Dallas TNT Executive Producers Cynthia Cidre and Michael M. Robin answer your questions and take us through the process of creating JR’s demise.
This interview contains spoilers for JR’s funeral episode.
Ultimate Dallas – We will start off by congratulating you. We did see an advance screening of the funeral episode and we want to congratulate you on that, it was such a brilliant episode.
Cynthia Cidre – Thank you very very much
Mike Robin – Thank you so much
Cynthia – We know you guys are the ultimate fans. Thank you
JR’s final episode just aired with ‘The furious and the fast’. We believe this came from unused footage. It was so seamless, genius. Can you take us through the process of what went into creating the end of JR Ewing?
Cynthia – I’ll start by saying that ‘The furious and the fast’ had obviously been written for Larry to be in it and once he couldn’t be in it, we had to reengineer it and we knew he had to die by the end of the episode. We thought it would be a phone call – that John Ross would hear something on the phone, so I asked post production to put together every line of dialogue that Larry had recorded so we could use his voice and cobble together something he might have said to John Ross on the phone. We weren’t going to hire somebody to fake his voice. So we wrote a phone call between John Ross and JR at the end of the episode where John Ross hears the shot and that’s how it began. Then we gave it to the editor and what happened was that three of the lines that were being used in that phone call came from the same scene that Larry had filmed earlier in the season and so the editor, without us knowing it, was able to take the footage from when he’s saying those lines and use it for JR being on the phone. I’ll leave it to Mike for the technical part of what was done.
Mike – This was footage that was used from episode 2:04 this year. It was actually from a phone call where he was talking to Frank, where Frank says to him “John Ross is in bed with Pamela”.
Cynthia – Which made him very unhappy (laughs)
Mike – When he was having that phone call he was actually sitting in his room at Southfork with a window behind him and so what we did was, we decided ‘yes this is really remarkable to have us see the character seeing his own demise coming’. We gave it over to our visual effects guys and they took the room in Nuevo Laredo, where JR was shot, and put those walls behind JR. Took Southfork out and put Nuevo Laredo in.
UD – and that room set is actually at Southfork?
Mike – That room is actually at Southfork and they are leaving it that way as a tribute. So where JR was killed will always be at Southfork.
Cynthia – That worked so well but it felt sort of tagged on because JR is not in the rest of the episode, so then we went hunting – let’s see what else we have. We found the limo ride from season one and fortunately for us what he says in it was extremely generic and so we were able to write the other side of the phone call to plot. We shot John Ross at the office right at the beginning talking to his father from Abu Dhabi. So then we watched it again and then it felt like it was at the beginning and at the end and there seemed to be a beat missing in the middle. So then we kept looking and we found a scene in the bar where we could have him mostly saying what he said at the bar although there is one key word that used to be ‘rat’ that we turned into ‘race’.
Mike – He said “What are you doing about that rat?” He actually says the line later in the scene but we changed it so we were able to manufacture Larry saying “What are you doing about that race?” and it’s on camera so it feels very specifically built for that episode. We put the Bum side of it on there with the dialogue we needed to advance the plot properly.
Cynthia – We were so happy with all that we were kicking ourselves that we didn’t just keep Larry saying generic things in the back of a car (laughs). So we could continue JR Ewing for many years to come (laughs)
Can you tell us how much of the original storyarc changed following Larry’s passing and are you able to say what plots, if any, ended up on being discarded?
Cynthia – Yeah a few. We discard nothing, we may use it next season but we discarded everything at the beginning just to see where we were headed, like ‘What is this masterpiece? What’s the mystery? What’s the best way we can pay tribute to JR Ewing and to Larry Hagman and have the fans be satisfied? Once we had that then we went back to what we had originally pitched and were intending to do, because we didn’t really want to throw it away, we had been setting it up for the first seven episodes. I think we probably kept 80% of it.
Can you give us a sense of how JR’s death impacts the rest of the season. Can we expect a change in tone or structure to the story telling or how the characters are depicted?
Cynthia – All of our main characters are affected both plot wise and character wise by his passing. I don’t think the tone changes, I think you know Dallas needs to be, at the same time it’s a grounded family drama, it’s delicious, we want to maintain that. I suppose the biggest change is that the family comes together whereas they might have still been infighting if he [JR] were around but the family comes together to overcome a greater enemy.
Sue Ellen is more frontline this season and a lot of the seeds of her character that were planted in Season one now seem to be paying off. Was having her as part of Ewing Energies always the plan?
