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TALKING TO DAVID PAULSEN
February 26th, 2008, London.
As the only person to have directed, produced and written for each of the three big prime time soaps of the 80s - DALLAS, DYNASTY and KNOTS LANDING - David Paulsen occupies a unique place in television history. I called him at his office in Los Angeles to talk about his remarkable career. He was extremely generous with his time, and made a warm and open interviewee.
David Paulsen: Hello?
James Holmes: Oh hi, is that David?
James: Hello, this is James calling from London for the interview.
David: How are you?
James: I'm all right. How are you?
David: Well thanks.
James: Thanks very much for agreeing to do this. We've had a lot of interest and questions come in for you. So let me just start with how you got into writing for television cos I've had a look on the internet, and am I right in understanding you were an actor and an ice skater and a violinist -
David: I don't usually admit the ice skating thing.
James (laughs): OK.
David: In fact I played London. I was in "The Three Sisters" at the Aldwych.
James: Oh right. Oh you did some Chekhov there.
David: I did some Chekhov and I did "Blues For Mr Charlie" at the Aldwych as well. And I was with The Second City Company in Chicago.
James: Oh they're well known, aren't they? Yeah, they go back a long way, don't they?
David: Yes they do. Those were the highlights of the acting I did. And then, yes, I was an ice clown!
David: (chuckles). "Holiday on Ice." I was a comedy skater.
James: And so how did you get into writing? Was that something you always wanted to do?
David: That's a funny thing. I‘d tried for years but never got anything finished. Then, well, I had a little film company in New York with a partner. We were hired to do a film on a man named James Walsh, a Catholic Bishop who had been imprisoned by the Red Chinese for twelve years from 1958 to 1970 when he was suddenly released. We accompanied him to Rome and I filmed him with Pope Paul VI.
David: That was kind of a spectacular thing for a tiny little company like ours. After that we accompanied him back to the United States and I went with him to the White House to meet President Nixon -
James (chuckling): Wow!
David: - which, oddly enough turned out, I believe, to be the very first serve in the ping pong game that eventually became known as Détente.
David: The Chinese served him up - he was kind of a cause célèbre - then both countries exchanged ping pong players, Kissinger went to China and then Nixon went to China. It didn't occur to me until some years later but that became Détente. The reason for the story, though, has to do with your question. At the time, I had a lot of footage of a seventy-nine year old man about whom the Catholic Church wanted an hour long story, and because of his frail health we’d been able to get only one short interview. I was sensing disaster. I pulled everything - film, cutting equipment, Moviolas into my apartment and spent three excruciating months cutting the damn thing, at the end of which - this is a long boring story - well I finally had a film. I thought to myself, "Huh, if I can do that with film why can't I organize a bunch of words on paper? " (Both laugh) So I did. First time. Not long after that, a Broadway producer who knew I was pretty good with lyrics sent me to Israel to write the lyrics for an Israeli musical they were gonna do on Broadway. That worked out, it played for about five months and another Israeli producer by the name of Menahem Golan saw it. You know who he is?
James: The Cannon movies, the Cannon Studios. Is that right?
David: This is pre-Cannon.
David: He wanted to do a film called "Kazablan" which had been a very popular musical in Israel. He brought me over to write the lyrics for it in English. Once the lyrics were done – we shot two versions, English and Hebrew - he asked me to take a look at the script, what did I think about t script? They were trying to get their film to the United States. I read it. I thought it was an awful script. I told him the next day that I didn't think it would get past Ellis Island.
James (chuckles): Right.
David: I sat down and rewrote the first couple of scenes the way I thought it should go. Golan quite liked that and asked me to rewrite the entire script. So we made a deal and I did. I told you it was a boring story, but that's the way I began to write.
James: So you were kind of thrown in at the deep end.
David: After “Kazablan” I had co-written a novel called “Daytime Affair” with a friend, James Cass Rogers. It was picked up by NBC and Lorimar and I came out to California to co-write it with Jim. It didn't get made, but the producer of the project was a guy named Phil Capice -
David: - who was the original Executive Producer of DALLAS. He's the one who essentially - after my doing a couple of scripts for DALLAS - asked me to come on staff.
James: You also wrote an episode of KNOTS LANDING around the same time, didn't you?
David: I did, yes. David Jacobs and I have been friends since 3rd Grade.
James: Really? Really?
David: Yeah, we grew up in Baltimore together.
David: You know, I was never very good at asking anybody I knew as friend [for work]. We would see each other for dinner, parties - I just saw him the other day. He and I and two other guys from Baltimore all grew up together. One of them is Barry Levinson's cousin. We were essentially the DINER crowd.
James: Oh wow, wow!
David: Not exactly - not the specific people he wrote about.
James: OK, all right (chuckles).
David: They were his personal friends, a but a year or so younger than we were but all of us hung out together when we were teenagers.
David: There's actually an odd, disparate group of us out here. Some interesting people came out of a couple short years of Baltimore high schools. Most of us knew each other, some were friends . . . I think I got off track.
James: No, I was just wondering -
David: I think I'm rambling here!
James: No, that's fine, that's fine. Rambling is acceptable! I'm just interested in what it must be like for a freelance writer to go into an ongoing series like KNOTS or DALLAS, and I think the episode you wrote for KNOTS was a pretty pivotal episode. JR comes to town and basically predicts what's gonna happen to Gary and Val's marriage over the course of the next two years. So it was kind of quite pivotal stuff. How does that work when you're coming in cold? How familiar do you have to be with -
David: It was simpler on DALLAS than KNOTS because DALLAS was a very tightly controlled show. KNOTS was a show where everybody kind of participated and all kinds of ideas were tossed around. There was a freshness about that, but DALLAS was controlled very strongly. When I came into DALLAS, there were only two other fellas. There was Len Katzman who was Producer and another guy, Art Lewis. I came on as Story Editor. I replaced a woman called Camille Marchetta -
David: - who'd gone off to another show. The three of us would sit around and come up with the story-lines. Then we would break them down to create a scene for scene outline for every show we did. We would start out the year by doing the outlines for the first twelve shows. And then the three of us would usually divvy them up and give the seven or eight that were left to outside writers. It was difficult for outside writers to write DALLAS. We had an advantage because we were watching dailies every day. We knew not only what the characters would do, but we knew how the actors sounded. New writers coming onto the show fresh often had a conception of what they thought the show was about but they were almost invariably wrong.
James: And what sort of pitfall would they fall into? What mistake would they make?
David: They would write jokes for one thing.
David: For people like JR.
David: And it wasn't a jokey show.
David (chuckling): The three of us laughed a lot; we would roll on the floor with some of the stuff we came up with (James chuckles) like we didn't know a family that wealthy wouldn’t live in a house that small, for example.
James: Yeah, yeah.
David: Of course we did, and we had our own jokes, but essentially, it was a story driven show. And it was a show that evolved into one that was mainly pushed forward by JR, because he was such a powerful character. That wasn't the case in KNOTS LANDING.
David: Nor was it the case in DYNASTY. In KNOTS, you had a group of characters, all of whom were intertwined to one extent or another. So one episode or a series of episodes would favour one group, and then you'd move to another.
David: Basically it was about interpersonal relationships. I found that generally speaking, if you took an audience of a hundred people and you asked what their favourite shows were, generally the males would fall toward DALLAS and the females toward KNOTS LANDING or DYNASTY. DYNASTY for a different reason of course. I mean so much of DYNASTY had to do with the table settings, the elegance of the gowns, the make up, which is why it did not last as long as the other two shows did.
James: Yeah, no.
David: We were on the way to changing that, but there was a decision by the president of the network to get rid of the show even before the year I came on began. So we didn’t have much of a chance. It was a financial situation, so ...
James: Right. Actually, somebody asked a question about that. I was gonna leave this to the end, but we've sort of come up to it. There's a poster on the forum, a guy called Marky, and I'd say he's probably your biggest advocate. I'm just gonna read out his question: "Thanks for not only the entire Season 9 and providing a dignified exit for the show, but also giving us a glimpse of what DYNASTY could have and should have been in its heyday. In 1988, when I first heard a "DALLAS head honcho" was coming to take over DYNASTY, even before I knew who it was, my first thought was: I bet they're bringing in someone new to take the blame for the show's imminent cancellation... And sure enough, that's what happened. Many viewers and fans don't recall exact time-frames and only remember that DYNASTY went downhill "toward the end", and so blame often gets unfairly dumped on Mr Paulsen and Season 9, despite the fact it was the best the show had been since Season 2 ... Any opinions and viewpoints on that?"
David (chuckling): Well that's very nice of him to say. I don't believe that was the case. They didn't bring me in for that to happen. I had been offered a job on DYNASTY about four years earlier. I didn't take it because they only wanted me as a writing producer, which really means a writer who's got a producer's title without the power. I really had no interest in doing DYNASTY. The very little I'd seen of the show didn't jibe with anything I knew how to do. But I wanted to leave DALLAS, I wanted to move on so I put the word out and my business manager, who happened to be the business manager for Esther and Richard Shapiro as well, called me and told me they’d like to meet with me again. They're lovely, lovely people. In fact I had lunch with Richard yesterday.
