Aaron Allen wrote “Collateral Damage,” one of the standout episodes from the new “Dallas’s” first season, as well as “Venomous Creatures,” the second half of the two-hour season premiere, airing Monday, January 28 on TNT. I spoke to him last week about what we can expect from the Ewings this year.
“Dallas’s” second season is almost here. How is this year going to compare to Season 1?
In broad terms, the first season was about the battle for Southfork. The second season is going to be more about the battle for Ewing Energies. Thematically, the first season was about the characters finding out who they were. Like Christopher, because he’s adopted, felt like he had to prove himself to be a Ewing. And John Ross was kind of conflicted: “Should I be the person my father expects me to be? Or should I be my own person?” And then by the end of the first season, both characters were kind of crystallized into what they were going to be. John Ross had his heart broken by Elena and embraced his bad side, while Christopher felt like he had proven himself. So in the second season, now that these people know who they are, we’re going to see they’ve embraced their destinies and they’re using that to their advantage.
When you look back on Season 1, what do you think worked well? What, if anything, are the writers doing differently?
Some of the later episodes in the first season really worked because you saw all the Ewings banding together to fight one foe. There’s just something energizing about that. So we’ve taken that into consideration, and I think we’ve got a lot more scenes where it’s the family kind of working together toward something. But once they’ve fought off the bad guys, they’re just going to be cannibalizing each other once again.
What about Larry Hagman’s death? I know you can’t give away plot details, but generally speaking, how is the show dealing with this loss?
Larry was an incredible guy and we’ll all miss him very much. Not only was he an incredible human being, but he was an incredible character to write for. When he passed, we knew we had a responsibility to the fans to pay tribute to him and to respect his character, and I believe we have. But even though he’s gone, he’s still very much part of the story. We have some really fun, delicious storylines that are going to come out of this.
Something tells me Hagman would appreciate that. Did you get to work with him very closely?
I didn’t have a ton of direct contact with him. He wasn’t in my first episode from Season 1 very much because he was going through a lot of his treatment at that time. But my first episode in Season 2 is actually a very heavy Larry episode, so I got to see him work quite a bit. And he was just a joy to work with. Everybody loved him. He joked around with everybody. He was a delight.
Well, J.R. has never been more fascinating. Everyone always refers to him as the villain of “Dallas,” but to me he’s the hero, and I think we see that on the new show.
It’s a balance because J.R. loves his family, and he’ll do whatever it takes to protect them. But sometimes that means doing terrible things to other people. That’s my favorite kind of bad guy, the one who has sympathetic qualities. I think J.R. was a very sympathetic character.
Do you have other favorite characters to write for?
Well, speaking of villains, I love writing for Harris Ryland. I mean, he’s a villain, plain and simple. When it comes down to the Ewings versus the world, it’s helpful to have him around. He’s really a devil.
And in “Venomous Creatures,” we’re going to meet his mother, played by Judith Light.
She’s a hoot. Her character chews the scenery. Judith’s a terrific actress to work with. Just watching her swing for the fences with her character was a lot of fun. I think fans will love her.
Her casting raised some eyebrows because she’s only a few years older than Mitch Pileggi. What do you make of that?
[Laughter] I don’t think it really matters in the end. An example would be Harrison Ford and Sean Connery in “Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade.” I think there was only a 12-year age difference between those two. People bought that. I think people will definitely buy this too. We wanted there to be something a little strange about Harris and Judith’s relationship, so I think the casting plays in our favor there.
Switching gears for a moment, can you talk a little bit about how the writing process on “Dallas” works?
On our show and most others, you have a staff of writers starting with the executive producers at the top. On our staff we have eight writers. Cynthia Cidre, who developed and runs the show, guides the writing process, along with Robert Rovner, the other writing EP. For the first few weeks of the season, we all sit around a big table and talk about the storylines, the characters and generally where we’re going. And then we start breaking down each episode individually, and that takes a couple of weeks. And then one writer is assigned to write the script for each episode, and as that writer is working on his or her script, the other writers are talking about the next episode.
Once a script is written, how long does it take to produce it?
Well, then you go into pre-production, which takes about a week. You’re meeting with the director, you’re going through the script, you go and scout locations. And then you start production, which lasts about seven or eight days.
It sounds relentless.
It all happens pretty fast. One of the thrilling things about working in TV is that you write something and then a month later it’s filmed, whereas in feature films it can take years to get things done.
Getting back to the show itself, were you a fan of the original “Dallas”?
I’m 31, so when the original show was on, I was too young to be among the target audience. But I’ve always a big fan of the brand of the show – the big family soap opera. I loved “Six Feet Under.” I loved “Big Love.” And I was always conscious of “Dallas.” It was such a phenomenon. I knew it was a huge part of pop culture, like when “The Simpsons” did “Who Shot Mr. Burns?” So I always understood where that came from. But it wasn’t really until I got the job on the new show that I went back and watched a bunch of episodes of the old one. And the whole “Who Shot J.R.?” thing was great. I also liked the storyline when John Ross was kidnapped from the hospital, and when Pam wanted to be a mother to little John Ross and Bobby had to gently remind her it wasn’t her baby. I love the emotional stories. The business stories can sometimes make my head hurt!
You mentioned “Big Love,” which you wrote for before joining “Dallas.” I’ve always thought there were parallels between those shows. Both are about big western families with lots of secrets.
Yeah, absolutely. I think the Henricksons and the Ewings would definitely respect one another because of the value they place on family. It’s that us-versus-them mentality. When the Henricksons were under attack, they would set aside all their bickering and it was them against the people trying to persecute them. The Ewings are the same way.
And I think J.R. might’ve appreciated having more than one wife at a time.
[Laughter] Yeah, I think he could have flourished in that environment.
Share your comments below and read more interviews from Dallas Decoder.