After spending part of last season trying to get millennials excited about its Archie reboot, Riverdale, The CW is up for a fresh challenge—trying to pull off the same feat with its reinvention of the ’80s soap Dynasty, which premieres tonight.
Network president Mark Pedowitz recalled that when he talked about Dynasty during ad sales meetings earlier this year, “it was fascinating to watch. Anybody who was over 45: ‘Oh, that’s cool.’ Anyone who was younger than 45 was like, ‘Huh?’ So it’s a brand-new show to them.”
And that’s why he’s entrusting the reboot to executive producers Josh Schwartz and Stephanie Savage, who have already successfully overseen a pair of hit, younger-skewing soaps: The O.C. and Gossip Girl.
“I’m betting on them delivering a younger audience to sample it,” said Pedowitz of the producing team, which also includes Sallie Patrick. “If they deliver the fun escapism of the show, we’ll win.”
No pressure there. Schwartz and Savage spoke with Adweek about finding a fresh take on Dynasty, reboots vs. revivals and what went wrong the last time they tried to put a new spin on a familiar brand with The Carrie Diaries.
Adweek: With Gossip Girl and The Carrie Diaries, you’ve already tackled brands that had big followings. What did you learn from those experiences that you’re bringing to Dynasty?
Josh Schwartz: When we first started on Gossip Girl, those books had a cult, rabid fandom to them. Maybe beyond cult, where there was, “How could you cast Chace Crawford? His eyes are blue, and everyone knows Nate Archibald’s eyes are brown!”
Stephanie Savage: They were green.
Schwartz: Sorry, green. Pardon me [both laugh]. It’s been a few years! We’re working with Marvel now [on Marvel’s Runaways for Hulu] and taking a property that people are very protective of. I think the biggest takeaway for us with The Carrie Diaries, which is a show we were really proud of, was that what people came to Sex and the City for was a very specific thing, and that wasn’t necessarily going to translate, just because you were telling the story of one of those characters. The show worked really well for young girls who weren’t familiar with Sex and the City. But for the Sex and the City audience, I don’t know that it delivered enough of what they watched Sex and the City for. Different network, different format, half-hour vs. hour … it may have gotten a little too far away from the original DNA.
What we wanted to do here was honor the architecture of the original Dynasty—the storytelling architecture, the character architecture, the family dynamics and the spirit of the original. I felt like if that was intact, it would still feel enough like Dynasty for people who loved the original but also feel like something completely new, because obviously on The CW, a lot of our audience wasn’t born when the original aired. So it was important to us to honor the original while making sure this was something that new fans could watch.
Because this is on The CW, are you making it primarily for that audience, with the hope that fans of the original show will watch too?
Schwartz: We spent a lot of time in the beginning of this process sitting down with [Dynasty creators] Esther and Richard Shapiro and talking to them about what was vitally important to them about Dynasty, the brand, the show and what those characters meant.
Savage: And they really did make the show into a brand, where they were selling jewelry and silverware and home furnishings and had deals with department stores. They understood that that was a lot of what people were coming to the show for was to get a glimpse into that lifestyle. And it was very important to them that in coming up with a consumer product line that it would be accessible to the audience that was actually watching the show.
You were talking about Gossip Girl fans being upset about eye color. You seem to have a little more leeway on this project, given that you’ve changed some of the characters’ gender and ethnicity from the original series. Dynasty fans probably won’t be as precious about that as Gossip Girl fans were.
Schwartz: I think some people will have an initial reaction to some of those changes. But I do think enough time has passed, and even the staunchest Dynasty purist understands that it’s a different era than when the show took place. The show needs to feel as contemporary and current as the original did, and it would be impossible to do that if we had stuck to that demographic.
What did you learn from The O.C. and Gossip Girl about making soapy dramas connect with this audience ?
Schwartz: With The O.C., it was surprising people because we focused more on the adults than you would have thought for what was being billed as a teen soap, and that helped broaden the audience. I think a lot of people assumed Gossip Girl was only being watched by teenage girls. And actually, the age skew on the show went much older. It was women into their 30s and 40s. A lot of guys would say, “Oh, it’s a show my girlfriend makes me watch,” but then secretly they’d be like, “Yo, Chuck Bass is my hero.” So you make the show that you think is a great show, and you hope it brings more people in. We also have a global audience in mind with this, too.
Yes, because Netflix has international rights to Dynasty, which is also the advantage of having a brand like this.
Schwartz: Yeah, if it was called “Legacy” and it was an original show about a family business, you would not have necessarily that same level of interest. From what we’ve been told, the Netflix deal was pretty unprecedented, that they took all the territories. And I’ll say that people who grew up outside of America—my manager, for instance, is Danish—no one was more excited when the opportunity to work on this show came up. He was like, “You don’t understand. In Denmark, everyone would gather around and watch the show together, and it was called Dollars. That was the name.” And we’ve heard that a lot. For a lot of people across the globe, in the ’80s, it was their look at America.
Dallas returned as a revival in 2012, with the original actors reprising their roles. Was that something you considered with Dynasty?
Schwartz: Doing a revival, for us, feels like you are limited creatively. You’re always working in the shadow of the original and how people played those parts. There’s a lot more creative freedom coming to it …
Savage: Creative freedom and also inspiration. Because we’ve got  episodes that are like chapters in a history book that we can draw from and play with versus, well, this already happened, so you definitely can’t do that.
Speaking of revivals and reboots, at some point they’re going to want to bring back your shows, too. Would you prefer to see a revival—picking up with those same characters a decade or two down the line—or a reboot, where you can hit the reset button?
Schwartz: If we or someone else was going to revisit our work, I think a reboot would be the way to go.
Schwartz: Take the spirit and the concept, but be able to make it for its time in a way that doesn’t feel shackled to the original. I also think cast participation might be low!
Savage: We also wrote endings to those shows.
That’s true, but the Will & Grace revival got around that by just ignoring its finale.
Schwartz: Interesting. We were lucky. On pretty much every show we’ve done, we’ve been able to end the story, which is a real gift. So I think that probably also limits our appetite for revival, because for us at least, that story ended.