James: Oh really? You're still in touch?
David: We've become friends. But I told my business manager at the time I didn't see any point in meeting again because theirs wasn't a show I felt I could do. He suggested I read the script that Richard and Esther had written, the three hour pilot. I read it; it was terrific.
James: Yeah, yeah. It's a very different show to what it later became.
David: It really was. So on the basis of that I said, "Sure I'll meet them." We met the next morning and they asked if I'd be interested in producing the show. I told them first of all, that I would only be interested if I could take it over completely, guide it any way I chose. I wouldn't take only a writing producer’s job. Turns out that's what they were looking for, someone to come in and take over. The four executive producers wanted to pull back and they were getting rid of the writing producers. And so I said, "OK, well, that's interesting.
David: I told them how impressed I was with the pilot the two of them wrote. But I told them I wouldn't be interested in doing the DYNASTY that was on the air at the time, but if we could return it to the Dynasty they wrote I'd be very interested. That was a strong show. You have action, you have desires straining to be fulfilled. I don't know what happened but that's not how the show devolved." And they said, "Well we don't know what it's turned into either the past couple of years!" (James chuckles)
James: Did they give explanation as to why the programme did go in the direction that it did, having started so strongly?
David: Richard was no longer involved.
David: Richard's a fine writer. Esther is a superb editor. I've seen a couple of things they've written together. She is remarkable. She has an extraordinary eye and extraordinary ear. I don't know exactly how much writing she does, but with Richard they are an incredible team; I have enormous respect for them. But he wasn't involved. Esther continued to be, but mostly I believe she was involved in the business end. She did very well but another couple was writing the show.
David: And they did things, well . . . I couldn't understand, things we would never do in DALLAS. Of course in a show that long-running, things happen. And then there’s the dream, but that's a different story.
David: I believe in the dream. I've always defended that. It wasn't my idea. but ... I bring that up only to counter anything that someone would say vis à vis what I just said about DYNASTY. (Chuckles)
David: I mean, the whole Moldavia situation for example.
James: Yeah, yeah.
David: All of the cast in the building and then a huge shoot out, out of which nobody should have lived, and then, the next year, everybody walks out!
James (chuckling): Yeah, yeah. Just looking a little bit dazed.
David: You can't do that. It’s not respectful of the audience.
David: The Shapiros knew that and they wanted a change and they gave me carte blanche to do the show any way I chose. “All you have to do is stick to the budget" (chuckles) which I didn't know had already been spent at that time.
James (chuckling): Right.
David: They introduced me to Mr Spelling and Mr Kramer and we came to an agreement and I took the show over. It was a wonderful year and, you know it's funny, I'm very pleased to hear what the gentleman said who wrote to you. I do think we made some important changes.
James: Oh you did, but so much for the better. Because the first year of DYNASTY was terrific, was really very different to DALLAS, very smart - not that DALLAS wasn't smart, but smart in a different way.
James: And the second year also when they brought in Joan Collins was very funny and very unusual, but then it almost became - it almost fell in love with what it satirised in the beginning. To begin with, it was a sort of critique of a certain way of life -
David: Absolutely right.
James: - and then it almost fell in love with that and became enamoured of it. And it became kind of stuck over the years, and it was only that last year - and the shame of it is, I kind of gave up on the show so I missed most of your season the first time around - but seeing it again in reruns, it is fantastic. Suddenly the characters have personalities again and they're witty and funny. I'll read you something else that a DYNASTY fan from Norway [Dynastiet] sent in: "I would say that Season 9 of Dynasty probably was the best season since the first two seasons. It is the most playful and also the most sinister season of them all." And he has two questions for you. The first one is: "How did the actors respond to their scenes in Season 9? I'm sure Mr. Forsythe loved his storyline in the last season. Finally Blake had some dark secrets and more to protect than his company."
David: Well, it's an interesting thing. (Chuckles) Mr Forsythe did not like it.
James: Really? Really? I'm surprised.
David: I never quite understood why. I'll give you a little background. When I first got the show, I watched about forty episodes one after another from the beginning.
James: Sort of like a selection throughout the -
David: Yeah. I skipped through. I wanted to know not only the story-lines they had done, but also I wanted to see which of the characters, popped off the screen. And which didn't so I could lose some. I had also read the budget and found that everything was spent. There wasn't enough in it on a per episode basis to even take the show out one day a week.
James: On location, you mean?
David: Take it off the lot.
James: Right, right.
David: We were gonna be shooting a seven day show completely on the lot. We needed to get out, let the show breathe, see horses, get some cars running, open it up a little bit. But when you take a show off the lot, the trucks start to roll, you incur extra expense. And it wasn't in the budget. We needed to get back some budget monies which meant cutting down the cast. In conjunction with that I also saw that the relationship between Linda Evans, Krystle, and Blake was stale.
James: Yeah, yeah. Definitely, yeah.
David: They were a loving couple. They held hands. They walked around holding hands.
James (chuckling): Yes!
David: No drama, no threat to the relationship. Then I learned that they didn't wanna do anything to disparage their relationship. I could respect that from a personal standpoint, but where do you go with it dramatically?
David: I had to do something to jeopardise that relationship. Given that fans of a television show all know that if an actor signs a contract for twenty-two episodes, he/she’s gonna be on it for twenty-two episodes. So what I decided to do was, for two reasons, cut Linda Evans down from twenty-two episodes to six, which saved us a tremendous amount of money to use to open up the show, but equal to that, let the audience know that something is gonna happen to this character in a very real way. Otherwise she wouldn't be cut to six episodes.
David: At the same time, I wanted to cut Joan Collins from her twenty-two episodes to eleven, for the same reasons. I wanted to bring in some fresh faces who would, on the one hand, be much less expensive – cast budget on a long running show goes up a lot each year. It gets overwhelming. Worse, shows like Dallas and Dynasty weren't making any numbers on their second runs, so the networks cut them to one, even after they’d paid for two. That was one of the major reasons ABC wanted the show off the air. It was costing them double. You follow what I'm saying?
James: Yeah, yeah.
David: So . . . you can't re-negotiate an actor's salary downward.
James (chuckling): Yeah, of course.
David: No actor or agent would go for that, but you could diminish the number of episodes. And my feeling was that, among the top three, Blake, the family patriarch, was the one around whom we could run the best stories. I also wanted to make the stories a little more male oriented.
David: I knew we weren't gonna lose the female audience, but making it more male oriented would, on the one hand, bring in another audience, and give us a strength of story that I could count on. So we re-negotiated. Linda was very good about that. And we ... There was a reason for telling you all this.
James: John Forsythe's reaction, the reason he wasn't so keen on it all.
David: Right. OK well I'm not sure why. He approached me after reading some of the early scripts and, well, he was reticent about it. But I thought he got some terrific stuff. From the very, very first episode. We had him - do you remember what happened that year?
James: Oh yeah, yeah. Krystle disappears and there's the body in the lake and the whole -
David: My predecessors allowed me to introduce elements into the final episodes of their final year, you know, to help set up the coming year. What we did . . . we had Blake come home and find his and Krystle’s bedroom room completely destroyed. The maid then tells him it was Krystle who did it. And he walks out (chuckles) and puts his hand on his heart and says, "My God, Krystle, I thought we had more time."
James: Yeah, yes, yes.
David: That set up the entire year. The first episode of our year we had him out looking all over the city for her.
David: What we wanted to do was give Krystle some new character stuff that would run counter to her lovely, pure self, but that couldn't really be blamed on her, you know what I'm saying?
David: We couldn't have her turn into a Sue Ellen Ewing. So we gave her this brain disease which we researched very carefully. I have a psychiatrist friend, Dr. Lew Baxter, who was wonderful. He suggested actions she might take that could have been instigated by pressure on certain areas of the brain.
David: In conjunction with that, I had remembered a story that I had read in Upstate New York years earlier. Very simple story, just a couple of lines in a newspaper. It was one of those things I just sort of packed into the back of my mind, never could figure out what to do with it, and I realized: "Wait a minute. Those are the first eight episodes of the show. It was just a story I'd read about a frozen lake that unfroze in spring; a body floated to the surface. It turned out to be the body of a logger who had been missing for twelve years. The next day, the sheriff went to somebody’s house and arrested him for the murder of the logger - which took place twelve years earlier. When he floated to surface he was perfectly intact.
James: Right! Oh right!
David: The cold kept his features perfectly intact.
David: That's how the whole Roger Grimes thing started. We had Krystle for six episodes - but I didn't wanna use them up too fast. So we held her back for the first two episodes. She was the focus of attention; John Forsythe was out looking for her, but she never appeared. At the end of the first episode, we heard she was dead. Story came back that she was found dead by the lake.
