Dynasty 5

Filmed December 1980

… but the saga continued!

When I completed the eighth post on my experience directing the DYNASTY pilot, I was not giving the final conclusion of the story. If the show was picked up, I was contracted to stay on and direct four episodes of the series. When the pilot ended up being a three-hour show, the third hour became one of those episodes, and that commitment was reduced to three. However I felt the saga of the pilot was so unusual, so unique, to continue by writing about directing DYNASTY episodes would have been anti-climactic. But now four months have passed since that last DYNASTY post, and I realize the rest of the story bears telling. But consider this not an extension of the saga, but a new chapter – an inside look at what happens and the changes that occur when an ambitious pilot becomes just another program competing for ratings. For openers the opening credits for the show underwent a major change.

Not unexpectedly the time scheduled for filming an episode decreased from that allotted to the pilot. 24 days had been scheduled originally for the 2-hour pilot – that was 12 days per hour. Hour-long episodes for the series were to be filmed in 7 days. Other major changes had been made. Richard Shapiro would no longer be writing the screenplays, and Michel Hugo, director of photography for the pilot, was leaving and was being replaced by Richard Rawlings. I was set to direct Episodes #3, #5 and #7 but since Episode #3 started preparing the day after I completed filming the pilot, I requested time off to work with the film editor on my director’s cut. Thus my first episodic assignment was #5.

As I began, I hoped the difficulties I had encountered in the first filming with George Peppard would be absent. That hope expired midway through our first day of filming. We were on the drill sight location that I had shot in the pilot. I had 7 scenes totaling 6 pages to film. Because the exterior scenes at the oil rig only came to 4 5/8 pages, a scene in the drill site office totaling 1 3/8 pages between Dale Robertson and Katy Kurtzman was scheduled to fill out the day’s work. Naturally the scene in the office was to be the final sequence for the day, since it would be an interior and would not depend on daylight. We never filmed it there. Dale Robertson, once his exterior scenes were completed, resented having to wait till the end of the day to complete his work. Early in the afternoon and without notifying the assistant director his motor home drove away from the location with Dale aboard.

We were no longer scheduled to film at the Filoli mansion in Woodside in northern California. An interior of the Carrington mansion had been built on a soundstage on the 20th Century Fox lot, and I had filmed on it in November when we resumed shooting the pilot with John Forsythe. But at that time I did not film any scenes involving the stairway on the studio set. I had several scenes in the pilot filmed earlier on and around the Filoli stairway, and there was a difference between them. The stairway on the soundstage, practically an exact duplicate of the one in the mansion, had been flopped directionally. It descended along the right wall; the Filoli stairway descended along the left wall.

oldstairway

Filoli stairway

newstairwaySoundstage stairway

I think the reason for the change was that in Filoli the corridor beyond the stairway leading to the doorway to the gardens was quite long.

oldcorridor

On the soundstage set that area had been shortened; the doorway was much closer, just a few steps beyond the foot of the stairway had it remained along the left wall.

I don’t remember Filoli having a tennis court …

… but if the Carringtons were going to tennis, they would certainly have their own court, so one was found on an estate in Beverly Hills. Also conveniently on that estate there was a large multiple stall garage that matched the exterior décor of Filoli. That location was where we spent the first half of our third day filming, and since it was close to the Fox lot, we were then able to move back to the studio and continue the day filming on a soundstage.

The more modest requirements for the Blaisdell residence required no changes or additions. We had the same interiors that were built for the pilot and the same exterior location that we had filmed the previous May.

My experience with nighttime soap operas was very limited. I had been booked to direct two episodes of EXECUTIVE SUITE, an attempt by MGM three years earlier to turn their hit motion picture into a successful series on television like  PEYTON PLACE. The show was cancelled at the end of my third day of filming my first episode.

Obviously it was impossible for Esther and Richard to write the series as they had the pilot. Since it was a continuing story, they could not rely on freelance writers coming in with story ideas to be pitched. Someone had to create the Bible — episode-by-episode, scene-by-scene outlines of the story. Those outlines were turned over to writers who then supplied the dialogue. I don’t know in the beginning if the Shapiro’s did the Bible. I do know from interviews I have seen of Esther Shapiro discussing the subject that they eventually hired a couple experienced in daytime soap operas to do it. I bring this up because I had spent ten months with the Carringtons. Blake, Fallon and Stephen were three marvelously conceived, unique characters, a rarity in television, actually a rarity in any drama. They were the Shapiro’s creation, but frankly I think I knew them as well as they did, and I was not comfortable with some of the scenes. I felt that there were subtle changes being made to the characters and their relationships. In the preceding scene the relationship between Fallon and Michael was a case in point. Fallon appears to be under the power of Michael, but in the pilot Fallon was the one always in control. Michael was the one who knew he was playing with fire, but he was enjoying the game and always aware of the boundaries. There was an erotic, sophisticated wit to their encounters.

