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It's been twenty years since the iconic series Dallas left our screens but in the summer of 2012 the show makes a dramatic comeback to television on TNT with more seduction, scandal and intrigue from the Ewing family. Executive Producer and writer Cynthia Cidre heads up the show with an immense passion and enthusiasm, respectively pulling the show into the 21st century.
Cynthia spoke to ultimatedallas.com to answer questions from the fans.
Ultimate Dallas - Hi Cynthia, it's fantastic to speak to you
Cynthia Cidre- I'm very happy to talk to you finally. Your website [ultimatedallas.com] has been incredibly helpful to us
UD - Thank you. That is very nice to hear, we are very excited to talk to you and congratulations on Dallas, it's amazing.
Cynthia - Thank you very much
UD - We put out a request for fans to submit questions and we have been inundated. We could be here for a month but we have pulled out a few key questions and obviously we don't expect you to give too much away.
So let's kick off
How did the idea for new Dallas come about? When did you get involved and what was your initial reaction?
Cynthia - The idea came about from an exec at Warner Horizon by the name of Craig Erwich who had previously been an executive at Fox and I had done a pilot for him. He emailed my agent who emailed me asking the simple sentence 'Are you interested in doing Dallas?'.
My initial reaction was Dallas! Why me? I have been a working writer for about twenty five years and done a lot of action movies and family dramas so Dallas seemed at odds for someone to offer me. I started to say no and then I was interrupted and spent the day doing errands. The truth is it just stayed with me. I thought wow, Dallas is a cool show why am I saying no? It sounds interesting.
So I emailed back and said if you want to meet I will be happy to meet with you. So I went in to see him and I said "What do you want to do about Dallas?" and he said "I've no idea, what do you want to do about Dallas?" and I said "I have no idea, I've not seen Dallas in twenty years and frankly I watched some of it but not that much". I was not that familiar with it.
So they gave me several seasons to watch and I said "let me think about it" and I started to watch some seasons and in the meantime I had another commitment, I was doing another pilot. I had a long time to think it through and I called them back and said "I absolutely want to do Dallas, this is what I have been waiting for my whole life, you have tapped the right person". You know I watched a lot of it , I had all the episodes, I read all the synopsis, I did family trees and then I came back and told them what I wanted to do and we were off and running.
How would describe the new Dallas?
Cynthia - I tried to be really really respectful of the original Dallas because it was really clear to me that the people who love Dallas are Trekkies, really committed to that show and I really did not understand that before, so I never wanted to violate anything that had happened in the past. On the other hand that was the past, twenty years had gone by, so at the same time I think we're properly balanced between the characters of Bobby Ewing, JR and Sue Ellen, I also have the new cast and it's John Ross and Christopher, the children of Bobby and JR, and their love interests. Total respect and a balance of old and new.
How are things progressing with writing the first season?
We moved into our offices a few days ago, the phones were put in today. We have deals with three writers and the other two are going to close today. We don't start the writers room until Monday although because I have lived with this for so long and in it I have found my calling in life ok, I didn't realize Dallas was calling in life until late but here I am.
I love it, stuff has poured out and I spent the last three days telling our most senior writer everything I want to do in the first season and he is incredibly organized, his name is Robert Rovner and he has run many writers rooms in the past. So that is what we have been doing for the past three days, breaking up our nine episode order, where do we want to end with this character? Where do we want to end with Southfork? Where do we want to end with Bobby? What happens to Christopher? What happens to John Ross? Then creating cliffhangers.
We don't have any episodes yet. I'm going to write the second episode and that one you try to answer what you set up in the pilot , obviously. But beyond that we don't know yet, we are not sure
UD - Wow that sounds so exciting. I'm completely jealous (laughs). So I gather the episodes are not self contained?
Cynthia - No no, it's serialized. Dallas has to be
UD - Will you maintain the iconic three way split opening?
Cynthia - It's very similar, we have the same theme music and the theme music to my phone now too. We have the new Dallas which has changed radically, it has a beautiful skyline. But we have the ranch, we shot it all at Southfork. For the first time Dallas is going to be shot in Dallas.
Can you give us a flavor of the new series, the tone?
Cynthia - It's a grounded family drama with flair and that has been at all my writer interviews what I have said to them. I said if you are thinking of Dallas as camp then you are on the wrong show.
