Posted by RODNEY HOemail@example.com on his myAJC Radio & TV Talk blog on Tuesday, January 16, 2018
Sallie Patrick, as a child in Atlanta, used to sit on the floor of her parents’ bedroom on Wednesday nights, absorbing the insane dramatics that was ABC’s “Dynasty” along with her grandma, her mom and aunt. “I was young and loved the dollhouse quality,” she said.
Three decades later, the 41-year-old TV writer is overseeing a modern reboot of the 1980s classic airing on the CW as showrunner and co executive producer. The show itself is not only shot in metro Atlanta but also set in the city.
Patrick said a pure soap like “Dynasty” — without a high concept like a haunted town or set in a particular venue like a prison or hospital — “is a real rarity on prime time these days. It also means the show can switch directions, characters and tone from season to season more freely than a show with more defined parameters. And that’s exciting!”
Unlike TNT’s revamp of rival “Dallas” from 2012 to 2014 which featured some of the original actors, “Dynasty” is a complete re-imagining of the wealthy oil-drenched Carrington family. The new “Dynasty” returns from Christmas break for its 10th episode on January 17 at 9 p.m.
Patrick, as head writer, infuses "Dynasty" a breezy air. Greed, which was good in the 1980s, remains en vogue in 2018. The dialogue is often glib, loyalty runs blood deep and secrets and lies are always on the menu. The sets are lush and the costumes elegant – though not quite as showy as the original.
She also brings back a signature “Dynasty” move: the catfight. In the second episode, new stepmom Cristal pushes rival stepdaughter Fallon Carrington into an open grave. During the Christmas episode last month, Cristal and her sister go at each other until they knock over a massive Christmas tree.
"We love our soap opera tropes," Patrick said recently on the set at Eagle Rock Studios in Stone Mountain. "The original 'Dynasty drew from them and spawned many more of its own. We have to honor that. People eavesdropping and getting critical information. People getting shoved into graves!"
At the same time, Patrick doesn't ignore class, gender and racial divides. "It's hard to tell a story about the one percent without considering the other 99," she said.
During the Thanksgiving episode, for instance, Fallon (Elizabeth Gillies) finds out her former lover, the black chauffeur Michael Culhane (Robert Christopher Riley), had been lying to his parents about what he does after all they sacrificed for him. He can’t fathom telling them all he does is "drive a rich white guy around."
"You lie because you're ashamed?" Fallon asked.
"No. Because I know they would be," Michael said.
Fallon's empathy only goes so far. When a volunteer at a church thanked her for helping out, she uttered, "It reminds me that even the poor can be happy."
The Atlanta touches are evident. When a prisoner meets Fallon, he calls her a "Buckhead Betty." Steven Carrington's drug buddy lands in the Fulton County jail. Former Falcon Jamal Anderson and UGA Bulldog alum Hines Ward pop in for a friendly Carrington Thanksgiving football scrimmage.
While in high school at Westminster, she fashioned herself as the quiet, quirky Ally Sheedy character in "The Breakfast Club" - "minus the dandruff." She had her fair share of personal stresses: her father, for instance, had a heart transplant. Several teachers helped her stay focused on school while she was having personal travails at home. Nedra Roberts, her 10th grade English teacher who is now a playwright, was especially nurturing.
"She taught me that I had a voice," Patrick said. "We were analyzing a poem and I remember her saying that I had insight into other voices, reading other people's voices. In a way, it weirdly related to being a television writer on other people's shows and emulating other voices."
Roberts, who stays in regular touch with Patrick all these years later, said she is an active listener, willing to take in other's points of view. As a big fan of the original "Dynasty," Roberts wasn't sure how Patrick could pull off a new version but said it feels fresh. "She sucks me in," she said. "She makes me care about the characters in surprising ways."
After graduating Duke University, Patrick tried stop-motion animation and ended up at Lucas Films working in marketing, licensing and image archives. "I was photo shopping light sabers," she recalled.
