Film and TV

Funny Thing Is, Before She Resurrected Dallas For TNT, Writer Cynthia Cidre Wasn't a Fan

I'll be honest with you: I don't know squat about Dallas. Or rather, I don't know squat about Dallas, the long-running, oil-drenched, big-haired, family-feuding epic that may still color how a lot of outsiders think about our city. When I found out some eight months ago that I'd landed this job and would be moving here, a lot of people immediately suggested I watch the whole damn series, all 13 years of it, to "get ready." Kind of like the way you get ready to be an astronaut by watching Mars Attacks. Somehow, Dallas never quite made it to the top of my Netflix queue. I just wasn't interested. (Although Larry Hagman's recent, delightful, drug-tinged New York Times magazine interview almost made me reconsider.)

Cynthia Cidre's ready for people like me. She's the creator, executive producer and head writer of the brand-new Dallas, which, as you surely must be aware by now, started shooting here in October and will premiere on TNT this June. She spoke Friday night at the KD College, at the monthly meeting of the Dallas Screenwriters Association. She took questions about a whole host of things, chief among them making the show relevant for a new audience while at the same time trying to bring back the original show's devotees.

Cidre too was never a huge Dallas fan before beginning work on the new series, she said. "I had seen maybe five episodes total," she told the audience, and found it "somewhat campy," especially the later seasons. It couldn't have been further from the work she'd done before; most of her career, she'd been writing "action movie and cop shows." So she found it "peculiar," she said, to be asked to write the pilot for the new Dallas, which is conceived of as a continuation of the show: The original characters have aged, and their current lives, and those of their now-grown children, make up the new story lines.

Cidre found her inspiration not in the increasingly overblown later years of the show, she said, but at its very beginning. "If you watch early Dallas, it was just a really solid family drama," she said. "It didn't go campy till years later. That really spoke to me." But I had to ask: Why should ignoramuses like me give a damn about any of the characters, old or new? Cidre smiled. "TNT thinks the young people in it will be interesting and attractive enough" to draw audiences, she said. The word 'Dallas' she said, is "a brand, like Levi Jeans or Stetson is. ... If you have a show called Des Moines, nothing against Des Moines, but people aren't as likely to watch."

Cidre also heaped praise on city officials for making it possible to shoot the show here, instead of on a back lot in Burbank, or a cheaper city someplace else. When higher-ups at Warner Bros. batted around the idea of shooting in Vancouver or New Orleans, places with better tax incentives, she said, "My eyes just watered. I saw the whole thing fall apart. How do you shoot Dallas in Vancouver?"

Some of the credit for the show's presence here, though, may come from Cidre's agent, Anne Blanchard, a Dallas native, and to (wait for it) Rick Perry. When Cidre originally started writing the pilot nearly two years ago, she said, Blanchard told her, "Honey, if they ever start talking about doing this in another state, you let me know. It has to be in Dallas."

Cidre agreed. But her chance to make that possible didn't happen, she said, until the governor showed up at an L.A. convention center, pushing an event to bring businesses from California to Texas. Cidre said her agent, "fully accessorized," rushed down there and crashed the governor's party, introducing her client.

"How can you let this show be in New Orleans?" Blanchard demanded of the governor. Perry told her to have the head of the city's film commission call him. "Next thing we knew," Cidre said, "our tax credits had been approved."

"The city of Dallas has been so helpful," she said. "We've had commercial partnerships with developers, the Ritz-Carlton and the Omni. We shot at the courthouse today. We've never shot here before, and I think we make Dallas look pretty good, especially in the credit sequence." The city, she said, "has been nothing but great for us. ... The Dallas Film Commission gave us great tax breaks. They wanted us here." She said too that they use a few local actors in every episode, and that the crew is mostly local. "We look here first."

The city itself, Cidre said, will be a much greater character in this iteration of the show. "We've gone everywhere," she said. "It's great. You got to Southfork now, it's a real place. ... We've gone to Neiman Marcus three times to shoot. We've gone to Cowboys Stadium twice. Jerry Jones is in Episode Four."

"Can you kill him off?" someone shouted from the back of the room. That got the loudest applause of the night.