James: Oh yes, yes, of course. Yes.
David: She was dead. Just like a year later they did in -
James: TWIN PEAKS.
David: In the next episode we find out, "Wait a minute. The blonde woman is not Krystle even though her car is there. That blonde woman is not even a woman. It's a man. But Krystle's car was there. Then hold on, Krystle must have killed him."
James: Yeah, yeah.
David: "All the evidence points to the fact that she killed him." And then by the end of the episode, Blake's sent to - I don't know - Iowa, Idaho, something like that, to meet Krystle's cousin whom we've never seen before, who called up saying, "Krystle's here. And wait a minute, she said she killed somebody making it definite. She killed somebody. Then, in the next episode – which we really thought about because, if she’s mentally ill, how is she gonna look - all dishevelled and terrible?" We'd been hearing Blake talking to a doctor about a certain mental problem. But then we meet Krystle and she's as gorgeous as ever. She just doesn't know where she is or why she's there, has little recollection of anything. Well, he brings her back to Denver and then we find out, "Whoa. She didn't kill anybody. In fact, the victim's been dead for twenty-five years."
James (chuckles): So it's one twist after another after another.
David: We kept it going for twenty-two episodes.
James: Yeah, yeah.
David: Our biggest fear when we got to mid-season was, "Oh my God, we gotta pay this off. And I think we did come up with something really special, that the six year old Fallon, Emma Samms killed him.
James: Yep. Well I think it's kind of ironic that you were the outsider who came in for the last season, but you made better use of the history and the back story of the characters than anyone else. You know, the whole Roger Grimes thing. Cos the whole thing sort of went back into the past of all the characters and kind of brought it altogether. And even though you didn't have a proper ending, there wasn't a finale as such, there was still a cliff-hanger, it did have a kind of resolution.
David: Yeah well obviously we didn't plan to end it. We planned to open it.
David: We sent several people off the balcony which meant that the following year we could get rid of anybody we wished. I think Joan Collins was angry because she kind of saw what I was doing. I was bringing in ...
James: Stephanie Beacham.
David: Stephanie Beacham who's a superb actress, to play opposite her.
James: Yeah, she was great.
David: I think Joan did some of the best work she ever did that year.
James: Yes, I agree. Yeah.
David: She had good people to go up against. Stephanie's a real actress. She's a superb actress.
James: And where did the idea for bringing her back - cos she'd been on THE COLBYS, hadn't she?
David: I saw her when I was screening all the episodes and thought, "She's really good." I saw immediately she would be a perfect match for Joan.
David: There's an elegance about her and a loveliness, and she's such a superb actress that I twisted arms to get her on – hers and her agent’s. Then we gave her and Joan as much as we could.
David: The biggest challenge that year was, "How do we get rid of Linda in a way that (1) exalts her, so to speak, and gives her a proper, queen-like departure, and (2) also leaves us the possibility of bringing her back?" So we did it with a night, candle-lit wedding – quite different than any of the other weddings the show had done -
James: Yeah, it was lovely and very unexpected, because we were so used to it being very stately and all that pomposity.
David: - and then she goes off, presumably to her death.
James: Yeah, yeah. Very poignant.
David: I was pleased. You know, we were very fortunate. I had a good team of writers, some who had never written TV before.
James: Oh really?
David: Oh yeah. A couple of them. I brought on six writers. Let's see, one of them was my secretary from DALLAS and KNOTS LANDING days.
James: And who was that?
David: Her name was Tita Bell.
David: She’d written a little bit but nothing like she’d have to for Dynasty. I wanted her to come as my secretary as she had been but she wouldn't so I said Well, you've been rewriting my scripts for years, so c'mon let's give it a try."
James: Great, great!
David: I teamed her up with an old friend of mine, Bob Wolfe, who had never written either, but he was a guy with wonderful ideas. A show runner runs every script through his own computer. Every good show runner does that because a show has to have a single voice. You see that in any of David Kelley's shows, David Milch's shows, Bochco’s shows . . .
David: One clear voice. I knew all the scripts would be going through my computer. I would control things in that respect. So it didn't matter that some of them had not written. They would catch up. I added two more teams - Barbara Esensten and Jim Brown who had written a couple of DYNASTYs, then a young novelist who had done some action novels I teamed up with a fella named Roberto Loiederman who was one of my Baltimore friends. He was a writer. He had done a couple of KNOTS LANDINGs for us and worked with David J and Bob Porter on a show called LOVING FRIENDS AND PERFECT COUPLES. So I set up these three teams and we began. We had time. This was February, I think, and we weren't shooting till July.
James: Oh is that quite unusual, that you have that much preparation time?
David: Well no. Coming on at that time was normal. But something happened. The Writers Guild went on strike two weeks later.
David: That lasted for five months. It was disastrous. It took all the time I had planned for us to work.
David: You think the strike that just happened was bad? That one was far worse.
James: Yeah, five months. Wow.
David: It wasn't until I think August that it was finally resolved. And we got notice we were to be shooting one month later.
James: Oh my God!
David: Shooting! But we plunged in. To make matters worse, not only were we just coming out of a Writers Guild strike, but the Teamsters started striking selective shows whenever they went off the lot which meant that all the work done in getting enough of the budget back to take us off the lot once a week was in jeopardy. We’d written scenes to be shot off-lot. If they struck us, what do we do?
David: We had to start rewriting off-lot scenes we had already written so we’d be prepared in case we couldn't go off the lot.
James: Yeah, as a contingency.
David: As a contingency. So we were working eighteen to twenty hour days.
David: For about six months.
James: Wow! And I've got another question from the DYNASTY fan in Norway. He says, "I will not rest before I know: Who was the lady in the car in the last (or was it the second to last) episode that Captain Handler is talking to? I understand she was the head of the Cartel or something, but can you tell us a little bit about where this was going and what part she would have played in a 10th season?"
David: That who was talking to?
James: There was a mysterious woman who's talking to the corrupt policeman. She's in a car and I think you just see her hand and you hear her voice.
David: I don't remember.
James: Ah, we'll never know! (Laughs)
David: The last episode?
James: It was the last or the second to last.
David: Those were the two I directed. I should know them. (Both laugh) I don't wanna guess. I don't recall that we set up anything like that ...
James: I think the idea was that this was the person the police captain was taking his orders from, but it was never quite spelled out, as far as I remember.
David: A woman in a car?
James: Yeah. (Laughs)
David (chuckles): You know what? You'll prompt me to go back and see those two episodes again! I can't remember.
James: Oh well, that is to be revealed! (David laughs) Can I take you back to DALLAS? Obviously you worked with Len Katzman and you worked with David Jacobs, one the creator of the show and the other who turned it into what it became, and obviously they're quite different people, different sensibilities. What are the main differences between them, would you say?
David: Well, first of all I never worked with David on DALLAS.
James: No, no. Of course not.
David: That was on KNOTS LANDING.
David: Leonard by that time had taken over DALLAS. David is much freer thinking than Leonard.
David: Much freer thinking, and allows for more "mistakes" in general, which is why KNOTS LANDING would have some really brilliant shows, beautiful shows, not only from a writing standpoint but from a directing standpoint as well and a character standpoint. You would also have the opposite. You would have long periods in there which were just terrible.
James (chuckles): Right.
David: There were periods of time in KNOTS LANDING where it was just dreadful.
James: Can you give any examples of that?
David: I can't really. Just some periods I felt that were sloppy. When I came onto KNOTS LANDING, one of things I hoped to do was move it more toward stronger story-lines. in fact, those were arguments that David and I had. David's somebody who likes to start writing and see where it takes him. I like to structure things more.
David: Leonard did too. It was always hard for Leonard to move forward unless he saw the end. David was more free thinking. He would also allow directors to do the show pretty much any way they wished. If he didn't like it he wouldn't use them again, but he gave them a lot of latitude. Leonard would hire a director and tell him exactly how he wanted them to do the show.
David: Most show runners do. It's the way I worked as well. In my view, you need a certain look to the show, a certain feel. So you need stuff coming down from the top. It's the Executive Producer who designs the look of the show with his artistic people, his creative people, and then you wanna stick to that. But David, to his credit - and detriment some times during certain periods which were not easily controlled - tried all sorts of things. He didn't care in that respect. DALLAS was a far more consistent show.
David: And I think you had a far more consistent year with our year of DYNASTY because of the way we worked. I think we started to get it on KNOTS LANDING the year that I came on. I tried for it. There was that whole - what was it? It was - they discovered oil or something -
James: Empire Valley.
David: Empire Valley.
David: I can't remember whether our year created Empire Valley or we took it from the previous year and built on it.
James: Yeah, yeah, I think it was the previous year. And then you had a very interesting thing with William Devane's character, Greg Sumner, and Gary.
James: And it was almost a kind of sibling rivalry because it was Greg's birthright but Gary had somehow inherited it.
David: That's right.
James: So there was a really interesting friction between those two.