I have picked writers who are really really good solid writers of human beings and so that's what I want. I think our actors are all excellent and they are all capable of doing it. This is not Dynasty, no slur on Dynasty but this is not a show where people pull each others hair out, falling in fountains. This is a show with really emotion and real passion about the land and about love. I'm just taking it seriously. However the caveat on that is that this is Dallas and we want to have fun. We want to love to hate the bad guys, have some flair. The situations are slightly pumped up as it's melodrama and it's a soap but we're grounding it in real human behavior.
UD - Would you say it was more reflective of the original mini series by David Jacobs which was very grounded. As it progressed it did seem to have an element of campness.
Cynthia - Yeah it's a serious soap. It's a soap, this is it you know. There's going to be some smiles, you're gonna have fun, double crossing and scheming. We'll have that but it's not in anyway camp.
UD - Brilliant. I think everyone is going to be really pleased to hear that
Does a cable channel like TNT allow more freedom than a bigger network such as CBS? Can we expect more adult themes, language?
Cynthia - TNT is the CBS of cable, they are very successful and they do probably have a similar audience. I think we get away with one or two bad words in it. Our freedom doesn't come from the adult themes or language, I think it actually comes from the fact that TNT really allows artists, not that I'm an artist, more freedom. Craig gave me maybe one or two notes originally which was astounding to me since I had only worked in network before where you can expect four hours of notes, this was five minutes and that's a pleasure to work for.
How do you bring back the show back with a fresh airing but still
retain the spirit of the old show's legacy and back story?
Cynthia - I will be extraordinarily respectful of the old relationships and of the old characters and their motivations while seducing a new audience with a new cast. We certainly want to bring back the old fans and don't want to alienate them in anyway. That's why we've bent over backwards to be respectful of that but we have oil and we have alternatives as its the twenty first century.
What difficulties, concerns did you come across reviving an old show? Many have failed
Cynthia - I really found my calling in this. It was the right time in my life. I should have been an engineer and not a writer as I sort of came at it as a math problem of combining the old with the new and tried to keep a very delicate balance. I thought the luckiest thing to have happened was that Larry, Patrick and Linda have been friends for thirty years, I didn't know that. Had I picked a different three we may not have a show.
But they are wonderful, they are lovely human beings, they are a joy to work with. They set the tone on the set from day one and they are who they are, they were the original show. Instead of difficulties I have run into nothing but problem solving. I called Patrick, we needed a line for looping for JR to make something clear in a scene toward the end, I couldn't reach Larry and said "What would JR say at this point?" He texted me back a line. It was great. He knows, they have been these people for thirty years. I thought we would have problems but it's been the opposite.
In JR Returns the scene was set for a continuation of the Barnes Ewing feud. Why did you move away from this?
Cynthia - I was told, not necessarily to pick up where it left off but not to pay to much attention to the movies because the movies had tried to wrap stuff up in two hours. But we did not, I have to admit, although I saw one of them, I did not download it in my brain.
I was really going off the end of the season, I don't pick it up from then, its now 2012 so we have not seen the Ewing family in all those years but now we are going to see them and they look good. An old friend hopefully looks good
UD - I guess there was an expectation that the show would go with the Barnes Ewing feud again, maybe Cliff Barnes daughter and John Ross
Cynthia - I'm not going to away anything but I am aware of all of those things and what the fans love and I'm trying to incorporate it all in new and surprising ways.
Some fans of the original are concerned this will be Dallas 90210. What would you say to those people?
Cynthia - Not if I can help it. I'm very serious about this. It's now a life choice and commitment for me. I have, for the first time ever, taken a job outside my house, I have been writing for twenty five years, always out of my house. I have enjoyed that. I have now moved into an office because I'm taking this seriously. I'm gonna do the best I can. I've gotten some amazing writers. We have seven writers for nine episodes so this should be lots of brain power to make this as good as we possibly can. We have a director who directed the pilot, Mike Robin, who is also the Producer on The Closer and Rizzoli & Isles and he is just a wonderful person and he is going to stay on the show and direct the first and the second one. He's now my partner and we are both completely committed making this the best show on cable.
We know Ray & Lucy are returning, will we see them back or any other characters from the original?