My same feelings extended to Blake. For me his dynamite scene was in the pilot when he and Krystle flew back from San Francisco – the scene where he flipped a coin for her to decide whether or not to marry him. I likened Blake to Howard Hughes, the early version, not the later mentally disturbed one. I didn’t know Hughes, but I knew his last wife, Jean Peters. To me Hughes was larger than life, and so was Blake. So let me say right out, I didn’t like the kitchen scene. That wasn’t the Blake Carrington of the pilot. The scene seemed more appropriate to Robert Young in FATHER KNOWS BEST, and I don’t mean to denigrate Robert Young. It seemed to me the folksy tone of the scene was an attempt to humanize Blake, to make him more like everyone else. But people like Blake Carrington aren’t like everyone else. They’re larger than life. Let’s keep them that way!

Interesting! In the three-hour pilot there were 4 scenes of sexual encounters. The scene between Michael and Cecil Colby’s secretary was the 4th such scene in the one-hour Episode #5. And there are two more yet to come!

When I first directed Katy Kurtzman in THE NEW ADVENTURES OF HEIDI, she was twelve years old. When she was fourteen, I directed her in THE SCAVENGERS on HOW THE WEST WAS WON. Funny how suddenly the director starts behaving more like a parent. I had once asked Katy how she prepared for a scene. She responded, “I just believe.” There was a scene in THE SCAVENGERS with Katy that concerned me.

Before doing that scene we discussed it, the fact that her young character was about to be sexually attacked, but I stressed it was only acting. Lee DeBroux, the actor, was wonderfully sympathetic and cooperative. And now here was another similar situation, but this time the scene didn’t end on a close-up of the back of the predator.

Again we discussed it before filming. I was aware that the young actor, Tony O’Dell, who looked like a contemporary of 15-year old Katy was 20 years old. But he too was very understanding and cooperative. And that was scene #5 in the line-up of sexual encounters. Was this a foretelling of where DYNASTY was heading?

To this day I can’t get over the superb craftsmanship of the studio art departments. The magnificent library at Filoli, which had blown me away the first time I saw it, had been reproduced on a sound stage at 20th Century Fox Studio. The room had incredible wood moldings, and the art department had made casts of those moldings and reproduced them. I loved that room.

The scene in the drill site office that we didn’t get to do the first day because Dale Robertson left the location was scheduled as the first scene on Stage 8 on the seventh and final day. As Dale and Katy rehearsed it, preparatory to the cameraman lighting it, I was aware that Dale had rewritten his part. I had been there before. I called the Shapiro’s at home, told them the circumstances, and they rushed to the studio. By the time the actors were out of make-up and Richard Rawlings had completed his lighting, they arrived, had a meeting with Dale that I stayed away from, and Dale and Katy then played the scene as written in the script.

We filmed on location in Franklin Canyon, one of my favorite location sites, on our second day. The first time I filmed there was in 1966 on location for THE ESCAPE, an episode of QM Productions’ THE FBI. There was a large reservoir there with lots of wooded areas and roads. Unlike the QM days, I also did my traveling shots there, which I preferred to filming process. The camera was mounted on the back of a tow truck, pulling the vehicle, and you will note, since were filming through the windshield, there is an occasional light change on the close-ups because of sun reflections on the windshield. I liked that.

That turned out to be the last time I worked with director of photography Richard Rawlings. The first time in 1963 was A HERO FOR OUR TIMES, an episode of SUSPENSE THEATRE. It was the first film in color that I directed, and we had a strange start. Our first scene was with Lloyd Bridges and Geraldine Brooks. It started with Geraldine coming down a staircase. The problem was one of color coordination, or rather the lack of color coordination. Geraldine was wearing a flowing gold robe. The problem was that the walls of the set were the same gold color. Rawlings caught the error. He said it looked like her head without a body was descending the stairs. We had to wait while wardrobe got Geraldine redressed in a lavender robe.

You know cameramen have great stories to tell just like actors and directors. Richard was the director of photography of THE DORIS DAY SHOW. He told me that the last time he returned to start a new season with Miss Day, she had complained after she saw the film about how she was photographed. She didn’t think the photography was up to Richard’s usual standards. He told me he had responded by saying, “But you have to remember, I’m a year older.”

And that scene proves my point. There are the two strong characters from the pilot – Blake and Fallon with their power and their warts showing as originally conceived by the Shapiro’s. And as brilliantly acted by Forsythe and Martin! I thought they were wonderful. I THINK they were wonderful.