David: Those two guys, and really because my focus is more of a male story focus, so to speak, more of a GIANT sort of thing -
David: - than it is on the "over the picket fence" sort of thing. I don't know how to write that stuff all that well. You know what I mean?
James: Yeah, yeah, the suburban ...
David: David and the other people did that a lot better than I could do. What I tried to do on KNOTS was make it stronger in that respect and, indeed, create a conflict between Greg Sumner and Ted Shackelford.
James: Yeah, and there's some brilliant stuff in that season. There's the stuff with Alec Baldwin and Julie Harris.
David: Oh yeah, with Julie Harris (chuckles). Well, Baldwin died.
David: Yeah that's right.
James: She shouts him off the roof!
David: The first show I directed for them was all about Lilimae, right after he died.
David: It was the funeral of Alec Baldwin.
James: Oh yeah, and you had that great actor playing his father who was also the reverend, the preacher - Albert Salmi, I think.
David: Oh Salmi. Right, of course.
James: Who died quite tragically in real life, didn't he?
David: Did he?
James: And just out of curiosity about Alec Baldwin because I've read contradictory things, was he always contracted just for those two years or was he written out?
David: I don't know. He was on before I was there. I didn't know him very well, and of course the show I directed was his funeral (chuckles). He was in the box.
James (chuckles): Right.
David: I don't know a lot about him. He is a remarkable actor of course. And you could see that his sights were on higher -
David: And you could see very quickly that he would become the star that he became. I don't know what his contract was. I don't remember that.
James: But he was terrific in that show. And would you say - because I think you've been quoted before as saying it was a difficult year on KNOTS -
David: Who's been quoted?
James: You! (chuckles)
David: Well yeah, it was a difficult year for me.
David: Coming off DALLAS - DALLAS for me was a piece of cake. I mean, Len Katzman and I became very close friends and remained close friends for quite some time after that. In fact, we created a show together afterwards called DANGEROUS CURVES.
James: Yeah, a detective show, wasn't it?
David: Yeah. Len was great those first couple of years, and getting onto KNOTS, KNOTS was more ... Well, it's not easy to work for a close friend sometimes.
James: Right, right.
David: In the case of David. And we both, I think, realised that within a couple of months. At one point I let him know I wasn't interested in coming back the following year. And I think he was happy about that."
James: Right. And was that down to you having more of a male sensibility about the show?
David: No, not so much that, because I think they carried that on afterwards.
David: They followed through with that. No, it had more to do with the politics of the show. You've got a show like that and everybody's grasping to move up the ladder one more step.
James: Uh huh.
David: You know what I mean? So if you're Story Editor, you wanna be a producer, you wanna be an executive. There was a lot of that kind of thing and I didn't care for it. I had not had it on DALLAS. I just didn't like it.
James: And were there any of the actors on KNOTS that you had a particular rapport with?
David: I got along pretty well with all of them. There were some wonderful actors on KNOTS.
James: Yeah, yeah.
David: Joan van Ark is marvellous. As is Michele, as is Donna. They're terrific actors. We didn't necessarily socialise. I didn't really socialise with any of them - you're working too hard.
James: Yeah. Just out of curiosity, do you have any particular memories of Constance McCashin who played Laura, Greg's wife? Cos she's a favourite of ours, but she's given up the business and doesn't do interviews so she's a bit of an enigma.
David: Yeah well, her husband became a very prominent director, did some awfully good work. Oddly enough, she I did see socially a number of times at a mutual friend's house, but I haven't seen her for a number of years now so I don't really know what happened to her.
James: She's become a psychotherapist now.
David: Has she really?
James: Yeah, yeah.
David: Oh good for her.
James: Yeah, yeah. And she's built a life completely away from the business, and she won't talk to us (laughs) which is absolutely fair enough, but we're very - she was kind of an intriguing character, but we never -
David: I didn't know that. Well, that's terrific. Let's see, I've seen Donna Mills at a mutual friend's house a number of times. As I mentioned, I've become friends with the Shapiros. David, of course. I mean, David and our guys and wives and so forth -
James (chuckling): Oh right, right.
David: We spend almost every New Year's and Thanksgiving together, Passover. We were at David's house last week. So we have a long, long lasting friendship over many, many, many years.
James: Yeah. So just to go back to DALLAS, I think the general consensus from fans on the website seems to be that the show was at its strongest when you, Leonard and Art Lewis writing it together, and in particular, your first year as Story Editor, which was the season all about Jock's will and the fight for Ewing Oil. That seems to be an incredibly well structured season. I don't think there's one superfluous character or scene. Everything drives up to the finale, to the Southfork fire at the end of the year. It's almost Shakespearean. If you wanted the show to be a tragedy, you could've ended it with that fire. That could have been the end of the series. Do you remember anything about devising that year? Was that different to any of the other years in terms of putting it together? Cos it's just so brilliantly structured.
David: Was that the year of the Tundra Torque?
James (chuckling): Yes! Yes it was, yeah.
David: OK. You know, that was my first year on the show and boy, that was a tough year. Wonderful year but tough.
James: In what way?
David: Well I was learning how to do it. I would write and rewrite. We had a number of outside writers that year, and what would happen is they would always deliver their scripts for some reason on Friday afternoon, and the three of us would sit down and read it, and then Leonard would toss it to me and say, "I'm sorry. There goes your weekend." I would have to go home and do mostly Page One rewrites. I'd write two acts on Saturday, two acts on Sunday. So we could go into production on Monday.
James: Cos it's very densely plotted. Everything is paid off, and there are so many intersecting story-lines that would have to intersect at the exact right moment that I guess it must have needed a lot of care in that respect.
David: That was what we did, and we would play a lot of "What if?" and of course it was hard for me for the first year because I didn't really know the show very well.
David: But I really enjoyed working with Leonard. I learned a great deal from him.
James: So the next couple of seasons it was just basically the three of you writing the whole thing.
David: Yeah. It was so much easier for us because we had to do the same things anyway. We wrote the major story-line for the first twelve episodes or so because, as you probably know, we would shoot the exteriors and the big scenes where we'd have many extras, we would shoot those in the first twelve episodes, in Dallas. We felt it opened up the show. We also had a three quarter version of the Southfork exterior on the lot.
David: You know about that. People always said they never knew. Just look at the horses in the background. If they move, we're in Dallas. If not, we’re on stage.
James (chuckling): Yeah! So what do you think were the particular strengths the three of you - you, Leonard and Art - what do you think each of you brought to the table?
David: Leonard was a terrific producer. He'd come up through the ranks. I think he began as a kind of an assistant prop man with The Three Stooges. (James laughs) So he kind of came up from the late forties, the early fifties I guess, and then he became a producer and started to write. And he was extremely good. He had a very strong hand. He never considered himself a writer though. He considered himself a producer.
James: Oh that's interesting.
David: He always used to say, "You know, I always wanted to be the boss. Now I'm the boss And I love it." But of course he was a writer, certainly, for DALLAS, and I think if you separate the structure that David set up in the first six episodes which was an extremely good structure - I mean you had a family, you had Cain and Abel and you had ...
James: Romeo and Juliet.
David: Romeo and Juliet.
David: And Cain and Abel took over essentially.
James: That's true. Yeah, yeah, yeah.
David: And that gave you a villain, and the casting of Larry Hagman, the work that he did, it was just superb. You had a villain you could love to hate.
James: And it's interesting you saying that other writers that came in would make the mistake of writing jokes because it wasn't about jokes, but there was something about him that could make something funny.
David: Right. I mean we got the knack of throwing words into his mouth and giving moments that he would say something so awful, so atrocious that you had to laugh.
James (chuckling): Yeah, yeah.
David: He would never tell jokes though.
David: Which was often a mistake that outside writers made when they came in. But we didn't really have many after the first year I was on the show.
James: I think the next year it's just the three of you that are credited. And I think Peter Dunne did one just before he took over the show. So I'm kind of curious about Art Lewis because he was there from the very beginning, right to the very end. He wrote the last reunion that they did. What was he like, because I don't really know much about him?
David: Art had been a network executive and somehow hooked up with Lenny and became a writer on the show.
James: But were there particular - say if it was, I don't know, a heavy Cliff Barnes episode, would there be one of you that was -
David: No. Once we did the story-lines, once we wrote the outlines for the individual shows, we would essentially just divvy them up.
James: OK. Although I've noticed Art Lewis always seems to do the barbecue episodes (chuckles).
David: Oh no. If that happened, it was purely chance. We never planned anything like that.
James: You created the character of Mark Graison, didn't you?
David: I guess so, yeah. (Chuckles)
James: Does that basically mean the person who writes the episode that that character is introduced in?
David: That's right. You're credited with that. So yeah, they called him my character but he was really a product of all of us.
James: So I guess because the three of you were working so closely together, you don't feel any sort of - it's not like you have to go away and write a back story for that character?
David: No. Once you had the family, then when the new characters came in, they came in by virtue of what they could do to spur stories on for the [existing] characters.
