Billy and Cody Lefever dream of a new life beyond their working class roots and move to “The Bakken” in North Dakota, booming after the biggest oil discovery in American history. They’re soon pitted against a ruthless tycoon who forces them to bet big and put everything on the line, including their marriage.
“This is more than a reboot of Dallas,” promises Don Johnson and the producers of Blood & Oil. So I wonder, is this is the oil industry, gone high octane?
In the sizzle reel we watched this morning at the Television Critics Association (TCA) summer press tour, in the party hard-wild west, a character says, “Anybody packing, just keep it in your pants.” As if. Things coming out of pants seemed to be a pretty regular occurrence in the sizzle reel that we watched. (Although it could be the same sex-scene slices and diced and sprinkled liberally throughout, like a steamy seasoning.) Also, things explode here a lot. “Hello, OSHA? lots of workplace violations here!”
“Here, you’re either with Briggs, or you’re out.” And when you need someone to play a ruthless oil baron, the producers looked no farther than a modern-day Larry Hagman, Don Johnson.
Tony Kranz, calls Johnson an icon and says the actor was, “our first choice, our only choice” and admits “that there was no plan B.” Johnson says he was attracted to the character-driven nature of the show. “The show is in a TV timeslot typically reserved for a primetime slot, but he is elevating the expectations to a higher level of expectation. That won’t be said that there won’t be triangles and juicy drama.” he adds, “Along with that, we get these sophisticated, well told stories that span the show’s generations.”
Don Johnson, who is invested not only as an actor, but as an executive producer says, “Blood & Oil is about a boom town and a big family and the seven deadly sins at work.”
Cocreator and executive producer Rhodes Fishburne says he’s looking forward to telling “The old, classic tale of the speculative tale of a boom.” And shared the anecdote that when he and his co-creator Josh Pate visited the North Dakota oilfields, the local McDonalds was paying $40/hr because everyone was making more in the oil fields. He compares the phenomenon that he witnessed, to the 1849 gold rush.
The show’s producers say that when they were doing research for the series, the rumor floating around North Dakota was that a millionaire was being made every day. There was such a housing shortage, that people were living in their cars in the Wal-mart parking lot.
Blood & Oil doesn’t take place in the modern day, but rather 2-3 years ago — a time when the boom on North Dakota’s oil fields had families leaving everything behind in the dreams of riches. It’s “The American Dream Strikes Back,” said someone on the panel.
Hoping for their piece of the American Dream (Hint: they get it) are Billy and Cody LeFever, played by Chase Crawford (Gossip Girl) Rebecca Rittenhouse (Red Band Society) are the upstart dreamers vs. the old guard played by Don Johnson and Amber Valletta. Texas-born Chase Crawford, says the role is a good fit for him and Johnson says there’s an Upstairs/ Downstairs dynamic; where old money, battles against those with newfound riches. He also says he basically told Crawford that if he didn’t take the role, he was an idiot.
The show’s action is intense and while a lot of the physical drama, the series’ female leads says don’t overlook the strength of their characters. Rittenhouse say the writing for the series’ females is strong, and says of her character, “Cody isn’t her husband’s sidekick.” Amber Valletta (Legends, Revenge) says her character isn’t second fiddle to her husband; she is his partner and equal. Think of her perhaps as a woman with a similar mindset to Claire Underwood (Robin Wright) in House of Cards. Both women are strong, ambitious, and have their own agendas.
A few of the writers present recall Johnson at his first TCA panel for Miami Vice. After a hearty laugh, Johnson remembers himself as “a brash, terrified young man with a big ego and a lot of ambition.” And says he’s “let the things that don’t serve me fall by the wayside.” Says this time, he’s embracing “the joy of the process and the product.”
“The essence of the American dream. You pick up your family, you take all of your things and your savings and you go into the wild west.”