Cynthia - I don't know about that yet. There are all kinds of budgetary restraints on this. They are in the pilot, they make a nice lovely cameo. It was wonderful they came to Dallas and did that for us. I don't know where we are heading with that. That's actually the truth, I'm not trying to avoid the question.
Will we see Pamela back? Was Victoria Principal approached to return?
Cynthia - She has not been approached. When I was doing my research, both watching the episodes and reading your website, the last time we saw Pamela was after the car crash she was horribly burned and left Southfork, she eventually made a quick return because she has found a plastic surgeon she says she has fallen in love with and she tells Cliff she will not be coming back. We found out she was terminally ill and was really dying so I just went with that. So I married Bobby off to someone new
UD - I think the fans have been quite split over it and I personally feel there is far more scope in exploring Bobby's new wife Ann rather than regurgitating what we have seen before.
Cynthia - It felt a little bit that way to me. It was instinctual more than it was anything else. I just thought , you know what, a bunch of years has passed she might of died, it seemed like she died, let's marry him to a new lovely person. Brenda Strong who plays his wife, you will see, they are great together. They have wonderful energy together. She is nearly as tall as Patrick, who you probably know is enormous, he is six feet four and Brenda is six feet and not shy about wearing heels. I had lunch with Brenda yesterday and I think fans will be very happy with the character of Ann Ewing. I don't have an answer about Pamela either, not in my scope from the beginning so I just married him to someone else.
UD - She was left in a dying limbo, there was no real ending for the character which left viewers feeling rather unsatisfied. Since the website started back in 1997 it's always been a major discussion point - is she dead? Is she alive?
Cynthia - There was a scene with Cliff, it was a very fast scene. People like conclusions and when you leave something unfinished they feel the need for gestalt, to complete the picture.
How did you approach casting? Did you get everyone you wanted?
Cynthia - We did. We were really lucky. So far we have been blessed. I sat in a room with the casting director, for months it seemed like, and eventually Mike [Robin] joined me, after we made his deal. We probably saw fifty John Ross's, they kept coming in reading those lines, I got very sick of those lines [laughs].
UD - Some of the auditions were up on Youtube
Cynthia - Really?
UD - yes and Melissa Gilbert tweeted she was up for the part of Ann.
Cynthia - She was very good, we were very close to that. She brought a lot of the right energy , she was on Little House on the Prairie, apparently she used to know Patrick when she was a kid on that show, they were shot on the same lot. Then we met Brenda Strong, she just seemed like the right person. She's very beautiful and Patrick's very virile and it just seemed like a very energetic relationship.
UD - Brenda does have an element of Miss Ellie about her
Cynthia - We've been thinking about that. Who is the voice of reason here? Who's going to be Miss Ellie, who's gonna pull the family together? Possibly it will be Ann because she has that energy.
UD - Josh Henderson is playing John Ross
Cynthia - We saw actors over and over. There is no doubt in my mind, Josh Henderson came in and just nailed John Ross. Once you've seen the right person you know who it is.
UD - From looking at the trailer he seems fantastic. The whole cast look fantastic
Cynthia - Yeah. The studio agreed with us. First we do it and then we take it to the studio and then he decided he liked it and then the network sign it off.
Dallas was always seen as a masculine show with the women very much secondary, only able to go so far. Was this something you consciously wanted to address?
Cynthia - You know I never thought of it that way but it is true it was a business heavy show. Even though it's a soap, when we tested it scored really really high with men. It happens to be about John Ross and Christopher, Bobby and JR so it is male centric that way but it's the twenty first century so our women have a point of view. Elena [John Ross's girlfriend played by Jordana Brewster] is the engineer with the oil, so it's different to what it was back in the seventies.
Linda Gray felt the writers had Sue Ellen in some kind of revolving door with alcohol and battling JR. Is the character going to have a major part in this new show and can you tell us a little bit about how you approached a 2012 version of Sue Ellen?
Cynthia - I don't want her to have that revolving door with alcoholism. I think she has spent the last few years finding out who she was. I think I described it as she looks vibrant and beautiful, healthy and sexy. What she was supposed to have been before life with JR. So I'm expecting great things from Sue Ellen. Linda is a lovely person
The character of Carmen played by Marlene Forte is an interesting addiction to the cast. In original Dallas the latino employees were more or less non speaking roles. Did you feel it was important to reflect the real demographic of Dallas?