James: Yeah, yeah.
David: And conversely, when we felt we wanted to get rid of a character, it was generally because we felt there was not much more the character could do for our general story-line - just like in the situation with DYNASTY. The reason I wanted to cut both of the women down there, particularly Linda Evans, was because I didn't have story for her. And so I wanted to bring in other people who would give us a chance to create more story. Same when we got rid of Charlene Tilton. Nothing to do with her performance. She was fine, but we came to the end of what we could effectively do with her.
James: Yeah, I guess once she'd become a waitress, there wasn't really much else you could do with her. (Laughs)
David: You don't keep somebody on just to show their face. You needed a reason for it. So when somebody's off, a vacuum is created and somebody else comes into it.
James: I'm interested in the DYNASTY competition with DALLAS because one of the charming things about the Ewings is that they were very parochial. Even though they were rich, they didn't act rich. They rarely went anywhere or left town or there were no private jets or ...
David (laughs): Well, George Bush.
James (chuckling): Yeah, yeah, yeah. That's true, that's true, that's true. But it gave it a sense of place, didn't it? That that's where these people were born and raised and that's where they were gonna die.
David: Well yeah. We were very careful about certain things on DALLAS. For example, I'm sure you noticed there was only one Rolls Royce on DALLAS. Not owned by a member of the family, it was owned by Clayton Farlow.
James: That's right, that's right, yeah.
David: Jock drove a Lincoln. The others drove Mercedes for the most part, because Mercedes at the time was the up and coming car for up and coming people. Whereas on DYNASTY, if I remember correctly, there were a number of Rolls Royces. They played elegance to the hilt. That castle that they had was one of the most magnificent sets I've ever seen. It was really quite wonderful. The initial episodes of DALLAS were shot in a different home in a different ranch which was much, much larger. That was a compound in which a family like that could live.
David: But it was changed afterwards into (chuckles) that little house, which was kind of funny.
James (chuckles): Yeah.
David: But you know what? It didn't matter. DALLAS was about a dining room table.
James (laughs): Yes.
David: DALLAS was about everything that happened around a dining room table.
James: That's true, yeah.
David: The core of the show is the dining room table. That's where things happened. There was no real action on DALLAS. Virtually none.
James: Oh yeah, yeah, yeah. But it did slowly become, while keeping that essence, more glamorous as it went on and I'm interested in when Bradford May came on as Director of Photography. He came on for one year, but the show had a very different look, a very cinematic -
David: Yes, and that's why he only lasted one year.
James: Oh right, cos it wasn't popular?
David: Leonard hated that.
James: Really? Really?
David: Brad's a wonderful DP.
David: I loved the look.
James: Yeah, me too.
David: But it wasn't DALLAS.
James: Right, right.
David: DALLAS was wide shot, medium and close up brightly lit. By the way, that's a perfect example of the difference between David and ...
James: Leonard, yeah.
David: Leonard. Because David would love that stuff. And I did too.
James: Obviously I need to ask you about the dream season and the dream resolution. When you came back for that year, Leonard had asked you back, [reads from a question submitted by Pamela] "What state did you find the show in and what were your main objectives to get the show back on track?"
David: Let me go back a little earlier than that. Leonard and Patrick Duffy were leaving the show the previous year. It was thought that Phil Capice, the Executive Producer, would invite me to take Len’s job as Producer. He didn't. He brought in Peter Dunne from Knots. When David J and Mike Filerman heard about that, they asked me to become Supervising Producer on KNOTS LANDING. At that time in my career, after having written and directed a lot of shows I wanted a producer title so I took it.
James: It's kind of a strange coincidence, this crossover.
David (chuckles): My office was right above Peter's so we just sort of switched offices.
James: It's strange. It's almost like a cultural exchange where the DALLAS sensibility goes to KNOTS and the KNOTS sensibility goes to DALLAS.
David: That's the way it worked out. It wasn't done for that reason.
James: No, no.
David: On KNOTS, as Supervising Producer, I was essentially a writing producer. But, unlike most TV producers – David included, who became producers by virtue of his writing, I, like Leonard was a producer. We had come up in the film business in similar ways. Both of us started, not as writers, but crew. I started as a boom operator and then a sound engineer and then a cameraman, editor and so on.
James: Oh wow. I didn't realise. Yeah.
David: Documentaries initially. And then industrials. It wasn't until much later that I became a director and then a writer. But I wanted to work as a real producer so when Peter was brought on instead of moving me up, I went to KNOTS.
James: Wasn't bringing Travilla on a response to the designer look of DYNASTY?
David: It certainly wasn't to copy, it wasn't to outdo.
David: We had our own look. The Ewings were nouveau riche. Whereas the DYNASTY people really had the money. They lost it, they got it, they lost it, they got it, but the look remained the same.
James: Yes, yes.
David: Back to the question of the change in the show. the people who came on didn't seem to recognise that JR was the key. When JR wasn't operating, there was no show. The ratings started to go down. Three or four months in, at dinner one night, Leonard told me there were discussions with management for him to return to Dallas replacing Phil as Executive Producer. He asked if I'd like to come back in his old job as Producer. I told him I would. He also said he had heard from Pat Duffy that he would like to come back as well. But how do you do that?
James: Yeah! So he initiated the idea of coming back? Patrick did?
David: I don't know. I'm not sure. Probably. Patrick said at one point that he’d gone out to become a movie star and found that the demand for him wasn't all that great.
David: His words. And Larry was miserable without him. Through no fault of their own, the writers who came on were faced with a difficult problem. How do you run what was a Cain and Abel show when you didn't have Abel?
James: Well having been a huge DALLAS fan, it was a very strange thing watching the show - and not really knowing the background, cos I was quite young then, not really knowing about producers and changes - but it was like all of a sudden I felt I knew the show better than the people who were making it. And that's never a position a viewer wants to be in, where you're thinking, "No, that's wrong because that didn't happen, and this is completely inconsistent."
James: And when it came back - I remember "Return to Camelot" was the double length episode after the dream. It was just so fantastic cos it was like, "Yes, yes. This is what the show always was. This is going back to its roots." It was really exciting. As a fan, it was really brilliant.
David: The big question was Patrick. How do you get him back? We spent hours knocking ideas around. Does he come back as his lost twin brother? I don't think so. Do you bring back the actor as another character? What sense would that make? The audience wanted to see Bobby Ewing back but he was on-screen dead.
David: We all saw him hit by the car and die (chuckles) in the bed. Do you erase that? And then the idea came. I remember, one day - I was directing a KNOTS LANDING - and Leonard bursts in. He was beaming. The minute I called "cut" , he ran over, grabbed me and said, "David, it was all a dream." I said “Fuckin' A! Absolutely!” (Both laugh) It was perfect. I don't know whether that was Leonard's idea. It might have been Patrick's or Larry's. I don't really know. It wasn't mine, but -
James: I think I've heard it credited to Patrick's wife actually.
David: I've heard that too.
David: So I don't honestly know, but I heard it from Leonard and thought, "Perfect". Why? Look, we all have dreams. (James chuckles) So what if you dream a whole year? Big deal. Think of your own dreams. The newspapers had a field day, of course. Some people hated it, others thought it was brilliant. In my view it was perfect, and it allowed us to go back to where we were the prior year – which was a good one.
David: - get rid of everything in the dream year.
James: It's just like ripping a chapter out of a book and carrying on.
David: Well -
James: A duff chapter and then carrying on.
David: I strongly feel it was psychologically honest. She was lying there, she was sleeping, she came to and boom – she’s coming out of a dream. Then came the question of How do we keep it hidden? '
David: I think it was The Enquirer that got the real story. When we found out they were coming out with it we put out some phoney publicity. We kept them guessing for a while.
James: There were pictures, weren't there, of Patrick with bandages or something like that? I vaguely remember.
David: Yeah, if I remember correctly, we shot Patrick coming out of some bandages, that kind of thing, and we put them into the hand of another [magazines] so we could create some doubt.
James: Yeah. And so in terms of getting the show back on track, what did you think, "Right, this is what we need to do?"
David: Well, we needed to make it a JR Ewing show again. We needed to strengthen the relationship between him and Bobby.
James: It's interesting because obviously the dream season, it became more female, it became softer and everything like that, but one thing I did notice when the series came back after the dream was that the women were actually tougher than they'd ever been before, cos you had Sue Ellen going into Valentine Lingerie and playing JR at his own game and you had Donna leading the oil lobby and Pam getting a percentage of Barnes Wentworth ... Was that a conscious decision?
David: Not in the way that you seem to be presenting it.
David: No, it was just those looked like good stories to us. We were never trying to hold the women down.
James: But it was a show about a patriarchal family, wasn't it? It was a show about the men in that family.
David: It was like that - although in reality, Texas is in many respects run by women. Tell George Bush's mother that that's not a matriarchal society!
James (chuckles): Right.