I’ve told you what the commitment was when I signed in early March to direct OIL. If George Peppard had not been replaced, filming on the pilot would have wrapped on May 24. When the pilot was extended to three hours and the extra hour became the first of my four-episode commitment, the remaining three episodes would have been completed long before the end of the year. But that was not the way it worked out. We completed filming the pilot on December 1. During filming of Episode #5 I received an offer from Norman Rosemont Productions to direct a pilot, BIG BEND COUNTRY, written by the author of LITTLE HOUSE ON THE PRAIRIE, Blanche Hanalis. I had my agents request that I be released from the additional two commitments, so that I could accept. That was not an unusual request. Years before Michael Anderson Jr. had been cast in an episode I was to direct of 12 O’CLOCK HIGH, when he received an offer to appear in a John Wayne movie. We willingly released him and recast. Later that year Geraldine Brooks had been cast in an episode I was to direct of THE FUGITIVE, when she received an offer to star in a movie, JOHNNY TIGER. We willingly released her and recast. That also happened with director assignments, but in this instance in reverse order. Director Jack Shea was contracted to direct an episode of ARREST AND TRIAL, when he received an offer to direct a feature film. He was released, and I replaced him. The DYNASTY release was given to me, but I don’t think happily. I never worked again with the Shapiro’s. I did work again for Aaron Spelling on HART TO HART, but it was the fifth and last season of the show, which had been bought and was then a presentation of Columbia Pictures. There was no contact then or in the future with Aaron Spelling. Had I turned down the Rosemont offer and stayed on, I could probably have directed an endless number of DYNASTY episodes – probably some of the spinoff, THE COLBYS.” Did I have any regrets? Do I have any regrets? Well I would have had a chance to work again with Barbara Stanwyck, but the answer is “NO!”

The journey continues

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7 Responses to Dynasty 5

  1. Gilles says:

    Thank you so much for this new post about “Dynasty” ! Katy Kurtzman also stated that the atmosphere on the set was not so great during the first season : http://dynastie.wifeo.com/interviews.php#kurtzman

    I’d like to highlight two points:
    The couple experienced in daytime soap operas that you talked about actually debuted for “Dynasty” by season 2. The first season was mainly written by Richard Shapiro and Edward DeBlasio.
    The set for the Blaisdel house was not built specifically for “Dynasty” but it was actually recycled from “Family” (with a just a few changes).

    It’s really too bad that you did not direct more episodes even though I can understand your frustration over the fact that, after the pilot, the show was now just “another show”. However, the first season was very well written compared to the other seasons.

    • Ralph says:

      I don’t think the Shapiro’s wrote the scripts for the first season. They probably prepared the episode by episode, scene by scene Bible.

      • Gilles says:

        According to the opening credits, Esther Shapiro had not written anything after the pilot. As for Richard Shapiro, you’re right, he was credited in season 1 as a story writer, not a teleplay writer (except for one episode).
        By season 2, the Shapiros were only credited as original creators (and executive producers).

  2. Stevie V says:

    Hi Ralph. I’ve been very much enjoying your posts about Star Trek and Dynasty – two of my favourite shows. One thing I’ve always wondered about pilots is, why are some series commissioned before the pilot is shown, while others have to wait and a decision made based on ratings? Is it down to how much the network likes the pilot and how confident they feel a series will succeed? In the case of Dynasty, if I’ve understood correctly, ABC decided to go to series before the pilot was even completed. Was this because they absolutely loved it, even in an incomplete form, and were confident that a series would succeed?

    • Ralph Senensky says:

      Hi Stevie: I can only try to answer you questions as I knew the situation to be a long time ago. How or what is being done today I do not know. Originally 1 hour and 1/2 hour pilots were ordered by the 3 networks.They ordered more than they were going to buy, and the pilots were made and submitted to them. I’m sure many things influenced each of the networks as they made their final choices. The time slot needing to be filled and what was the competition in that slot on the competing networks. The assessment of the brass at the networks of the pilots as they viewed them. Possible prior contractual commitments to production companies could play a part in the decisions (i.e. if ABC had a contractual commitment to buy a 1 hour pilot a year for 3 years from QM Productions, that could influence their final choice.) Many times the network would start off ready to commit to a designated number of pilots, and as the end of the purchasing season approached, they might buy a pilot just to fill out their commitment. I know! I did a pilot once and spoke to someone in the know at the time I was waiting to hear the fate of the project and was told it was dead on arrival. Later when the movie-of-the-week format arrived, it became a way of piloting. A movie-of-the-week was a good entry on their schedule. If it drew a big audience, it could result in the project becoming a series. (i.e. the movie THE HOMECOMING became THE WALTONS.) As for DYNASTY, co-creator Esther Shapiro had been an executive at ABC. I have no doubts that could have influenced their decision to schedule it as a series before airing, but it was a brilliant script and exactly what ABC was looking for to combat the success of CBS’s DALLAS, and the the execs at the network did view the dailies during production as well as the final cuts. As you can see, it was all a very complicated situation and I have only touched the tips of the iceberg.

      • Stevie V says:

        Thank you very much indeed for that explanation Ralph. That was exactly what I wanted to know. Yes, Dynasty had a great pilot. I was fourteen when it was first shown here in England. I remember I had a bad dose of flu, but I struggled downstairs to watch it as I’d seen the trailers for it. Watching the Dynasty pilot cheered me up no end and I was immediately a fan. Thanks again, both for your work on Dynasty and Star Trek, and for replying to me.

        • Ralph says:

          As for STAR TREK, this coming fall they will be celebrating STAR TREK”s 50th anniversary. A special 50th anniversary DVD collection of 12 of the original series is being issued with loads of extras. I know because a crew came to my home and spent two hours interviewing me. Let’s hope I don’t end up on the cutting room floor.

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