How to Fake 1% Opulence, 'Dallas'-Style
For ABC's "GCB," production designer Denny Dugally created ostentatious yet sophisticated sets for the primetime soap's rival Texas ladies.
By now, hollywood knows what the "b" in GCB used to stand for ("bitches," as in Good Christian Bitches). But it could also, based on the first few episodes, mean Botox, backstabbing, big living and the Bible. Move over, Southfork: Dallas is ready for another close-up.
Set to debut March 4 on ABC, the wickedly bitchy comedy-drama stars Leslie Bibb (Iron Man) as onetime high school mean girl Amanda. A recently divorced mother of two, she returns home to live with her mother, Gigi (Annie Potts), only to find her former high school friends have turned the tables of torment. Based on Kim Gatlin's best-selling 2008 book Good Christian Bitches, the show co-stars Kristin Chenoweth as Carlene, Amanda's archrival and GCB's queen bee.
A fictional view inside the world of The Big D's one-percent elite, the show owes its look to production designer Denny Dugally and set decorator Bryan Venegas, who together created the Walker family's interiors on ABC's Brothers & Sisters. For GCB, they designed house and office sets (located at Burbank's Disney Studios) for the five central characters, who also include real estate agent Heather (Marisol Nichols), high-powered CEO Cricket (Miriam Shor) and homemaker Sharon (Jennifer Aspen).
The production team spent four days scouting historic and modern houses in Texas, soaking up local color in the tony Dallas enclaves of Highland Park, Preston Hollow and University Park. "We visited homes, churches, country clubs, offices, stores, etc., and immersed ourselves in everything Dallas," says Dugally, an Emmy nominee in 2004 for Arrested Development. The pilot was shot on location, though Los Angeles doubles for Dallas in the series. "It was not an easy task as Dallas is known for its large expanses of property, many without high fences or security and lots of brick architecture," she adds. "Los Angeles is full of palm trees that don't do well in Dallas. We were able to find several wonderful houses and a great church in the L.A. basin that serve as the exteriors for our show."
Although Dallas certainly earns its bigger-is-better notoriety -- Aspen's housewife character has a French Country-style kitchen with a countertop deep fryer and three double ovens -- Dugally notes that the houses they saw there weren't McMansions. "Dallas is the most cosmopolitan city in Texas. Most of the money is old money," says the designer. "I said, 'Let's give our characters taste.' We made a very conscious decision that the look be over-the-top but still elegant."
♦ Gigi's Entry and Gun Room
For the home of Amanda's colorful mother Gigi (Potts), production designer Dugally wanted the interiors "to remain very upscale but traditional." Front and center is the ornate, winding staircase with a landing topped by a gold leafed dome. Asian accents, custom-designed wallpapers by Astek in Los Angeles and white wainscoting are just a few of the design elements used for the warm gold- and cream-toned decor.
Gun-toting Gigi gets her own rifle-display room. "It's completely taken from memory from a house I saw in Dallas," says Dugally. Among the animal trophies is a mounted javelina. In high school, Bibb's Amanda character had branded ugly-duckling Carlene as one of the creatures, a relative of the pig that's native to the Southwest. Says Dugally, "Our executive producer Robert Harling wanted a javelina wherever we could get one, and he was so thrilled we found it. It's so ugly."
♦ Carlene's Bedroom
Dugally theorized that Carlene (Chenoweth) "would have hired an interior designer from New York" for her house. One of the most dramatic rooms is her and husband Ripp's dark and moody bedroom, its walls painted in black and deep purple. "They spend a lot of time in the bedroom, so we wanted it to be ultra-romantic. They are a very frisky couple," says Dugally. Chenoweth's petite 4-foot-11 stature inspired the designer to create a high bed and also place it on a platform. "Every time she has to climb into bed, it addsa little comic relief." Dugally decided to go with a black floral comforter because "with her blond hair, Kristen looks gorgeous against it."
♦ Cricket's Bedroom
For shrewd and decisive Cricket (Shor), who is CEO of her own company, "we chose to keep her designs cold and calculated," says Dugally. The bedroom, which has its own sitting area (above) mixes midcentury and Western touches as seen in the Corbusier-inspired chair upholstered in cowhide. The set previously served as the living room of the character of Kitty on Brothers & Sisters before it was completely redone. An enormous bed, as wide as two queen-size beds, allows for distance between Cricket and her closeted gay husband, Blake. Says the designer, "The bed is a dramatic character."
♦ Dallas' Hillside Park Church
One of the more pivotal sets is the show's fictional church. "They go there every Sunday, and Kristin sings almost every episode," says Dugally. She and Venegas visited a dozen churches for research and created a believable house of worship with 42 faux-stained plexiglass windows and seating for 120. The church was painted and aged to make it look more than 40 years old. On the show, Pasadena's All Saints Episcopal Church is used for exterior shots.