David: She's a very powerful woman.
David: So many are there. But they play it differently. I think we just found some interesting stories.
James: What I thought was kind of interesting was that obviously there were some threads left at the end of the season where Bobby died, some other plots which were wrapped up in one way during what became the dream season, and you then had to come up with other alternatives for those threads - which were actually more interesting. Ray and Donna, they were separated at the end of Season 7 and then in the dream they were reconciled. Was it a case of, "Oh they were reconciled in that version of events; that means we have to keep them apart"?
David: No. We paid no attention to what happened during the dream. It was a dream. We returned to the end of our previous season, and questioned where we went from there. We couldn't go into the dream? Dreams don’t exist.
James: Although the one thing you did inherit from the dream season - I've got a question that [Pamela] sent in about this: "What was the thinking behind keeping the Steve Forrest Jock plot-line from the dream season? Was this due to contractual issues with Steve Forrest? The storyline seemed to end rather suddenly. Some suggestions were made that the original plan was to have his character, Wes Parmalee, turn out to be Jock. Was that true?"
David: Let me think. You know what? I just don't remember.
James: Cos he appears as one character, a variation on the same character, at the end of the dream season, and then reappears and the same story's played out, but in much greater detail. It was just hinted at in the dream.
David: Later on?
James: Yeah, after the dream. He turns up a couple of episodes into that season. And it's a great story. Watching it, it seemed like a great way to re-establish the Ewings as a family. That might not have been your intention.
David: I don't believe we ever really entertained the possibility of replacing Jock.
David: How could we? His picture was right over the fireplace. We may have played with the idea - forgive me if I'm wrong about this - the idea that this Wes Parmalee could be posing as Jock, might have let the audience think he was Jock for a while, but never did we entertain the possibility of actually making him Jock.
David: We might have entertained the possibility of bringing him in for Miss Ellie because she needed a partner, and we of course brought Clayton Farlow in. But he was so different than Jock. No, the character of Jock was sacrosanct.
James: On the subject of Jock, just to go back slightly earlier, it was very interesting when you brought in Jenilee Harrison's character, Jamie, as the Ewing cousin who was the daughter of Jock's brother that we never knew he had. And the brother was the evil brother. Because up until then, there was always something kind of morally ambiguous about the character of Jock. We knew he loved his family, he loved his wife, but we also knew that in the past he'd had a son out of wedlock, he'd been ruthless in business, and we never quite knew the truth of the Barnes/Ewing feud. It was only when the character of Jamie came in and she and Cliff went to court for their share of Ewing Oil that it all came out that Jock was in the right all the time, and from then on, I think, the show always treated Jock heroically. That kind of ambiguity was gone. Was that a conscious decision?
David: Not in that sense. I mean we didn't over-think it like that. You have to realise, when you do a show like this, the ideas evolve over time. It's not like all of these ideas were thought of in the very beginning and then you think, 'Well, we'll insert this in Episode 17 and insert this in Episode 320.'
David: It doesn't work like that. Your ideas come as they come and we don't know where we're going until we’re there pretty much. What you have is the structure and the Dallas structure was the family. In fact, as I'm sure you know, the first six episodes were not serialised. The show really took off when it became serialised, when it became more of a soap opera. You know that there are certain questions out there like the Barnes/Ewing feud and so forth but details of it only come as the writers need and discover them. Suddenly you get an idea and the audience says, "Ah, now I know what that was all about!" Well it wasn't about that until we thought it up, sometimes years later.
James: Right, right, right.
David: That's the way a show works. How did we know the show would run eleven, thirteen years, whatever it was?
James: Yeah. And what about when Victoria Principal was written out? There's another question here [Pamela] sent:
"What processes were involved in deciding the end to the character of Pamela? Were alternatives discussed? Was a recast ever a point of discussion? At what point do the writers start to think and implement a characters demise? Victoria's departure didn't have a story arc and was squeezed into the final episode."
David: Yeah. That was more a contractual thing. I think Victoria was looking to move on and I think she wanted a good bit more money, and we made the decision not to pay that at the time. So we let her go.
James: So it was a kind of a relatively last minute thing? So you couldn't have anticipated and started writing towards it earlier?
David: Yeah. It had to be done after the negotiations.
David: I believe it was that. When something like that comes up, you think, "How much more story can we get out of this? Out of that particular character?" You wanna move on with fresh story and faces.
James: But did you ever think of killing her off? Cos I don't have a problem with the dream solution either. I think that was fine, and it was such a relief to get the show back to what it was and to forget about that year, but was there a problem then when it came to writing Pam out that you couldn't kill her off because no one would believe it? They'd think, "Oh this is another dream."
David: We didn't think like that. First of all, when you're doing a soap opera, you don't wanna kill people off because you never know when you might like to bring them back. Proof of the pudding was Bobby. He died onscreen in a way – there was no possibility he’d ever come back. And then (chuckles) a few months later – life changed.
David: Had the dream not been thought of, I don’t think he’d ever have been back. Couldn't destroy a whole show just to bring a particular character back. We felt we’d lose the audience.
James: So you avoid death at all costs.
David: Well you avoid it onscreen. As with Linda Evans. I would never have had Krystle die on screen. We last saw her going off to have a mortally dangerous operation after which she’d be in a coma for as long as we chose.
David: I would have been delighted to bring Linda back had Dynasty continue to run.
James: Just out of curiosity, did you have any plans for that? If there had been a tenth season of DYNASTY, what would have occurred?
David: We had a few things in mind, but I don't remember what they were now.
James: Right. Cos I tell you, that's the kind of stuff the fans love. You know, what would have happened next? That's the kind of stuff that really gets their juices flowing!
David: What I wanted to do was make sure that the people who went off that balcony could have lived or died to give us a choice of who and who not to kill off. I think Stephanie Beacham would have taken a much more important role.
David: I think probably the guy who played Zorelli -
James: He was great! He was a great character. Ray Abruzzo, wasn't he? He turned up in THE SOPRANOS.
James: Cos he reminded me - I don't know if you actually watched the first season of DYNASTY, but there was a Bo Hopkins character, Matthew Blaisdel, which was a kind of a similar, down to earth -
David: Well that's an interesting story, why I brought him in. When I first got the show and started screening the episodes to see who was popping off the screen and I saw Emma Samms, I thought to myself, she's a beautiful young woman, but she's stiff – with a British accent–I - in Denver? (James laughs) I couldn't buy that. And I'd heard that her predecessor, Pamela Sue . . .?
James: Pamela Sue Martin.
David: Pamela Sue Martin. I'd heard the audience loved her. And the audience did not like Emma. And so I started thinking, "What if?" And came up with an idea to bring Pamela Sue Martin back in a rather interesting way that would have shocked the audience.
James: Oh really?
David: But first I wanted to meet with Emma. I called her, she came into my office and I said, "My God, this a beautiful, charming young woman. Bright, intelligent, funny. But none of that's on the screen."
David: I asked her why. She said she didn't have anything to work with. And I thought she was right. I thought "If we can capture who Emma really is, then we have a character people will like." So I made some changes in her wardrobe, brought in a coach to get rid of her accent. And decided to give her a love interest who would kind of bring her character down to earth. What about a New York cop? So we created the character of Zorelli who came in to investigate the murder of Roger Grimes, which is how they met of course.
David: And we created the love affair that began between the two of them. Distant at first, but it worked. You had this Noo Yawk detective comin' in dere (James chuckles) wit Emma Samms, and it brought her to a reality that the audience had not seen.
James: Yeah, totally.
David: It wasn't very long before she started getting some terrific fan mail. People were starting to love her.
James: It was a total transformation. It really was. But I have to ask you cos people will want to know, what was the idea of bringing Pamela Sue Martin back? What were you gonna do? How were you gonna do that?
David (laughs): Well, the previous year - you probably remember this better than I - there was a situation where I think Sammy Jo was after John James, but John James was in love with Fallon. Something like that?
James: I think the cliff-hanger was he'd proposed to Fallon to get married for the third time or whatever, but he was in bed with Sammy Jo - or the other way round, but it was something like that anyway!
David: Something like that. What I was gonna do was after the proposal, I was gonna have him go back to his apartment alone, his mind on Fallon and Sammy Jo. It was dark. He'd go in, exhausted, and he’d just sort of fall into bed without turning on a light. And somebody's already in bed. Thinking it’s SammyJo, he says, "Oh for godsake!" and turns on the light, and it's Pamela Sue Martin.
James: Oh brilliant!
David: I directed the last two shows and Emma was very prominent in them; I waited until she was finished – for the year – and told her the story! (Laughter) She was shocked! And I'm so glad I didn't replace her because, although it would have made for a great cliff-hanger for the year, Emma worked out superbly.
James: Yeah, yeah, yeah. It's just such a shame from one point of view that you didn't - although you wouldn't have had the clout earlier on - but, you know, when you were first asked to go on DYNASTY, but obviously you wouldn't have had the power to do that kind of thing, make those changes.
