A New Dynasty Comes to The CW
By: Stacy Miller
On January 12, 1981, television viewers first met The Carringtons. They were a rich family of oil tycoons that lived in Denver, Colorado. The family company, Denver Carrington, was a large international conglomerate Blake Carrington (The late John Forsythe) had married his secretary Krystle Grant Jennings (Linda Evans), much to the chagrin of his daughter Fallon (Pamela Sue Martin). Because Krystle was several years Blake’s junior, “daddy’s girl” Fallon saw her as an opportunist and a gold digger and immediately felt distain for the union. Fallon had a gay brother Steven (Al Corley, later Jack Coleman) and married Jeff Colby (John James), the nephew of Blake’s competitor Cecil Colby (Lloyd Bochner).
At the time of Dynasty’s airing, another family of oil barons known as the Ewings where living the high life over in Dallas. So, it was reasoned that audiences would take to the opulence of the Carringtons. Daytime dramas were very popular; family backstabbing and over-the-top (and more often) unrealistic situations had become the rage and viewers ate it up. So why not bring their popularity to prime time? It made sense.
When Dynasty premiered, I was a sixteen-year-old high school student. I was already a fan of the prime-time soaps from watching Dallas, its spin-off Knots Landing and Flamingo Road (another prime time soap Falcon Crest would premiere the same year as Dynasty). Television was a different landscape then. There were a limited number of channels and no such thing as live streaming or social media. If you enjoyed something you watched, you discussed it with the people you physically came into contact with, i.e. family members, friends and/or co-workers. The prime soap gave viewers the chance to escape their normal, uneventful lives and venture into the exciting world of the super wealthy for an hour a week.
Network television didn’t tackle social issues in order to make a statement. They were primarily used for entertainment purposes, like Billy Crystal’s homosexual character on the ABC comedy Soap. The fact that Blake’s son Steven was gay wasn’t for public awareness of an LGBTQ character; it was to see how this revelation would test their father/son relationship. Dynasty was camp (fun camp) pure and simple. It was what television viewers needed. Dynasty ended its series run on May 11, 1989. It would be another two years before we saw The Carringtons again in Dynasty: The Reunion, which aired as a two-part miniseries in October 1991 and besides for two other specials airing in 2006 and 2015 respectively, it was goodbye Carringtons. Until now.
Dynasty and The Carringtons are back in a new series airing this Fall on The CW. In this modern reboot, several keys elements of the series have been changed: Instead of taking place in Denver, the setting for the new Dynasty is Atlanta. Krystle Grant Jennings is now Cristal Flores (Nathalie Kelley) and is a Hispanic woman. The rival Colby family are African Americans and Cristal has a nephew instead of a niece named Sam Josiah Flores “Sammy Jo,” who happens to be gay. These elements obviously speak to the changing times and television’s attempt to add more representation into their shows.
As a fan and viewer of the original Dynasty, I’m interested in seeing how The CW’s version will play out. I think the hardest thing though for someone who watched a television series is seeing it remade and knowing that there will be changes to what you loved about a show. So, it is important to remember that this is different interpretation and to judge the project based on its own merits and not compare it to its predecessor. When I watch this new Dynasty, I’m going to pretend that there was never another show that aired named Dynasty. I’m going to take the pilot of this Dynasty as my introduction to the Carringtons and Colbys.
The CW’s Dynasty does have a few selling points for me. In this version, Blake Carrington is being played by Grant Show. I first became familiar with Grant Show from his work as Rick Hyde on the new defunct daytime drama Ryan’s Hope and continued to follow his career. I think Show will bring a unique take to the patriarch of the Carrington family. It’s funny to think of him playing the father of an adult character as I’ll always remember him as the young soap opera heartthrob. I want to see the layers Nathalie Kelley brings as Cristal. Her recent turn as nemesis to the Salvatore brothers, siren Sybill on The Vampire Diaries, gave the final season some gripping moments. I’m sure her Cristal will be a firecracker and will give Elizabeth Gillies’ Fallon a run for her money. Another change from the original version is that Cristal and Fallon appear to be business rivals at the Carrington family business instead of Cristal just being Blake’s secretary. Also, Fallon and Cristal are closer to age than they were in the original. I think the fact that they are peers will bring an interesting dynamic. The casting on the new Dynasty that has me most excited is that Matthew Blaisdel, Cristal’s ex-lover is being played by Nick Wechsler. If you were a fan of Roswell, you know that Wechsler played Kyle Valenti, the sheriff’s son who was drawn into the inner circle of the alien intrigue. Later, he appeared on the ABC drama Revenge as Jack Porter, the childhood love of main protagonist Emily Thorne (Emily VanCamp). Matthew Blaisdel was my least favorite character on the original Dynasty so to have him now being played by Wechsler tells me that the producers of this new Dynasty are serious about adding spice to this modern recipe. Plus, new Dynasty creator Sallie Patrick was also a producer on Revenge so she knows from experience the depths Nick Wechsler brings to a character.
I’m curious though why it was decided to make the new Dynasty a reboot. Unlike the new Dallas that took place some twenty years after the end of the original and showed the lives of the grownup Ewing children John Ross and Christopher, the new Dynasty has created a modern mythology for the Carringtons. Accept for the changes made to the characters of Krystal, Sammy Jo and The Colbys, we still have the backstabbing Carrington family and their personal and professional interactions. Couldn’t we have seen a Dynasty with a newly named core family? Wouldn’t the Wellingtons serve the same story telling purpose? My theory is that Esther and Richard Shapiro, executive producers of the new Dynasty who also acted in the same capacity on the original, possibly wanted the Carrington connection. After all, like when you hear Dallas you think of the Ewings, they may have felt the same holds true for Dynasty. The jury is still out as to whether this was a good strategy or a drawback to those expecting the comfort of familiarity. Perhaps the safety of a reboot made it easier to sell the idea to the network and ensure its pick up. With the modern spin on this 80s prime time staple, the bigger question will be whether the viewers will be of the curious nostalgic variety; those who watched Dynasty back in the day or the hip Gossip Girl (Former creators of Gossip Girl, Josh Schwartz and Stephanie Savage helped to develop the new Dynasty) crowd i.e. millennials with their iPhones and tweeting fingers at the ready. In my opinion, an older television viewer will be more inclined to give a show a chance whereas the younger will switch channels quicker than you can say Freeform. This new version of Dynasty will need to have something that will draw the viewers in and keep them invested to continue tuning in every week. In Season Two of the original Dynasty, that draw was a character named Alexis, played by Joan Collins. I haven’t heard whether the new Dynasty has any plans for bringing the character of Alexis onto the canvas. If this is a future goal in an upcoming season, I’d be curious to see who’d be cast as Blake’s ex-wife. Would the new Dynasty make Alexis a Brit? I’m hoping that Dynasty does well enough to secure additional seasons so we’d find out. I believe the story line possibilities are endless.
Ironically, the original Dynasty aired Wednesday nights as will the new Dynasty. It has been paired with another series about family secrets, The CW’s Riverdale. Will fans of Riverdale flock over to Dynasty and give the Carringtons a look? The CW has been lucky to have some television shows that gain large fan following and air for many seasons (Think Supernatural, about to begin Season Thirteen). Will the new Dynasty be as fortunate? Can lighting strike twice for the Shapiros with Dynasty having the same success as the original?
I’m hoping that the new version of Dynasty will stand on its own merits and not live in the shadow of the originals. I want these new actors to make these roles their own.