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Bad Dreams: When Bobby Ewing Returned to Dallas

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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.”

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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 UltimateDallas.com 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.

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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.”

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Jenny Anderson, Getty Images for Tony Awards Productions
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10 Things You Might Not Know About Tina Fey
Jenny Anderson, Getty Images for Tony Awards Productions
Jenny Anderson, Getty Images for Tony Awards Productions

Tina Fey has transformed modern comedy more than just about anyone else. From the main stage of Second City to the writer’s room of SNL to extremely fetch comedy blockbusters, Elizabeth Stamatina Fey has built a national stage with a dry, eye-popping sarcasm and political satire where no one is safe. She has a slew of Emmys, Golden Globes, SAG, PGA, and WGA awards to prove it—plus a recent Tony nomination (her first). But, more importantly, she’s the closest thing we have to a national comic laureate.

Here are 10 facts about a fantastically blorft American icon.

1. SHE DID A BOOK REPORT ON COMEDY WHEN SHE WAS 11.

Fey got a very early start in comedy, watching a lot of The Mary Tyler Moore Show, Bob Newhart, and Norman Lear shows as a kid. Her father and mother sneaked her in to see Young Frankenstein and would let her stay up late to watch The Honeymooners. So it’s no surprise that she chose comedy as the subject of a middle school project. The only book she could get her hands on was Joe Franklin’s Encyclopedia of Comedians, but at least she made a friend. "I remember me and one other girl in my 8th grade class got to do an independent study because we finished the regular material early, and she chose to do hers on communism, and I chose to do mine on comedy," Fey told The A.V. Club. "We kept bumping into each other at the card catalog."

2. THE SCAR ON HER FACE CAME FROM A BIZARRE ATTACK THAT OCCURRED WHEN SHE WAS A CHILD.

Fey’s facial scar had been recognizable but unexplained for years until a profile in Vanity Fair revealed that the mark on her left cheek came from being slashed by a strange man when she was five years old. “She just thought somebody marked her with a pen,” her husband Jeff Richmond said. Fey wrote in Bossypants that it happened in an alleyway behind her Upper Darby, Pennsylvania, home when she was in kindergarten.

3. HER FIRST TV APPEARANCE WAS IN A BANK COMMERCIAL.

Saturday Night Live hired Fey as a writer in 1997. In 1995 she had the slightly more glamorous job of pitching Mutual Savings Bank with a radical floral applique vest and a handful of puns on the word “Hi.” In a bit of life imitating art, just as Liz Lemon’s 1-900-OKFACE commercial was unearthed and mocked on 30 Rock, the internet discovered Fey’s stint awkwardly cheering on high interest rates a few years ago and had a lot to say about her '90s hair.

4. SHE WAS THE FIRST WOMAN TO BE NAMED HEAD WRITER OF SNL.

Four years after that commercial and two after she joined Saturday Night Live’s writing staff, Fey earned a promotion to head writer. Up until that point, the head writers were named Michael, Herb, Bob, Jim, Steve. You get the picture. She acted as head writer for six seasons until moving on to write and executive produce 30 Rock. Since her departure, two more women (Paula Pell and Sara Schneider) have been head writers for the iconic show.

5. SHE’S THE YOUNGEST MARK TWAIN PRIZE WINNER.

Established in 1998, the Kennedy Center’s hilarious honor has mostly been awarded to funny people in the twilight of their careers. Richard Pryor was the first recipient, and comedians who made their marks decades prior like Lily Tomlin, Whoopi Goldberg, and George Carlin followed. Fey earned the award in 2010 when she was 40 years old, and the age of her successors (Carol Burnett, Bill Murray, Eddie Murphy, David Letterman ...) signals that she may hold the title of youngest recipient for some time.