Cynthia – Well what happened was that she was going to be the Governor at the end of season one, that was our plan and then over the summer as we were thinking about it suddenly Robert Rovner who runs the Writers Room called me up and said “If she becomes Governor we are going to see less of her instead of more of her, it doesn’t really make any sense story wise for her to win that election because she would be in Austin” and we were like “That’s genius, she needs to lose the election”. Once we knew that we would have her lose the election then absolutely the only place that she could be front and centre so she could be in all the episodes was to be at Ewing Energies.
This is a post funeral question but we saw Sue Ellen go back to the bottle the night before the funeral, is that a hint of what’s in store for her world without JR or wil it be dealt with quickly and move forward?
Cynthia – I think you can’t open that door without walking into the room for a while and I don’t want her to be drinking Aqua Velva and being homeless again but I think part of her story will arc and have repercussions and we’ll deal with it. It’s not a one off thing for the funeral. We knew we were headed in that direction, if you remember the first episode where she uncorks the bottle and recorks it – it was not only a tease, I did mean to use that, we just didn’t exactly know when it would be. Of course when JR Ewing dies that seems to be the perfect moment for her to have her first drink after twenty years.
UD – Sue Ellen has great chemistry with Gary who has come back for three episodes. With the absence of JR is there the possibility of seeing more of him down the line?
Mike – He [Ted Shackelford] did a great job on his run here and one of the things we always talk about is that any character that exists inside of Dallas, in terms of mythology, they are available for our use at any particular time.
UD – From the episode synopsis we know Christopher is on a search for his mother. Can you tell us more about this? Will the viewer’s finally get a concrete answer as to what happened to the character of Pamela Ewing?
Cynthia – I would be doing you and the audience a disservice if I explained it but the truth is that we were always, even before Larry died, we were going to have Christopher look for his mother. So this became part of this masterpiece that JR was engineering before he died and I can’t tell you how it turns out. I’m sorry. You’ll have to watch. I hope you’ll be happy. We were happy with what we came up with.
UD – But hopefully there will be a concrete resolution so we can put the Pam questions to rest.
Cynthia – It will have a concrete resolution, we will give you that, an absolute concrete resolution.
Will we discover who killed JR by the end of this season? Will we be shocked?
Cynthia – Yes you are in for a shock and it would be unconscionable to not reveal that so we are arcing the next seven episodes to the big reveal in the last episode. I can’t imagine postponing that (laughs).
We have obviously been intrigued by the dark story going on with Harris and his mother, who has been portrayed amazingly by Judith Light this season.
Cynthia – Isn’t she fabulous?
UD – Oh she is.
Mike – And Mitch is amazing in that role.
Cynthia – Those two, they deserve their own spin-off. I love them so much. I can watch a cut thirty times and be pretty sick of it but I’m never sick of watching those two together, they are so much fun.
UD – Was it the plan to set the Ryland’s up as a 21st century rival family for the Ewing’s?
Cynthia – When we cast Mitch he was so good that we had to bring him back obviously for season two and I had always had in the back of my mind a mother for him who was worse than he. Even from season one I knew we would be looking for a mother and I had seen Judith Light playing that very hard judge in Law and Order over the years. I just knew that she could do that, that she would be perfect for it. They were better than we imagined in our wildest dreams together. They are just so much fun, they are such professional actors and they are so talented. It isn’t so much that it was like the Barnes/Ewing feud, it isn’t that. It comes from Harris Ryland having been in love with this woman, Ann, and his mother interfering. It’s less about land and money; it was not the plan to make them the new Barnes.
Can you say where we are with a season three pick up?
Mike – You know our ratings have gone up every week so those are good things. We don’t have any indication yet about pick up for year three other than the fact they are very pleased that the numbers are going up and up each week. There are fun seeds that are planted this episode until the end for stuff we are going to do next year.
Cynthia – We are surely hoping for a third season and the last episode of this season will not only reveal who killed JR but then it will set up ramifications from everything that’s happening in the next seven episodes that will spin several of our characters in a direction in season three. We are planning that.
UD – So a good cliff-hanger
Cynthia – Some good cliff-hanger’s, yes.
UD – Well thank you so much, as usual.
Mike – And we are so glad you guys liked this episode.
UD –Loved it. Cried buckets, it leaves you a blubbering mess.
Cynthia – I’m sorry but I’m really happy to hear that (laughs).]
Unedited interview audio
Dallas TNT Executive Producers Cynthia Cidre and Michael M. Robin Q&A from Ultimate Dallas on Vimeo.
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