‘that’ movie,” guard Robert Pringle told the paper. “We get a lot of questions about the filming.”


Both Cage and director Jon Turteltaub attended Beverly Hills High School in the late 1970s and shared a drama class together. While promoting a later film collaboration, The Sorcerer’s Apprentice, Cage revealed that Turteltaub had actually beat him out for the lead in a stage production of Our Town. Cage was relegated to two lines of dialogue in a bit part.


Nicolas Cage and Diane Kruger in 'National Treasure' (2004)
Disney Enterprises, Inc.

On a press tour for the film, Cage told reporters that he and co-star Diane Kruger bonded by going out at night and singing karaoke. “We’d go and karaoke from time to time and sort of blow it out and be completely ridiculous, which helped, I think,” he said. “I think it was some Rage Against the Machine, AC/DC and some Sex Pistols.”


Popular films often have the residual effect of drawing interest to the real-life locations or subject matter incorporated into their plots. Mackinac Island, site of the 1982 romance Somewhere in Time, has become a perennial tourist spot. The same influence was true of National Treasure and its 2007 sequel, both of which apparently contributed to an uptick in attendance at the National Archives in Washington, D.C.


It’s been over a decade since National Treasure: Book of Secrets hit theaters, but Cage is still optimistic fans of the series could see another installment. Speaking to Entertainment Weekly in 2016, the actor said a third film was in development, with the convoluted writing process slowing things down.

“I do know that those scripts are very difficult to write, because there has to be some credibility in terms of the facts and fact-checking, because it was relying on historical events,” Cage said. “And then you have to make it entertaining. I know that it’s been a challenge to get the script where it needs to be. That’s as much as I’ve heard. But they’re still working on it.”

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How Accurate are Hollywood Medical Dramas? A Doctor Breaks It Down
Matthew Simmons/Getty Images
Matthew Simmons/Getty Images

Medical dramas like Grey's Anatomy get a lot of things wrong when it comes to the procedures shown on the screen, but unless you're a doctor, you'd probably never notice.

For its latest installment, WIRED's Technique Critique video series—which previously blessed us with a dialect coach's critique of actors' onscreen accents—tackled the accuracy of medical scenes in movies and TV, bringing in Annie Onishi, a general surgery resident at Columbia University, to comment on emergency room and operating scenes from Pulp Fiction, House, Scrubs, and more.

While Onishi breaks down just how inaccurate these shows and movies can be, she makes it clear that Hollywood doesn't always get it wrong. Some shows, including Showtime's historical drama The Knick, garner praise from Onishi for being true-to-life with their medical jargon and operations. And when doctors discuss what music to play during surgery on Scrubs? That's "a tale as old as time in the O.R.," according to Onishi.

Other tropes are very obviously ridiculous, like slapping a patient during CPR and telling them to fight, which we see in a scene from The Abyss. "Rule number one of CPR is: never stop effective chest compressions in order to slap or yell words of encouragement at the patient," Onishi says. "Yelling at a patient or cheering them on has never brought them back to life." And obviously, taking selfies in the operating room in the middle of a grisly operation like the doctors on Grey's Anatomy do would get you fired in real life.

There are plenty of cliché words and phrases we hear over and over on doctor shows, and some are more accurate than others. Asking about a patient's vitals is authentic, according to Onishi, who says it's something doctors are always concerned with. However, yelling "We're losing him!" is simply for added TV drama. "I have never once heard that in my real life," Onishi says.

[h/t WIRED]


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