David: No. I am sorry that we didn't last for another year or two because, well, I'm rather proud of what we did that year.
James: You should be. You really should be.
David: Thank you.
James: That kind of brings me to what I was gonna ask you next, about your final season of DALLAS. As I say, apart from the "Who Shot JR?" stuff which was all wonderful, the middle years of DALLAS seemed to be the strongest years, when you and Leonard were there, and Season 9 after the dream. And then the tenth season, which starts with the writing out of Pam's character, that seems to be the beginning of the end, the general consensus seems to be. I wondered how you felt about that year, cos that's kind of an odd -
David: I never saw it.
James: No, the last year you were involved in.
David: Oh the last year I was involved in?
James: Which would be 87/88, before you went to DYNASTY.
David: Oh yeah. (Chuckling) Remind me what happened that year.
James: Well, you've got Pam in bandages. Let's see, what else happened? JR's lost Ewing Oil so he tries to take over West Star with the help of Kimberly Cryder, the Leigh Taylor Young character. Ray and Jenna are married.
David: You know something? I don't remember it very well.
James: Well I'll tell you, one perception that people seem to have is that it become more of "The JR and Bobby Show", and that one by one, each of the actresses left. Their contracts weren't renewed or they quit or whatever. It started to be, instead of about the family, it became almost a double act. The balance had always been there, it was a male driven show but the women were important in that world. Whereas towards the end, the guys seemed to take over. And there is a direct question about this from [Oil Baroness]: "Do you felt the show lost its balance as it became more and more focused on the male characters?"
David: Hmm, interesting question. I'd not thought about that.
James: Because personally, what I think (laughing) and then you can disagree with me, the main purpose the character of Pam served was that she was the glue that kept - she was the link between the Barnes and the Ewings, and after Ray married Jenna - well, without Pam in the middle, that didn't seem to have the same relevance.
James: There did seem to be - even more than when Bobby - well no, that was a different thing - but when Pam went, there did seem to be a genuine hole in the middle of the show. It may not have been the character, but just what she represented, where she was placed, I thought.
David: I'm not clear on the last part that you asked me.
James: Well I'm just really wondering what your thoughts were, but you say you don't really recollect.
David: I don't remember it clearly enough, but there are times in the progression of a show, you’re doing it week after week, when a character or a storyline is lost for whatever reason. And you deal with it. Probably what happened was that we didn't come up with good enough thoughts for the actresses at the time. It's probably as simple as that.
James: Yeah. So were you just kind of burnt out from doing DALLAS? Cos you must have been living it, breathing it, sleeping it. You were writing it, directing it -
David: Actually it was the easiest work I've ever done in my life.
James (chuckling): Really?
David: After the first year or two, sure. I dictated all my shows in the end. It would take me about eight hours.
David: The real fun was in constructing the story-lines. Len and I were good friends at the time, we enjoyed each other and worked well together. No, I wasn't burnt out by DALLAS, but I really was thrilled to be able to do DYNASTY And I was happy with what I felt we were able to accomplish that year.
James: Well I think it lives on, and I think it's been rediscovered in reruns. People see it more away from the hype of the time, or the fact that the show was in decline. People see it more objectively and see how good it is now.
David: I am very pleased that it meant something to your viewers. You never know when you do these things. When you hear something like that from people who are really involved in the show, it's very touching.
James: Are you now aware that there's a resurgence of interest in DALLAS with the DVDs and the various reunions?
David: I wasn't aware of that, not in those terms. I'm a little surprised. It is a series from a different era.
James: Well I interviewed Linda Gray at the end of last year when she was over here doing a play, and she said that there was some sort of reunion that they did in France, some of the actors went over, and she said it was like the 80s all over again! They were being mobbed and they had to get security in.
David: Linda's terrific.
James: Yeah, she's so lovely, and she said you and your wife surprised her. You came to see "The Graduate" while you were in London and she couldn't believe you were there. (David chuckles) She's really, really lovely. But I have to say, you are really appreciated and respected on the forums.
David: That's very kind of you to say.
James: Well it's true.
David: It's funny. I'm sitting in my office now looking at a photograph that Linda gave me of Larry and me and Linda, her arms around my neck. It must have been taken around 1986. I have enormous admiration for her, particularly for what she's done with her career.
James: Yeah, she just keeps going. She's really indefatigable, if that's the word.
David: She is and there's a loveliness about her that she never ever lost. Larry too, Larry's a wonderful guy. If anyone kept that cast together on set, he did. He was there every day to do a job, was fabulous at it, and never made any pretences about anything else.
James: And what was Victoria like? Because she's one of those enigmatic people.
David: She's a little enigmatic. (Both laugh) I didn't know her very well but she was always pleasant. She's very bright, very smart and created quite a career for herself. I think she's created this make-up something or other. And she's really built a ...
James: An empire.
David: I think acting, in some respects, and she was very good at what she did, was a means to an end for her. She's a very strong businesswoman.
James: Yeah. I thought her work really dramatically improved during the time that you were there. There was something around the time when Pam and Bobby split up and then she got together with Mark Graison and then she's looking for Mark Graison when he's gone missing, when she thinks he's dead, and she became fantastic. She was always beautiful, but her acting suddenly - and I don't know what that was.
David: Generally, it's a scene to scene thing. If you have something to play toward. By the way, the reason that I never understood, I'm going back to something you asked before -
James: About John Forsythe?
David: I never understood why John Forsythe didn't like what we did that year because he had some terrific stuff to do.
James: Yeah, because what you gave him - you gave him subtext! He hadn't had subtext for years! And all of a sudden, he had secrets.
James: And you suddenly realised, "God, he is a really good actor" as opposed to just this benevolent ...
David: Yes. And I was amazed at that because when we cut down the roles of the two women, we focused on him. I thought he would love that. My impression is, though, that he didn't.
James: Well I'm surprised. I think I may have heard the contrary. It may be second hand and on the internet you never know where what you're reading is coming from, but I read that he liked the writing towards the end. Let's hope he did. (Laughs) He should do. He should have done.
David: Maybe he was influenced by Joan a bit. I don't know. Linda loved it, and Emma of course loved it. We did some fun stuff.
James: Well, all of a sudden they had a freedom. They were able to move their arms and legs! Before that, it had been so stilted - one close up, then another close up, and people just standing very rigidly, and all of a sudden people were interacting.
David (laughing): You remember the scene where whatsisname came down the stairs on his face?
James: Was that Gordon Thompson - Adam?
David: Yeah. I thought that was a funny scene, they had that fight and he came down on his face, bouncing!
James: And the fantastic thing with Linda Evans throwing the plates!
David: Oh did you like that?
James: That was just inspired! That was just amazing, amazing!
David: "Dinner is served."
James (laughs): That's it, that's it. Oh it was great.
David: It was in Episode 4 of that year. It was the first time the audience really saw that she was nuts.
James: I think there was something quite brilliant about it cos, in an unspoken way, Krystle had become a kind of a Stepford Wife and this was almost like her malfunctioning, her wires had malfunctioned.
David: Yes indeed!
James: So on one level it was very funny, but it also was kind of poignant because the audience knew how serious it was. It worked on different levels at the same time. It was really great.
David: We brought Zorelli in immediately thereafter. Blake took Krystle by the arm and said, "She can't be interviewed now" and Zorelli says, "No, I'm just here to tell you that she didn't kill that man. He's been dead for twenty-five years." (Both chuckle)
James: Yeah, yeah. Just one thing then I'll let you go. There's just one thing I wanted to ask you because you said earlier on that you used to watch the dailies and that gave you an advantage when you were writing, getting the rhythm of how people spoke and everything. I know DALLAS was very tightly structured, but did the dailies ever influence you? What the actors were doing, what the actors brought to it, did that ever influence how you wrote the characters, their behaviour?
David: Absolutely, starting with Larry Hagman. Larry Hagman was not the original choice for the part of JR. It was supposed to go to a much more severe actor.
James: Robert Foxworth, wasn't it?
David: Foxworth, the guy who was on FALCON CREST. Well, Foxworth is a very good actor, but I think the show would have lasted about six episodes.
James: Yeah. He's very good. He's not necessarily very likeable. He doesn't have the same charm.
David: Exactly, but when you have somebody like Larry Hagman who's a very funny man. He's a very solid, but a richly funny man - and when you see him do this stuff, you're delighted by it. It's the audaciousness of it. When they saw him doing it - that was before my time on the show - everything turned around. So whenever you see someone come on and give something extra without a character you've written, you think, "Maybe that's a direction we should take him or her in."
James: Can you remember any specific examples from your period?
James: It was a while ago!
David: I'm trying to think of an example that would mean something to you because it happened on a daily basis. I think there was someone on KNOTS LANDING, someone came in ... I just can't remember who they were ...
James: It wasn't Teri Austin, was it, who played Jill Bennett, Mack's love interest?
David: Actually yes. I think so.
