THE SHOW "Dallas"

WHEN | WHERE Monday night at 9 on TNT

WHAT IT'S ABOUT Who shot J.R.? That's what brother Bobby (Patrick Duffy), Bobby's adopted son Christopher (Jesse Metcalfe), J.R's son, John Ross (Josh Henderson) and ex-Sue Ellen (Linda Gray) want to know as they take a helicopter ride to Mexico, where J.R. was murdered in the closing seconds last week. Monday night's "J.R.'s Masterpiece" includes a handful of cameos from the CBS original, including Steve Kanaly (J.R.'s half-brother, Ray Krebbs) and Charlene Tilton (niece Lucy). Jerry Jones, the owner of the Dallas Cowboys, Dallas mayor Mike Rawlings, and Mavs owner Mark Cuban tip their hat to Dallas' most famous fictional son, too.

MY SAY To get the full emotional wallop of tonight's episode, you probably had to be there -- "there" being for all of an epic 357-episode run that ended in 1991 and which yielded one of the three or four greatest characters in TV history. Larry Hagman died last Nov. 23, leaving an entire production in mourning and in limbo, wondering "now what?" The answer is a jewel of a farewell that honors both Hagman and his unforgettable creation, while also setting in motin a storyline that could -- could -- bring even more surprises from the deep past later this season.

But in this episode some of the best things come in smaller packages, notably Duffy's superb performance -- and keep in mind while watching that he was a close friend of Hagman's, and his own parents were killed during a robbery in 1986. There is actually an amusing sub-current to this hour, or human nature itself. At the memorial, while acquaintances are shedding crocodile tears over their old "friend" J.R. Ewing, his son John Ross offers this reality gut check: "Half these people are here to make sure he's dead, the other half are here for the free drinks."

BOTTOM LINE Real tears will be shed -- yours.

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Sending off J.R. in style

What's it like to write the farewell to TV's most beloved bad guy? Cynthia Cidre and Michael Robin, co-executive producers of TNT's remake, explain:

Did you ever speak to Hagman about his "Dallas" epitaph?

Cidre: We did not talk to him about it, but I have to say that when Mike and I were thinking about the episode and making sure we got it right we talked to Patrick who was Larry's oldest friend and revealed the whole plot. He's the only one who knows and I must say, his eyes watered on the spot... That's what we wanted. To honor both Larry and the character that was so much a part of him -- all that magic in him and the good sense of humor and mischief. That was Larry and we just wanted to make sure we got it right.

Did you ever know you would have to end up writing this episode knowing that Hagman had been so ill for so long?

Robin: By the end of the first season he was in remission. His tumor was gone, he looked great. You can see that in his performance. He was just stellar and, even though I had no indication that Larry knew he wasn't well, he was the kind of actor who loved to work and he was incredibly responsive to the cast and crew. He would never stop working and he worked until the very end.