Last week, I chatted with Dallas Executive Producer Cynthia Cidre (pictured, right) at the Warner Brothers TV Outside of the Box Exhibit and, with a promise not to post anything until after tonight’s episode aired, we chatted about how she and her writers constructed the Dallas first season finale.
Jim Halterman: You did it right with the finale. The whole first season, actually.
Cynthia Cidre: Thank you!
JH: In shaping a first season finale, how did you and the writers approach it?
CC: We had broken the whole season before we started writing. Because I had spent so much time with the pilot I already had so many places I knew I wanted to go. We pitched it and we had it up on boards for months and we kept writing and writing and writing and we finished [episode] 108 and there was only one left. Then, I was out of town and the writers broke the story that we had pitched and they sent it to me and I said ‘You know what? I don’t think this is going to work. We need to rethink it.’
I came back to LA and we put up every beat that had had happened in every episode – not what we had pitched but the stuff we had actually shot – and we thought what is satisfying to the audience? For example, we thought at first that JR (Larry Hagman) would have the comeuppance on Ryland (Mitch Pileggi) but, well, that wasn’t satisfying. JR and Ryland don’t have a relationship, the relationship is with Ann (Brenda Strong, pictured below) so for that comeuppance to be satisfying to the audience it had to come from Ann and that’s how we approached it. It was literally like ‘what have we set up and how will the audience feel the happiest as they leave the season?’
JH: I didn’t even see that coming with Ann and Ryland, just so you know!
JH: Also, going into the finale, I’m guessing you already had a good idea where you want Season 2 to start, right?
CC: Yes, we know several of the story arcs for season 2 and we have them in what we call a little duck pond where all the little duck ideas go. So we’re starting Season 2 with the duck pond. Also, I made everyone watch all 10 episodes in one sitting, which I had already done so I had a list of things, and then we did it again and there were a lot of ideas. You know, you forget what you’ve done and so within a week we had major arcs done.
JH: That shows me how faithful you were in making sure you approached the show right. You and your writers really honored the show and were faithful to it.
CC: Very faithful! Also, the most important thing for me is for the audience to feel happy and so I feel a duty to that. I see serialized shows all the time where the end, I couldn’t wait to see it and – I won’t mention the show – but I was really excited, it was a show I really enjoyed and my husband and I waited two weeks to watch it so that we’d have an hour available and then we watched it and it was ‘I can’t believe they did that!’
JH: What was the one big surprise that you had in doing the first ten episodes of the first season?
CC: I’ll tell you, we had always pitched that Christopher (Jesse Metcalfe) and Elena (Jordana Brewster) did not end up together because in theory when lovers don’t end up together audiences always want them to be together. But the moment I was watching before we did the last episode and we were breaking down each beat, it was very clear that they had never been together on the show and that people needed to see them together. That was a mistake and we needed them to be together at the end of the season.
JH: Safe to say we’ll see them together in Season 2?
CC: Oh yeah. Yes.
JH: Did any of the original cast members surprise you in the first season?
CC: You know what? It’s just so ingrained in them. They all sort of live and breathe that and it’s very easy for them. The first day of shooting they got to Southfork and the first thing they said was ‘It seems like we’ve been on hiatus for twenty years and we’re just starting again.’
JH: I keep seeing Knots Landing people around [also at the event were Michele Lee, Donna Mills and Joan Van Ark from Knots] and you’ve mentioned Gary [Ted Shackelford] a few times, any chance of seeing them in the next season?
CC: We always like seeing people from the old cast because I think it just grounds the show so we are looking to bring people back. I don’t know who yet and I mean that. I can think of…there’s two people who I know are coming but the rest I don’t know but it’s always our plan to bring them back.
JH: When do you start shooting Season 2?
CC: September 24th.
JH: That’s really soon!
CC: I know! I started my outline yesterday for the first episode but it’s broken. It’s like a 12-page blend right now which I will turn into a 20-page outline in the next week and then we’ll get notes, I write the episode and the episode is due a week before production.
CC: Thank you!
Dallas will return for Season 2 on TNT in 2013.