James: And she ended up going in a whole different direction!
David: David J saw her and said, "She is terrific. Let's bring her back." And oddly enough, another Terry, Kim Terry, came in on DYNASTY and did a little part and a similar thing happened.
James: Was she Sable's assistant?
David: I think so. She was very good. I brought her on for one episode and she was so good we extended her part.
James: So were you able to do that on DYNASTY and KNOTS because they were less tightly structured than DALLAS? Did DALLAS allow you the flexibility to make those same sort of changes?
David: It happened on DALLAS as well. Although sometimes not the same year. You're right though. It was less flexible. We plotted out our story-lines in a much tighter fashion.
David: Whereas in KNOTS LANDING, we were always doing it somewhat at the last minute and I think that's part of the reason the show was very good. I mean, if you paint yourself into a corner then how do you get out? You do, but sometimes it’s brilliant and sometimesit ain't. (Both chuckle)
James: Just out of curiosity, did you cast Nicollette Sheridan? Because she came right at the end of your season of KNOTS, or would that have been the people who were taking over for the next year?
David: I think I directed her in an episode, but her casting would have been David and Michael’s decision. An actress I loved was Julie Harris. She was featured in the first one I directed for KNOTS, the funeral of Alec Baldwin.
James: Was she as fantastic as ...?
David: She really was. (Chuckling) I was as in love with her in her – she was probably in her late sixties - as I was when she was James Dean's girlfriend in ...
James: EAST OF EDEN.
David: Yeah. It was a thrill to work with her. As it was with Barbara Bel Geddes, by the way.
David: Two superb actresses. You know, there were some really wonderful, wonderful people. People talk about these things as soap operas and so forth, but - Bill Devane is a terrific actor.
James: Yeah, amazing.
David: He is really is. Joan van Ark is excellent. When I was on the show, as every script came out, Joanie would call and say "David ...?" (James chuckles) "Can we talk a little bit?" And we would spend two hours on the phone and almost invariably her critiques - well, not so much critiques, just ways in which she, as an actress, might improve things - almost invariably they were right.
James: So that must have been quite a change from DALLAS where I guess there wasn't that same ...
David: Right - unless something went really wrong. There were a few times when one of the actors would question something in a script and we’d always accommodate if we felt he or she were right. But on DALLAS it was rare.
James: I remember an interview with Susan Howard where she said she was allowed to rewrite some of her dialogue. Do you remember anything about that?
James: OK (laughs).
David: If it happened, it happened the year we were off the show. Was it that year?
James: I don't know. I can't remember whether it was a regular -
David: No. Susan's a wonderful actress.
James: Yeah, really great.
David: Wonderful actress, but nobody rewrote the dialogue on DALLAS. Leonard was adamant about that. I mean, you could go to him and say, "What about such and such and so and so?" and you could talk about it, but he would have the final word. You didn't arbitrarily change dialogue on DALLAS.
James: Right, right. That's been brilliant, David. What are you up to nowadays, by the way?
David: Well I finished a screenplay not too long ago and I'm debating what I wanna do with that. And I've been writing some short stories and trying to get myself into a novel.
David: We'll see what happens. It's a different kind of writing.
David: Richard Shapiro's written a novel. A brilliant piece of work.
James: Really? What's it called?
David: It's not out yet. Only a few friends have read it. He's just now starting to send it to publishers. There's some extraordinarily brilliant stuff in there.
James: Oh, interesting! I'll keep an eye out for that. Oh and just out of curiosity, do you still live in the same neighbourhood as Alice Hirson who played Mavis on DALLAS?
David: She'll be over tomorrow tonight.
James: Really? Because I thought there was something really lovely about her.
David: How did you happen to know we were neighbors?
James: Well there was a book that came out a couple of years ago - you were quoted in it - by Barbara Curran ["DALLAS: The Complete Story of the World's Favorite Prime-Time Soap"]. An incredibly authoritative, exhaustive history of the show. She interviewed Alice Hirson who said that during her time on the show, you and she became neighbours.
David: Oh yeah right. (Chuckling) Actually, she invited us to her house in my very first year on the show and we liked it so much we asked her to keep an eye out for another house in the neighborhood and a couple of weeks later, she called up and said, "Guess what?"
James: She was just one of those lovely recurring characters who worked really well.
David: She was indeed, as was her husband -
James: Stephen Elliot, is that?
David: Yeah. Steve died a couple of years ago.
James: Yeah, yeah. That was sad. But he was great. He played Scotty Demarest, the lawyer who everyone said was the best lawyer in Texas, but never seemed to win a case!
James: But he was a lovely, really charming, twinkly-eyed actor.
David: He was a very dear friend. But he didn't only do that. He was in ARTHUR of course. And he was also in a picture that I loved called CUTTER'S WAY. Do you remember that?
James: I've heard of it. I don't think I've ever seen it.
David: Oh you should see that. John Heard and Jeff Bridges. It’s a wonderful picture. Steve plays a bad guy. Terrific picture. Rent it.
James: Yeah. I love the story - it's in that DALLAS book - that Alice Hirson and Fern Fitzgerald, Marilee Stone, became firm friends.
James (laughing): I don't think they ever even had a scene together, but two more unlikely characters -
David: Do you know how that happened?
James: I think they met on a plane, didn't they?
David (laughing): Yeah. I met Fern and Alice the same evening. They had just flown in to Dallas. The next day they rented a car and were following me to a restaurant in downtown Dallas. (Chuckling) We stopped at a light. They were right behind me. They beeped the horn. I look up into the rear view mirror, and I see the two of them sitting beside one another, then suddenly both flip back. Disappear. They dropped the back of their car seat in such a way that they disappeared. (Both laugh) It was a gag. They're both very funny and they've been close friends ever since.
James: Oh that's really great. Please tell them when you speak to them how well thought of they are by the fans.
David: I will do that. That's nice of you.
James: Well it's been brilliant, David. Thank-you so much.
David: You're very, very welcome.
James: And just thank-you for all the work you did back in the day. We loved it.
David: You're very kind to say that.
James: I mean it. Thank-you very much, David. Cheers. Bye bye.
David: Bye bye.
While I was typing up the interview, it suddenly dawned on me that the first episode of KNOTS LANDING that David directed ("To Sing His Praise") includes my favourite KNOTS scene of all:
It takes place in Val's house shortly after Joshua's funeral. Lilimae, Val, Karen and Cathy are all gathered around the kitchen table, with Laura and Ben coming and going. It is a comparatively long scene (over five minutes), beautifully directed and acted, and full of unspoken tension as Lilimae eulogises her son as something other than what he was, (a wife beater and would be killer) and the others listen uncomfortably. There's something almost claustrophobic as Cathy attempts to escape Lilimae's suffocating presence and her insistence that they cover up the true circumstances of Joshua's death. It's just a lovely, understated, ensemble sequence.
I e-mailed David to ask if he had any recollections of the scene and this was his reply:
"Of all the TV episodes I directed, the one you mentioned is probably my personal favorite, the chance to work with an actress of the caliber of Julie Harris was thrilling. If memory serves, we tried to pack a lot into that episode which required a bit of sheep herding in that there were people all over the place both at the funeral and in the house for the scene you mentioned. I do recall that scene, of course, and remember trying to inject it with as much fluidity as possible. I am once again surprised, and feel flattered that it is one of your favorites as well as mine; that one and the last two DYNASTY episodes. (I don’t believe we spoke about this, but the name of the writer – Samuel J. Pelovitz – on those last two DYNASTY episodes was the name of my father. I wrote the episodes as well, but wanted to honor his memory by putting his name on the screen.)
Two more questions:
James: This from Jason who asks: Donna Mills said in an interview (with Camille Paglia no less!): "We had some great DPs on Knots that were concerned about making the show look good. Dallas and Dynasty would be finished at 4:30 in the afternoon. On Knots, we never shot less than a 12-hour day. Everybody tried to make it special. And I think it showed." Did you find directing on such a glamorous, female centered show presented different challenges re lighting, clothes, hair, make up, etc.?
David: All three shows were filled with gorgeous, glamorous women. A DP
who doesn't shoot them well doesn't last very long. That said, it does take a little longer to light and shoot women than it does men, especially when they’re past a certain age.
James: The second question is from Kate who asks: "Mr Paulsen directed a 1980 slasher horror mystery called "Schizoid." It starred an actress named Marianna Hill. Hill is one of my favorite actresses. And everybody I've ever met who has known or worked with her has a colorful, eccentric story to tell about her. If you have reason to write to him again, could you ask him about working with Marianna Hill on that film?"
David: Boy, I haven't thought about Marianna in years. “Schizoid” was a very low budget, down and dirty thriller shot in far too little time with far too small a budget. One of the nicest things about the whole shoot was the patient and generous attitude of most of the actors. Especially Marianna who had a few difficult scenes with Klaus Kinski who could be . . . well, difficult. My memory of her is that she handled herself extremely well.
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