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Follow in the footsteps of J.R. Ewing in Dallas

  • Austin-American Statesman
  • Published Thursday, May 31, 2012, at 6:58 p.m.
  • Updated Thursday, May 31, 2012, at 6:58 p.m.

DALLAS — On June 13, Larry Hagman’s formidable eyebrows will welcome you back to a new “Dallas” TV series on TNT, and the city to our north is once again ready to bask in the spotlight of oil-rich backbiters.

Let’s clarify one thing right from the get-go: Even though oil is struck on Southfork Ranch in the very first episode of this new series, there are no oil wells in Dallas. Nor are there any in Collin County, where Southfork Ranch is actually located (Parker, to be exact — a bit east of Plano). Look all you want; you’ll never find a well or pump station there. It’s an oil-free zone.

Aside from that detail, though, you can handily craft a trip to Dallas visiting the TV show’s locations, many of which are iconic Dallas spots you should drop by anyway, if you haven’t already.

The original “Dallas” TV show, which debuted in 1978, did very little shooting in Dallas. Beyond the first few episodes, conceived as a miniseries, the show used exteriors from Southfork Ranch but was otherwise shot in Burbank, Calif., studios. The new TNT show — a deliciously deviosity-drenched blackmailathon starring the inimitable Hagman along with Linda Gray and Patrick Duffy from the old cast, as well as the young and the ruthless Josh Henderson, Jesse Metcalfe, Jordana Brewster and Julie Gonzalo — revels in the settings of real Dallas.

Executive producer Cynthia Cidre, who also was on the writing team, says shooting in the real Dallas was a no-brainer. The city, she says, “is part of the character of the show,” and the Dallas mystique still captivates people. For example, Cidre says, when she was in Bora Bora recently, someone overheard her husband talking about the show “and they got all excited.” The world still loves J.R.

The home base for your “Dallas” tour of Dallas should be the new downtown Omni Dallas, which gets a ton of screen time both in the series’ opening credits and in various scenes throughout the season in its rooms and restaurants.

“We’re some of their favorite people,” Cidre says of the hotel. No doubt. The Omni, which sits at 555 S. Lamar St. next to (and connected to) the Dallas Convention Center, has rooms typically starting at $229 (although rates vary depending on whether there’s a convention in town) and is a lot of fun to watch at night when it turns on its highly versatile exterior digital lighting system. You might see a multicolor light display, snowflakes or any number of other shows. Its Texas Spice restaurant, which you’ll see in the TV show, makes a credible chicken and dumplings.

You’ll also see the iconic Reunion Tower at 300 Reunion Blvd. — the big ball in the sky — home to Wolfgang Puck’s excellent Five Sixty revolving restaurant (reservations: 214-741-5560; no sandals or torn jeans for guys). This place breaks with the tradition of revolving restaurants with lousy food. The food’s yummy, and this is a terrific place to indulge in a fairly pricey compilation of small plates.

Another “Dallas” shooting location you’ll want to visit is Dallas Fair Park, home of the annual State Fair of Texas (Sept. 28-Oct. 21 this year). Although the Fair may be the fairest time to visit, you can enjoy Fair Park’s attractions (the African American Museum, Museum of Nature and Science, Hall of State history museum, Children’s Aquarium, Texas Discovery Gardens, Texas Automotive Museum, South Dallas Cultural Center, and Fair Park Museum Hall, home of Dallas Summer Musicals) at any time. Take Exit 47 (Second Avenue) off Interstate 30 just east of downtown Dallas. Find out more about each attraction at fairpark.org.

Fair Park’s Ferris wheel also showed up in the pilot of ABC’s one-season comedy “GCB,” based on Kim Gatlin’s novel, “Good Christian Bitches,” whose content brushed closely enough to the truth that — no kidding — people were uninvited to Dallas parties because certain women thought certain characters might have been based on them. Past the pilot, “GCB” went back to just filming in Burbank, and, anyway, ABC has canceled it, so we won’t try to send you on a “GCB” Dallas tour. However, if you want to pray where Kristin Chenoweth did, the exteriors were shot at Munger Place Church, 5200 Bryan St.

OK, back to “Dallas”: Join the “Dallas” ladies who lunch at the Zodiac on the sixth floor of the downtown Neiman Marcus, 1618 Main St. Those mirror-filled blue walls are unmistakable. Shopping also takes place at Neiman’s in the series. If you’re walking around downtown Dallas (and people actually do that these days), do pop into the iconic mother ship Neiman’s. See if the service is as spot-on as founder Stanley Marcus always demanded.

Another restaurant that shows up in the series is Adair’s Saloon at 2624 Commerce St. in Deep Ellum. It remains one of the area’s top burger spots. Y.O. Steakhouse is also mentioned in passing. The West End eatery at 702 Ross Ave. offers not only steaks, but also wild game. Hagman has been known to consume antelope there in real life.

Various characters in TNT’s “Dallas” wind up at Cowboys Stadium in Arlington (complete with a cameo by Jerry Jones), Baylor Medical Center in Dallas and the Jack Evans Dallas Police Headquarters. The first offers an enjoyable experience, whether it’s a Cowboys game or a tour (starting at $17.50; go to stadium.dallascowboys.com). Visits to the other two are typically neither optional nor fun; let’s hope you can avoid them.

I suppose you’ll want to drive up to Southfork Ranch, where exteriors (not interiors) were again used for this new “Dallas.” Since 1985, it’s been nothing but a tourist attraction and event venue. You can tour it for $10.75 ($9 seniors, $7 children 5 to 12). I’ll be honest: Almost nobody who lives in the Dallas area does this, and if you mention wanting to, most locals will roll their eyes. So if you really want to tour Southfork, sneak out there, do it and don’t tell anybody local. It’s at 3700 Hogge Drive in Parker. Take Parker Road off U.S. 75 and look carefully for the sign, which is hidden behind a tree branch.

Southfork was the scene of the real Cattle Baron’s Ball this past year, and Cidre did want to shoot some of the show’s action at it. But the ball took place several days before the series’ shooting schedule started, and Duffy was tied up in London, so TNT had to stage its own Cattle Baron’s Ball inside American Airlines Center — the downtown sports arena — instead.

That would never happen, because Cattle Baron’s Ball is always staged outdoors at a ranch (or, in the case of Southfork, a ranchlike tourist attraction). The American Cancer Society benefit (which, over the years, Hagman has often attended; he’s a big backer) is the largest single-night fund-raiser in the U.S. for cancer research, and everybody dresses up in high-end western attire with lots of suede and beads.

The Cattle Baron’s evening — not for the feint of wallet; last year’s individual tickets were $750 — offers a top country music star, high-bid auction items (such as a dinner for 30 prepared by a team of top Dallas chefs) and the added excitement of wondering if a cloudburst will turn the whole thing into a mud bath, as it does from time to time. Deals are struck, outfits compared, money tossed around, back bitten. If there hadn’t been a Cattle Baron’s Ball, TV would have had to invent it. The next one is Sept. 29 … once again, at Southfork Ranch.

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