Spoiler alert! “Dallas” fans are still reeling from this week’s season finale, in which Christopher (Jesse Metcalfe) was killed when his car blew up and John Ross (Josh Henderson) learned J.R. has a secret daughter. I spoke with executive producer Cynthia Cidre about the cliffhangers — and what fans will see if “Dallas” returns next year.
Is Christopher really dead?
Yes. Believe me, we thought about teasing that: Did he die? Did he not die? And then, because I knew he was going to be dead for sure, I just felt dirty about doing that. It didn’t feel honest. So I thought the explosion was pretty big, and pretty definite — although I’m told all the blogs are saying he’s not really dead.
Yeah, the readers on my site are filling up the comments section with all kinds of theories.
That’s fun. I’ve got to read that.
But why kill a Ewing?
Well, we aim to surprise everybody — always. We like doing what you don’t see coming at the end of every season. I thought we did that well in Season 1, when we found out Rebecca was Pamela Barnes, and then we had Season 2 end with Elena finding out J.R. cheated her father. We always want to do the unexpected. And what would people expect less than if you actually killed off one of your main characters?
If you really think about it, there were really only two options. I couldn’t kill Sue Ellen or Bobby because somebody might kill me. I couldn’t kill John Ross because the show is really on Josh’s shoulders since Larry [Hagman] died. That left Ann and Christopher. Whose death would have the bigger impact? It would be Christopher’s.
Was there a lot of debate in the writers’ room?
We pitched it back and forth for months and months: “Are we doing it? Can we do it? Are we insane? This will drive the fan nuts. They’ll want to watch the next season to see what happens. No, we can’t do it. Yes, we can. No, we can’t.” And by the way, it costs a lot of money, so we had to get permission from the studio and the network. Finally, when the money came through, Mike [Robin, a “Dallas” executive producer and director] and I looked at each other and said, “Oh, my God. I guess we’re really doing it.”
When was the scene filmed?
Only about three weeks ago. That we kept it secret is more incredible. At a certain point, only the writers and Mike knew, and then it became the studio, and then it became the network. Every time it went to someone else, I would freak and think, “How are you going to keep this secret?” Then we had to budget it and schedule it, and that involved a whole other film crew because our crew was not working. So we used the crew for “Major Crimes.”
You kept it in the TNT family.
They didn’t know what they were shooting. They knew there was going to be an explosion, but they had no idea what show, what character. And then when Jordana [Brewster] showed up on set, they realized, “Oh my God, we’re shooting the finale for ‘Dallas.’” We talked to them afterwards and said, “Guys, you’re so great to do this. You showed up on a Saturday. Thank you for your time. Please, please, please keep this to yourselves.”
Jesse Metcalfe gave a nice statement to Entertainment Weekly. What was Jordana’s reaction to the news?
I only told her the night before we shot it. She was shocked. At first she thought we were killing her because we wouldn’t tell her what we were shooting. So I finally told her, “Just rest easy. We’re not killing you, okay?”
It was a big twist, which is why I’m sorry it aired on such a tough night. What’s your reaction to the ratings?
Well, we held our own, which is insane since seven other shows premiered that day. There was “The Blacklist,” there was “The Voice,” there was “Monday Night Football.” Literally, I’m stunned. But we’re a DVR darling. Every episode this summer has gone up [significantly in viewers through DVR playback]. All I can do is make a show we’re proud of and hope the diehard fans show up.
You’re still waiting to hear whether you’ll be renewed for a fourth year, but as you said the other day, you’ve already started writing next season’s storylines. So how’s Bobby going to cope with his son’s death?
I just finished the first [episode] outline and it’s all about him. How’s he dealing with this? He has a pretty good idea who did it, even though there’s absolutely no proof. And Nicolas is in Mexico, so he can’t get to him. So you’re going to see a slightly different Bobby than you’ve seen before. He’s extraordinarily angry and vengeful, he’s extraordinarily hurt — and he’s refusing to express his hurt.
What about the rest of the family?
It affects everybody. Elena’s guilt goes without saying. She feels like her hands are dirty. There’s going to be a tortured relationship between her and Bobby. Believe me, this will be the emotional core of the show. The other thing that will be at the core of it is John Ross’s sister.
Yes, let’s talk about her. What can you say?
