'Blood and Oil': Don Johnson on 'Dallas' Comparisons, Reinventing the Primetime Soap

Blood and Oil TCA Panel - H 2015
ABC/Image Group LA

Blood and Oil TCA Panel - H 2015

Don Johnson is returning to primetime television in ABC's Blood and Oil.

The drama centers on the true story of the North Dakota oil boom that began in 2006, and the money-hungry risk takers drawn to it.

Two of those people are Billy and Cody Lefever, played by Chace Crawford (Gossip Girl) and Rebecca Rittenhouse (Red Band Society), a working-class couple who dream of a new life. In hopes of catching a break, they move to "The Bakken," the area booming after the biggest oil discovery in American history. There, they find themselves pitted against a ruthless tycoon, Hap Briggs (Johnson), who forces them to bet big and put everything on the line, including their marriage.

The idea for the series hailed from author Rodes Fishburne and screenwriter Josh Pate, who spent time in the town during its peak. "When we were up there, the rumor on the street was that a millionaire a day was being made in North Dakota," Pate said Wednesday at the Television Critics Association press tour. "When that kind of word gets out across the Midwest, people come — it attracts risk-takers, gamblers, people who have entrepreneurial ambitions as Rebecca and Chase’s characters do in the show."

Fishburne noted that they saw license plates from all fifty states in the U.S. within twenty minutes of being in the city of Williston. "It was like a San Francisco 1849 gold rush in the middle of the prairie in North Dakota. We were excited about this new place where we could tell this classic tale of the speculative mania of a boom," he added."

For his part, Johnson said that he was drawn to the material because the boomtown environment provides "fuel" (pun intended) for intricate stories and complex characters. "We are in a historically primetime soap slot, and you’re going to get the triangles and the twists and the turns and the soapiness," he explained on stage, "but along with that you’re also going to get these incredibly sophisticated well-told stories."

Johnson also shied away from Dallas and J.R. Ewing comparisons, insisting that his character was instead inspired by real-life oil tycoons. "I know a lot of these guys, so I took an amalgamation of these types of people and rolled them into Hap Briggs."

Blood & Oil premieres Sunday, September 27 at 9:00 p.m. on ABC.