The creators of the new Dallas made it clear from the outset: this isn't a reboot of the original series. It's simply a continuation of the story. Dallas has all the characters we've always loved, perhaps a little older but thankfully not much wiser.
As a huge fan of that original, I was thrilled to speak with Taylor Hamra, one of the writer's of TNT's new hit series. Among the topics we touched on:
How this creative team has successfully continued the epic story of such an iconic show and the pitfalls of having such a dynamic cast of characters from which to choose...
Congratulations on the early season 2 pickup. I know fans are very excited. Were you a fan of the original Dallas and have you watched all of those episode.
Taylor: I have not but I would say that collectively in the writer's room, they have all been seen. We've all read countless synapses. When we started last year we all took a couple of seasons home and started watching them. Together, collectively we've seen them all.
How many writers are on staff?
Taylor: Last year we had seven and then this year we've added one more so we have eight.
Tell me a little about your process. Do you write the episodes as a group or are you each given an outline and assigned specific episodes?
Taylor: Last year, we all got together and by the time we got there quite a bit of the arc of the season had been established. Cythia Cidre (executive producer) had been working on this pilot for about two years, I think. So she's been living with it for quite some time and she's a very deep thinker. She'd planned out a lot of what was going on and where things were going and back stories. The first couple of weeks were spent creating that framework in detail for the whole season of where the characters were going individually.
I think we generally have two through lines. We like to follow the plot and then we like to follow the emotions. Then you go episode by episode and you break down each episode as a group. With that outline, you turn it in to Cythia and Robert (Rovner, co-executive producer) and then you get notes and you go off and write your script and that process is off and running.
With 13 seasons of history where characters and story lines were written by someone else, continuity must be a big issue. What is the process for for getting that right?
Taylor: Cythia's always said she wanted to be true to the original. So everything that happened in those 13 seasons, happened to our characters. There's one liberty that she took, which she's been very public about, which was Elena. Elena was not ever really a character with John Ross and Christopher as children but obviously in our story she was. She thought that was vital to creating this love triangle in the younger generation. On one level you're respecting all of the things that actually happened to these people and then on another you are just respecting these characters and who they are and how they would behave.
You have to acknowledge those true emotions. Cythia has always said this is a very grounded family drama, at its core. She's never been a big fan of campy stuff and I think there's room for campy moments but it always comes back to the family drama. You can get away with some of the campy fun stuff but if you notice in those original seasons the most important scenes always came down to family.
Do you have a favorite character to write for?
Taylor: It's funny. I think a lot of us love John Ross because he's such an interesting character carrying the burden of who his father is. I think we would all agree that he has a good heart. Where we are in the season right now I think you are starting to see a little more of that. I was talking to some friends and they would say, that John Ross is no good.
You're starting to see a little more from him. At the same time Christopher has his own complexity of the burden of his father, who in his mind isn't his blood father. Is he a Ewing? Does he have to prove himself or can he just sort of accept the love of his adoptive parents. I think those two guys are sort of the crux, that the new generation rides on their shoulders. They're really fun to write for, especially as cousins and their rivalry.
You've brought back several original characters. Bobby and JR are wonderful but some characters seem underused as of yet, especially Sue Ellen and Cliff. Their screen time has been minimal and Ray and Lucy have just been filler. Will that change as we head to the second half of the season?
Taylor: I think so. In all honesty, there's a lot that winds up on the cutting room floor. It may have felt more balanced in the scripts early on, especially for Sue Ellen,which is a tragedy. Everyone loves Sue Ellen. When you write a script you want to put all of this stuff in there and then you go, oh wait we only have 42 minutes! So after you've shot your episode and it's ten minutes long, you're like oh God! What is absolutely vital for telling the story and what can we get away without?
Unfortunately a lot of Sue Ellen's scenes kind of fell out but they were fantastic scenes and we loved them. One of our directives going forward this year is to write scripts that are shorter so that we won't have to lose those great scenes and maybe just write more balanced episodes where each character's having their moment. But yes, I think Cliff as well. He lost a couple of scenes along the way. Future episodes will be balanced but we did have to make room for the younger guys. In the old days it was just Jock and Miss Ellie and then J.R. and Bobby and now we have more people and a second generation.
Will there be any more original characters coming back this season?
Taylor: You never know. People can show up at any time. Those characters are still out there.
A lot of fans, including me, have been wondering if we'll see the portrait of Jock Ewing that was so iconic in the original series?
Taylor: I know that that's come up on the blog sites. I'm not sure. I don't think it's a matter of us just making a decision, I think there's more to it than that. I do know the decision was made to use a portrait of both Jock and Miss Ellie in order to honor both of them, and to have both of them be seen and felt at Southfork.
Have you started working on season two?
Taylor: We are. We got 15 episode so that's five more than this year. That's just more room to have fun.
Is there anything you can share with us about the rest of the season?
Taylor: It's about to get very exciting, if it isn't exciting already. Just buckle up.