The Dallas Decoder Interview: Aaron Allen

Aaron Allen

Aaron Allen

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.

Dallas Decoder Interview - Aaron Allen 2

J.R. in “Venomous Creatures” (Skip Bolen/TNT)

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.

Comments

  1. Oh, Chris, you are due some adoration for getting this interview and eliciting great answers! Thanks!, loved it. And thanks to Aaron Allen for the insight! :)))))))

  2. I don’t know how you get these scoops, but thank you for another excellent interview. It certainly makes my mouth water for Judith Light’s character.
    I also enjoyed the insight into the writing process, and I loved your way of trying to find out how much of the original DALLAS Aaron Allen actually knows (‘[…] were you a fan of the original “Dallas”?’). Unfortunately, he wasn’t very specific on the number of episodes he had really seen. That would have been interesting, too.

    • Thanks Stephan! I’ve discovered the “Dallas” universe is full of a lot of nice people who are willing to talk about the show with fan sites like mine. Aaron certainly falls in that category.

      I’m glad you enjoyed his comments about the writing process. That stuff fascinates me too.

      Thanks again!

      Chris

  3. bigbear29 says:

    Great interview!! Aaron is my son, so loved it!

    • Your son is terrific! He was very kind to chat with me. He’s also a great addition to the “Dallas” universe. I think my fellow fans are really going to enjoy his episode this Monday.

      Thanks for commenting!

      Chris B.

  4. Great interview on both sides. By the way, I LOVED the episode Aaron wrote last season, so I’m especially looking forward to seeing his episdoes this season.

  5. Barbara Bel Geddes was only 9 years older than Larry Hagman.
    Apropos to Judith Light, Marian Seldes played Angela’s (Judith Light) grandmother on one episode of _Who’s the Boss_, and is exactly the same age as Katherine Helmond, who played Mona (Angela’s mother).

    • Marian Seldes — a memorable character actress. Thanks for sharing that trivia. It’s a nice reminder that there’s a long tradition of actors playing much older characters.

      Chris B.

  6. Well, as nice as he may be, but I always have big reservations towards people who have not seen the old show. Watching “a bunch of the old episodes” is nothing. He should have watched EVERY SINGLE EPISODE, otherwise I just doubt he’s the right person to write the continuation of this shows (unless they don’t care about all their continuity errors).

    • I understand what you’re saying Guido, but I’m not sure a writer has to see every episode of the original series in order to write for the new one. I think it’s good to have fresh perspectives. Having said that, I agree continuity errors should be avoided. I’m hopeful the new show will do a good job honoring the original show’s history in Season 2.

      I appreciate your thoughts. Thank you for sharing them!

      Chris B.

    • Dan in WI says:

      If you aren’t going to make the individual writers watch every episode (and let’s face it that is a daunting task if you are hiring a generation too young to have lived it first run) then don’t you at least have to employ a continuity specialist who reviews scripts? That seems to be the simple solution.

      • Exactly Dan .. or just don’t hire 31-year-old-writers.

      • Guido and Dan, I appreciate your concerns. None of us like to see continuity errors. Based on what I’ve read and heard, the people who make the show have acknowledged mistakes were made and promised to do a better job moving forward. I think we should give them a chance.

        Regarding Aaron: He’s a bright guy who brings a fresh eye to the “Dallas” franchise. The show is lucky to have him. I was fortunate to see a preview of his episode airing this Monday and I’m happy to report it’s really good! I think all fans — newcomers and diehards alike — are going to enjoy it.

      • Dan in WI says:

        Don’t misunderstand me. Even sub-par Dallas is better than most anything else out there today and I intend to give them every opportunity to get it right. I don’t want to return to the dark days of no Dallas. I also see younger writers as necessary. I hate to say it but those of us who were around for the original run aren’t enough to sustain the show on our own and the younger writers will probably do a better job of pulling in the younger viewers than the typical aging first run writers would.

        I’m also not saying everything about about the new show is sub-par. On the whole I do like the story. It’s just that continuity thing. To their credit they have acknowledged those errors. So that leaves the promise to do better. If they still haven’t watched all the episodes how is that going to happen? That’s where my idea of a dedicated Continuity Guru comes in. If they had such a person to review and critique the scripts those errors would be drastically reduced.

      • I like the idea of a continuity guru! If ever that job opens, I suspect there’d be no shortage of applicants.

        Thank you for your thoughtful comments, Dan. I appreciate your feedback. Please keep it coming!

        Chris

  7. barbara fan says:

    Congrats on another great interview – keep them coming
    BF x

  8. Thank you for this interview! Great answers to interesting questions. I key in on Mr. Allen’s love for writing Harris Ryland. I think he’s a gem of a villain. What a thrill to pull his puppet strings with your pen. I have to say I’m surprised to hear another Dallas writer admitting to watching ‘a bunch of episodes’ of the original series and not all of them. How do you speak for characters if you don’t know their entire history? I continue to be fascinated by this approach. Maybe I am too analytical in my own writing process, and lose some spontaneity because of it. In any case, I wish the writers and cast the very best for Season 2!

    • Thanks Team Sue Ellen! I think Harris is a great villain too — and I know exactly how you feel about being overly analytical when writing. I struggle with that myself. I also join you in wishing the writers and cast a lot of luck in Season 2. They have an awesome task before them.

      CB

  9. I enjoyed reading this. Thanks for posting. I did not think it was possible to be more excited about season 2. I apreciate the honesty and openness of Aaron Allen. I am sure Judith Light will be an excellent add to the show. She can act. I have a very inspirational card that I keep called “What Will Matter” and the last line reads “What will matter is how long you will be remembered, by whom, and for what.” Larry Hagman will be remembered for a very very long time, by many people in every part of the World, for being the best!
    I started watching every episode of Dallas when my second child was born and I was working at home and my wife was home on maternity leave. I would TiVo every episode off of the Soap Opera channel. I was familiar with the show and watched it off and on when it first aired. I think it is great to have forward looking writers. The writers of the show now know they are going to hear about it when somethng does not match up with the origional series.

    With that said, if I was gifted and fortunate enough to write for Dallas, I would watch every episode.

    • Jump, that’s a beautiful tribute to Larry Hagman. Thanks for sharing it and your other good thoughts. I always appreciate your comments.

      CB

      • I like this site, as you can tell. I apreciate the sincerety and insight you put into Dallas Decoder. When I was watching the origional Dallas series, I used to go to Ultimate Dallas. I like that site and it has great resources for Dallas fans. There are other great Dallas T.V. show websites as well. I like this one. I guess it comes down to preference. I found it technically impossible to sign up for the Dallas on TNT website. I may try again for this season. I wanted to join “Team Sue Ellen” and watch the cast interview after each show. Oh well.

  10. Poor Aaron seems to be the only writer on twitter. The other Dallas TNT writers need to start tweeting so us obsessive fans can leave him alone. I also wish they had watched more than a handful of episodes but realize that there just isn’t time to do that.

Trackbacks

  1. […] Creatures” is the more fun of the first two hours in the new season of “Dallas.” Aaron Allen’s  script deftly plays to the main characters’ sweet spots, and it feels like they’re having fun […]

  2. […] Creatures” is the introduction of Judith Light’s character, Judith Brown Ryland. In my interview last week with Allen, the “Venomous Creatures” scriptwriter, he predicted “Dallas” fans […]

What do you think?

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: