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A ‘Dynasty’ for Generation ‘Gossip Girl’ (Mom Can Watch, Too)

The new show arrives Oct. 11 on the CW, whose youth-centered programming has lately relied, with middling results, on superheroes. It has been not so much created as concocted by Stephanie Savage and Josh Schwartz — who sold soap to an Axe body wash generation with “Gossip Girl” and “The O.C.” — as a layer cake of nostalgia and novelty to tempt both extremes of the 18-49 demographic so coveted by advertisers.


Elizabeth Gillies, left, is the new Fallon, the headstrong daughter of oil tycoon Blake Carrington, who clashes with his new wife, Cristal (Nathalie Kelley).

Mark Hill/CW

“We’re changing up the point of entry,” Mr. Schwartz said. “If you were a fan of the original, it honors the spirit of that. And then those new to the show should be ready for a fun, twisted serial.”

“Downton Abbey” and “Billions” have showed that viewers still enjoy the foibles of the rich. But reboots have become iffy propositions, with originals readily available on Amazon Prime and in DVD box sets. The revival of “Dallas,” on TNT, was canceled after three seasons in 2014, even with the draw of original cast members. “Dynasty” has none thus far (one, Gordon Thomson, called the new show “an abomination” in an interview with The Daily Beast). Some fans, however, have hopefully proposed Heather Locklear, the original Sammy Jo and another “Melrose” veteran, to play Alexis, Cristal’s archrival.

But she was nowhere in evidence here this summer on a cavernous soundstage, which was home to an update of the Carrington mansion, where this reporter spent many happy escapist hours as a pre-teen, learning nothing less than how to be a woman.

“Lip-plumping treatments,” Mr. Show, compactly handsome at 55, was muttering in between takes, rolling the phrase around in his mouth like one of the top-shelf brandies Mr. Forsythe’s Blake Carrington favored. “Lip-plumping treatments.”

Blake had just delivered to his headstrong daughter, Fallon (Elizabeth Gillies), the bad news that their family name had been trademarked by her mother, his ex-wife Alexis, for a cosmetics line.


Linda Evans, left, who played Krystle, Blake Carrington’s new wife in the original “Dynasty,” often battled with his former wife, Alexis (Joan Collins).


The “Dynasty” name was also tarnished by the time Mr. Show met Mr. Spelling, whose Holmby Hills, Calif., mansion seemed a version of Blake Carrington’s, on “Melrose.” He remembered the older man as strict and stingy, using so-called honey wagons to remove sewage rather than install proper plumbing, but also possessing a certain thespian gravitas.

“Aaron used to say, putting his hands up and framing your face in a very square, ‘just your face’ way, ‘My shows are all about character,’” Mr. Show said during a break in taping, sitting at a dining table surrounded by expensive art. “He filmed straight-on, close to camera. You could tell an Aaron show in less than a second.”

The new “Dynasty,” in contrast, has Ms. Savage and Mr Schwartz’s own distinct aesthetic. Scenes are shorter: three or four minutes as opposed to six or seven. Skirts are also shorter. Music is louder. Lighting is dimmer. Slo-mo is occasionally deployed. And knowing references are rife, including to Trumps, Kardashians and Murdochs.

That the White House currently contains a real-estate tycoon— familiar from the ’80s, yet — and his scions makes “Dynasty” seem particularly resonant, though of course tangling bloodlines are a dramatic device as old as the ancient Greeks. “From the Clintons to the Kennedys, this isn’t a new thing, our fascination with these really powerful families,” said Nathalie Kelley, who plays Cristal. “But one thing we’ve talked about which is interesting is patriarchy — how much it has shifted, and how much it’s stayed the same.”

The former Krystle (Linda Evans) had been Blake’s secretary, positioned in perpetual saintly opposition to the devious Alexis and meekly tiptoeing around the Carrington mansion like the nameless heroine of Daphne du Maurier’s “Rebecca.”


In the updated “Dynasty,” Sammy Jo (played by Rafael De La Fuente, left, is now a man, Latino and gay.

Bob Mahoney/CW

“In the original Blake is shutting the door in her face because she has to have a meeting and she’s trying to get a word in about the china or something,” Ms. Kelley said. “She’s not really given much to do besides be beautiful and look after the house.”

This Cristal begins in public relations and goes on to contest fiercely with Fallon to become chief operating officer of the Carrington energy company.

She is also young enough to be his daughter, though Ms. Kelley argued that at 33 she is past an age that could provoke eye rolls. “When I first met with Josh and Stephanie, I was like, ‘I think Cristal needs to be at least in her 30s,’” she said. “I don’t think women around the world are going to be happy with this rich billionaire in his 50s dating someone who’s under 30, and that threshold makes a big difference.”

As Mr. Show put it: “People are younger today. The whole show’s younger.”

Indeed if any demographic is neglected in the new version, it is the Modern Maturity set. Ms. Collins was 48 when she first swept into the courtroom when Blake was being tried for the murder of his son Steven’s male lover; Mr. Forsythe was 63. Later additions from the golden age of Hollywood, Diahann Carroll and Rock Hudson, were in their 50s — the latter’s death of AIDS in 1985 provoking a national conversation about whether he’d jeopardized Ms. Evans’s health with their onscreen kiss.

As the cast awaits its Alexis, conflict has been heightened between Cristal and Fallon: a role played first by Pamela Sue Martin, then known for “Nancy Drew” and “The Poseidon Adventure,” and subsequently by the British actress Emma Samms, in one of those switcheroos that soap viewers are supposed to accept unblinkingly but now discuss for years afterward in searchable online forums. (A casting change for Steven was attributed to plastic surgery following an explosive accident on an oil rig, but producers decided simply to ignore Fallon’s change in appearance.)


Heather Locklear, left, was Sammy Jo, niece of Krystle Carrington, on the original “Dynasty.”

ABC via Getty Images

As embodied by Ms. Gillies, Fallon has been upgraded from a somewhat lost soul, climbing in and out of beds and winsomely up trees — and later, on a spin-off called “The Colbys,” being abducted by aliens — to an ambitious businesswoman, still sleeping with the chauffeur but now also leaning in with a steely glare.

Ms. Gillies, 24, said she had admired Ms. Collins since seeing her in “The Flintstones in Viva Rock Vegas” as a child and now regularly retweets the older woman’s Throwback Thursday hashtags to her own 4.6 million followers (thanks mainly to her role on “Victorious”). “I’m not playing Alexis but Fallon has inherited a lot of her gusto,” Ms. Gillies said. “She’s less passive than at least Pamela Sue Martin was — she had a relaxed nature. I wouldn’t say that my Fallon is as relaxed, for better or for worse. I think she’s got a lot more bite.”

She is also entwined enough with Blake that some early viewers have suggested her character resembles Ivanka Trump, and for them Ms. Gillies has developed a one-line rejoinder: “I have better shoes,” she said, striding away in a pair of Christian Louboutin heels.

Neither iteration of “Dynasty” can be separated from its devotion to materialism and the one percent. “I just have memories of how white the rooms were, the carpet — that’s what the rich have,” said Ms. Patrick, the showrunner, who grew up in Atlanta.

But the very rich are not only different from you and me, but from how they used to be. The 2017 Colbys made their money in tech, the Carrington children are concerned about the environment and everyone accepts differences in race and sexual orientation unblinkingly. The once dithering Steven is now “gay and proud,” Ms. Patrick said. “That’s not his issue with his father; it’s that he’s a liberal.”

Mr. Show said he thought “this Blake has a lot more pathology” than his predecessor. Crew members were hammering behind him at the opulent set, with its staircase built for flouncing down O‘Hara-style, and twinkling chandeliers.

“He tells untruths when he doesn’t need to and I don’t know why yet, I’m developing the character,” Mr. Show said. “I’m taking that as seriously as I possibly can, and then it cuts to a catfight.”

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