6. SHE WROTE SATIRE FOR HER HIGH SCHOOL NEWSPAPER.

Fey was an outstanding student who was involved in choir, drama, and tennis, and co-edited the school’s newspaper, The Acorn. She also wrote a satirical column addressing “school policy and teachers” under the pun-tastic pseudonym “The Colonel.” Fey also recalled getting in trouble because she tried to make a pun on the phrase “annals of history.” Cheeky.

7. SHE MADE HER RAP DEBUT WITH CHILDISH GAMBINO ON "REAL ESTATE."

Donald Glover (a.k.a. Childish Gambino) first gained notice as a member of Derrick Comedy in college, and Fey hired him at the age of 23 to write for 30 Rock. Before jumping from that show to Community, Glover put out his first mixtape under his stage name. After releasing his debut album, Camp, in 2011, Gambino dropped a sixth mixtape called Royalty that featured Fey rapping on a song called “Real Estate.” “My president is black, and my Prius is blue!"

8. SHE VOICED PRINCESSES IN A BELOVED PINBALL GAME.

Between the bank commercial and Saturday Night Live, Fey has an intriguing credit on her resume: the arcade pinball machine “Medieval Madness.” Most of the game’s Arthurian dialogue was written by Second City members Scott Adsit (Pete Hornberger on 30 Rock) and Kevin Dorff, who pulled in fellow Second City castmate Fey to voice for an “Opera Singer” princess, Cockney-speaking princesses, and a character with a southern drawl. (You can hear some of the outtakes here.)

9. SHE USED MEAN GIRLS TO PUSH BACK AGAINST STEREOTYPES OF WOMEN IN MATH.

Tina Fey and Lindsay Lohan in 'Mean Girls' (2004)
Paramount Home Entertainment

There’s a ton of interesting trivia about Mean Girls, Fey’s first foray into feature film screenwriting. She bid on the rights to Rosalind Wiseman’s book that inspired the movie without realizing it didn’t have a plot. She initially wrote a large part for herself but kept whittling it down to focus on the teenagers, and her first draft was “for sure R-rated.” Fey also chose to play a math teacher to fight prejudice. “It was an attempt on my part to counteract the stereotype that girls can’t do math. Even though I did not understand a word I was saying.” Fey used a friend’s calculus teacher boyfriend’s lesson plans in the script.

10. SHE SET UP A SCHOLARSHIP IN HER FATHER’S NAME TO HELP VETERANS.

Fey’s father Donald was a Korean War veteran who also studied journalism at Temple University. When he died in 2015, Fey and her brother Peter founded a memorial scholarship in his name that seeks to aid veterans who want to study journalism at Temple.

"He was really inspiring," Fey said. "A lot of kids grow up with dreams of doing those things and their parents are fearful and want them to get a law degree and have things to fall back on, but he and our mom always encouraged us to pursue whatever truly interested us." Fey also supports Autism Speaks, Mercy Corps, Love Our Children USA, and other charities.

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Build Your Own Harry Potter Characters With LEGO's New BrickHeadz Set

Harry Potter is looking pretty square these days. In a testament to the enduring appeal of the boy—and the franchise—who lived, LEGO has launched a line of Harry Potter BrickHeadz.

The gang’s all here in this latest collection, which was recently revealed during the toymaker’s Fall 2018 preview in New York City. Other highlights of that show included LEGO renderings of characters from Star Wars, Incredibles 2, and several Disney films, according to Inside The Magic.

The Harry Potter BrickHeadz collection will be released in July and includes figurines of Harry, Hermione, Ron, Dumbledore, and even Hedwig. Some will be sold individually, while others come as a set.

A Ron Weasley figurine
LEGO

A Hermione figurine
LEGO

A Dumbledore figurine
LEGO

Harry Potter fans can also look forward to a four-story, 878-piece LEGO model of the Hogwarts Great Hall, which will be available for purchase August 1. Sets depicting the Whomping Willow, Hogwarts Express, and a quidditch match will hit shelves that same day.

[h/t Inside The Magic]

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