I can tell you that although J.R. has many spawns around town — if not around the world — this girl is different and special, and there’s a reason for that. That’s going to be the surprise that I hope will make your head spin.
You’re killing me here.
We had originally filmed the scene of John Ross finding her as an alternate ending because we didn’t know if we were going to get the money to blow up the car. But because we hadn’t cast the actress, all you were going to see was [the character’s] hand, and it was a great hand. It had bitten cuticles and some chipped nails and a bunch of bracelets. It was in a very exotic location. And we shot it, and it worked, but we thought because we’re going to move forward six months [when the new season opens], it would be better if John Ross finds her then. Because what the heck is he doing with her for six months?
So who’s this character’s mother?
It was a woman. [Laughs]
That’s good to know!
She’s passed away, so we’re not going to meet her. If I tell you that, then I would be spoiling something that I think would be a lot of fun — which, by the way, has been a pitch in our writers’ room for three years. We have something called the “duck pond,” where we throw up crazy ideas. And finally, that one looked good to us this year, so we’re employing it.
Will we see more old favorites from the original show?
Yes. There will be one who is a very, very, very popular old character. We’re excited to bring him or her back.
Wait, what? You’re not going to tell me if it’s a him or a her?
[Laughs] Okay, it’s a her. We’re looking forward to that storyline. It’ll be a lot of fun.
What about Cliff Barnes? Will Ken Kercheval be back?
Maybe. We’ve used him extensively for three seasons, but he’s in jail. We decided to leave him in jail, and so that kind of hurt us a little bit. There’s not a lot he can do from there. But there are some pitches about that also.
What about this business of adding a wing onto Southfork?
We’re doing it!
It burned! We have to add a wing. [Laughs] It’s a two-bedroom house with 15 people living in it.
But what about fans like me who consider Southfork sacred ground?
That’s why we’re going to put [the addition] in the back of the house. You won’t get to see it from the front, so the silhouette of the house will remain the same. We did not want to upset anybody. But we’ve made fun of [Southfork’s size] from the beginning.
I think that’s part of the show’s charm.
Yeah, definitely. We talk about it all the time. I mean, if you’ve ever visited that house, it’s probably 2,000 square feet, but somehow there are eight bedrooms. [Laughs]
Speaking of fans: Do you pay attention to the fan sites?
Not that much because I hate to get sucked into it. I mean, I want to hear all the good ones, and I want to hear the bad ones too. Mike Robin always leads with the good news. I lead with the bad news. That’s how I want notes from the studio. That’s how I want notes from the network. Just give me the bad news and I’ll fix it.
Fans talk a lot about the show on social media. Do you do that?
Why is that?
I don’t know. I feel like it’s passed me by — like I didn’t catch on at the beginning — and now my brain is so overloaded, unless I dump some “Gilligan’s Island” from my hard drive, I can’t learn anything new. But I know it’s very important, and thank goodness, all of our actors do it. They’re really into it, and they have a lot of followers. I also know the younger members of our writing staff do it. I just haven’t. Every time somebody tries to introduce me to it, I’m like, “No, I have so many emails I have to answer!”
But you hear what fans say. Is it hard to balance giving them what they want with pursuing your own creative vision for the show?
Maybe, because I’m not sure I always give the fans what they want. Maybe they’d like it to be more soapier than it is. I come from very dark writing. I wrote violent movies for Michael Mann and many other dark directors. That’s a place where I’m comfortable, and so I’ll often go to that place. Sometimes it works, and sometimes I have to remind myself that it’s probably not the best choice.
Can you give an example?
I just did it in something we were [discussing] for Season 4 about Pamela. I said, “How about she does this and this and this,” and then Robert Rovner [a “Dallas” executive producer and writer] said, “But that’s not empowering for her.” And I said, “You know what? You’re absolutely right.” I was going to a dark place for her. But I just want to work to the best of my ability, and I do want to make it delicious, and so I try never to steal that from the show.
You mentioned the “duck pond” in the writers’ room. Do I dare ask what other ideas are up there?
Most of them are goofy — and then one day they’re not goofy any more.
What I’d give to be a fly on the wall when you guys are discussing this stuff.
You have no idea. There are four comedy writers [on staff] and the things that get said inside that room — you can’t repeat them on the outside. Seriously, it’s insane. Every other day, I’m crying. We have fun. And at the end of the day, somehow the work gets done.
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