Cynthia - I certainly did. I myself am Latino, it wasn't my agenda or anything. But I thought my goodness, we're in Texas you know. We need a character that reflects the demographic of Texas. So we have Carmen and her daughter Elena who is going to be one of our leads.
UD - I guess in original Dallas, eventually it could of been set anywhere. We never really got to see other parts of Dallas.
Cynthia - The reason was they were shooting in Burbank and trying to hide the palm trees. Now we are filming in Dallas, so we are going to be seeing Dallas. We asked the film comminsn for businesses in Dallas, if they wanted to show their business on the show we would shoot them. In the pilot we are at Neiman Marcus, on ones ever shot at Neiman Marcus, we're at Dallas National, which is one of the top ten golf courses in the country. Yes, we are going to be in the city of Dallas.
Will we get to see more new characters in the new series? Will it explore some of the family members of new characters like Ann, Rebecca and Elena. I believe Rebecca's brother Tom Sutter is in the pilot, will he return?
Cynthia - I like him. We tried to figure our what's Tommy up to. So we are pulling apart Tommy Sutter and hoping Tommy is with us for season one
UD - So will get to see Ann's back story?
Cynthia - Yes. I believe the fans are owed that, they will wonder how they met. How did Ann and Bobby get together, what happened? We are just putting out parts for that, how do we introduce Ann and that romance to the the audience. So they too can fall in love with Bobby's wife.
UD- So how far ahead have you planned for. Do you have a vision beyond the first season?
Cynthia - No no no. It's nine episodes, not twenty two but it's still nine hours we are trying to get through right now. We don't have a pick up for the second season yet so we can't think of a second season yet. But we are hoping, we are hopeful. A lot of the questions from the pilot will be explained in episode two, so we sort of of know what episode two is going to be but beyond that we just have to see
Is there a particular character you created that you are rather excited about?
Cynthia - At this point I feel, with the exception of Bobby, JR and Sue Ellen, that all of them are mine. They were all hatched in my brain, even though we saw John Ross and Christopher, they were children, I feel possessive of those people, the younger people on the show. I actually feel possessive of Bobby and JR too. because I'm writing their lines now.
I feel like Patrick Duffy is such an interesting person that maybe Bobby didn't always reflect that and it's twenty years later and he's matured and I think there is a lot of fun to be had with Bobby coming up.
UD - So is JR still as mean as old JR , John Ross and Christopher following their fathers personality traits?
Cynthia - I think you'll have to watch for that. I think it's satisfying , let me say I don't like patting myself on the back ever but everyone who have seen the pilot really liked it.
It's my fifth pilot, by far the one that turned out the best. All the stars aligned, the cast was wonderful, the director was wonderful. The Art director of photography is Rodney Charters who shot 24 for eight years, so he's totally brilliant. It looks gorgeous. It's really long, they are going to air it long, it's like fifty five minutes , most pilots are forty three minutes.
UD - So we will see this next summer?
Cynthia - It's sometime next summer, so we would have shot all episodes before any of them air. Which is good because then any tweaks you make in the story for later on, you can actually go back and fix it. If somehow you reveal too much early on or you didn't reveal enough , you can actually tweak things. In the other show that I did you were literally shooting and then on the air in a week. It was a horrible anxiety, this is much more civilized.
Finally are there any teasers you can give away to wet our appetite for the first season?
Cynthia - I'm betting the audiences will love it. The new audience and the old audience and I think they will have their desires satisfied. It will feel like they got the goods, that they did their favorite show justice. Even my son who you would think had no interest , the moment he watched the pilot was like "Mom you can't end it there, what happens next? Wait I've gotta watch" So I think in the best tradition of the Dallas television show hopefully we have done it justice.
UD - Cynthia thank you so much. We really appreciate you taking time out to talk to us. It really is very exciting, I can't wait to see it
Cynthia - Well thank you, we'll' talk again and thank you for everything you have done for Dallas. I am really very possessive over it myself.
Dallas airs Summer 2012 on TNT
Many thanks to Cynthia Cidre for taking part and all the fans who sent in questions
Interview conducted by Colin Hunter (2011)
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