But she wanted to do something more creative and attended Carnegie Mellon for grad school where she shared classes with actors Josh Gad and Megan Hilty. She learned how to write dialogue and working in groups, both valuable skills for managing a TV show.
Post graduation, she landed in La-La Land. She landed her first writing job on ABC's short-lived Peter Krause soap "Dirty Sexy Money," which had elements of "Dynasty" woven into it. From there, she worked on the CW's "Life Unexpected," then in 2012, landed on the writing staff for four seasons of ABC's saucy soap "Revenge," another progeny of "Dynasty."
"On both 'Dirty Sexy Money' and 'Revenge,' we referenced 'Dynasty' on the shows," Patrick said. In fact, she drew from a boxed DVD set of "Dynasty" while working on "Dirty Sexy Money."
At the time, she had two children and life "got blurry," she said. She did some work on CBS series "Limitless," which only lasted a season. Then "Gossip Girl" creators Josh Schwartz and Stephanie Savage approached her about a "Dynasty" reboot last year. "I hopped on board," Patrick said. "You are inheriting 220 hours of television history, a huge book to draw from."
Schwartz and Savage, in a combined email, said the original "Dynasty" was known for its quips and insults as well as its family ties. "Sallie can write both sides of that equation," they said. "The meme-worthy lines and the emotional depth of the characters."
Patrick also knew she had to modernize the characters and make it more diverse to reflect Atlanta over Denver.
The rival Colbys, for instance, are black. Blake Carrington, much younger in the form of Grant Show vs. John Forsythe, marries a super-smart Latino woman played by Nathalie Kelley instead of a Nordic goddess in the form of Linda Evans from the secretarial pool.
And times have changed: Steven Carrington (James Mackay) is out and proud with a boyfriend instead of questioning his sexuality and married to Heather Locklear's character.
Plus, any '80s songs - covered by new acts for Millennial-friendly consumption - are purely intentional, including revamped versions of "Love is a Battlefield" and "Everybody Wants to Rule the World."
Show brings a different vibe to the show, Patrick said. "He has this inherent likability," she said. "John Forsyth was fantastic but he was a much harder-edged villain. As [original creator] Esther Shapiro told me, even villains can walk on the side of angels. Blake has done bad things but all out of love and protection for his family."
And key character Fallon isn't just promiscuous and mouthy. In this case, she's a career woman, deeply ambitious but still the Queen of Sassy Sarcasm. And she gets involved with the younger Colby, who is self-made rich.
"As a working woman show runner, I'm running a small company at times," Patrick said. "As head writer of the show, that's a story line I can easily tap. I do identify with her petulance at times. She's still a child in a way and she works hard to mask her vulnerability and insecurities."
Ratings have been relatively modest but the CW has remained supportive, guaranteeing the show a full season of 22 episodes. And CW president Mark Pedowitz said recently to a group of TV critics that he is psyched to see "Desperate Housewives" vet Nicollette Sheridan take on the role of Blake's ex wife Alexis Carrington, played with delightful wickedness by Joan Collins in the 1980s.
“I’m disappointed in the ratings,” Pedowitz said. “I wanted it to do more, but I’m happy with with the production values that Josh, Steph and Sallie are doing.” He said Sheridan will arrive by episode 16 and should add “juice” to the show.
Patrick said keeping Sheridan under wraps as long as they did was not easy. "I'm glad the cat's finally out of the bag - and the cat has the requisite claws!" she wrote in a follow-up email. She considers Alexis "a force of nature, a disrupter, the leader of her own resistance. Nicollette is all of that and more."
She said Nicollette’s Alexis "can deliver clever, devastating lines with a sharp tongue, but she also has a sweet side. She can seem perfectly pleasant, so that if you were to run into Alexis on the street, you might say 'Oh, she seems so lovely.' You’d have no idea what kind of devil she really is."
Back in the day, "Dallas" got higher ratings than "Dynasty.” But Patrick, is clearly in the “Dynasty” camp.
"I think 'Dynasty' has a more lasting, iconic flavor," she said.
"Dynasty," 9 p.m. Wednesdays, the CW