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Steering a story about the beloved fictional serial killer Dexter Morgan back to the small screen was both an easy and challenging endeavor.
“Honestly, every TCA I would ever go to, people would ask me, ‘When’s Dexter coming back? Do you have any news on Dexter coming back?’ And I went, ‘It’s not gonna happen’ to ‘Never say never’ because I just wanted people to stop asking the question until I was ready to say yes,” said CEO of Showtime Networks David Nevins. “But in the back of my mind, of course, I always wanted it to happen.”
With the Showtime brass on board, the next easy part should have been one of its hardest — convincing star Michael C. Hall. But both Dexter: New Blood showrunner Clyde Phillips and Nevins say the actor was completely ready to return to the role. “It took him a while to come back around and say, ‘I want to go into Dexter’s shoes again.’ But when he was ready, I was obviously very excited for him to come back,” Nevins said.
That decision — both for Hall and Phillips, who ran the show for its first four seasons — was made 28 months ago, on July 1, 2019, Phillips told The Hollywood Reporter Tuesday on the show’s world premiere red carpet in New York City. “Gary Levine, the president of entertainment for Showtime, called me up and said, ‘I’m going to be in New York, want to have lunch?’ And I said, ‘Gary, you’ve got two daughters who live in New York. You don’t want to see me. Listen, We’re all friends. Talk to me.'”
That’s when Levine revealed that not only was Hall ready to come back, but the network wanted Phillips to serve as showrunner. “I thought for a nanosecond and I said, ‘You bet.'” He then took 10 days to come up with the show’s concept before flying into the city from Martha’s Vineyard and meeting with Hall to pitch him. “Half an hour into the pitch he said, ‘Stop. I love it. I’m in.’ I get back of the car. Going back to the airport — the whole thing took one day — I called Gary.”
After Levine picked up on the first ring, Phillips was brief: “I said, ‘He’s in.’ Then Gary said, ‘Go hire a writing room.'”
At this point, Phillips told THR, things got a little trickier. While he was assembling his writers room, the Writers Guild of America was in a stand-off with the Association of Talent Agents. WGA had filed a lawsuit against Hollywood’s major talent agencies, and now none of the writers had agents.
“That made it really hard for me,” he explained. “So I hired Scott Reynolds, who started out as my writing assistant and ended up as executive producer, he’s my number two. Then together I hired two other writing assistants of mine, and then my lawyer recommended somebody. We ended up filling out the room.”
From there, the next step was getting it right. Following Dexter’s much-derided finale in 2013, Phillips says the key motivation for his return was more about the show being “Showtime’s most popular asset ever” than “[setting] the record straight” or righting the wrongs of the series’ ending.
“The fan base is so huge that it just made perfect financial and emotional sense to come back. Michael was ready. I was ready,” he said.
For Hall, however, reaction to the finale was “definitely” part of the motivation. “If the show ended in the series proper in a way that was just profoundly deeply satisfying for everyone, I think our motivation to come back would have been decreased. I definitely think there were storytelling possibilities that emerged for having taken the time we took regardless of how people felt about the [original] ending, but yeah, that was a part of it. For sure.”
But second chances are rare and by no means free of the potential to mess up again. Luckily, that challenge wasn’t much of a challenge at all. Especially on the heels of other revivals’ success, including Showtime’s own The L Word: Generation Q.
“You always gotta balance giving people the next new thing and then also bringing back things that people have this really deep personal connection to,” Nevins said. “Dexter is such a foundational show, and the thing that both Dexter and The L Word share is that they’ve transcended generations.”
For the Dexter: New Blood showrunner, another part of getting it right was his plan to revisit a theme he’d not only explored on Dexter, but other series: fathers and sons “I wanted to really go deep into that and explore it to its best and worst depth,” said Phillips.
He also didn’t shy from the show’s actual ending, and instead, leaned into its location and beloved cast — dead and alive. According to Phillips, they planned it out and “got everyone he wanted.” That includes the previously announced John Lithgow, who the New Blood showrunner says drew actors on their off-days to the set the day he was filming “just to watch.”
The show itself will follow the former blood-splatter analyst into the Canadian woods, with many of his same “tools,” a decade after the season eight ender, with Phillips acknowledging the death of Rust cinematographer Halyna Hutchins and thanking his two first assistant directors and armorer for keeping the set safe in a speech ahead of the premiere.
It also features many of the same character elements of Dexter’s previous life: a beautiful and competent woman in Julia Jones’ local Sheriff Angela Bishop, an unsuspecting (and noticeably smaller) police force comprising Alano Miller and David Magidoff. And, despite tempering his murderous urges for a decade, there’s a collection of bad guys for the serial killer with a code to pick from.
Miller noted that while their police department of a whopping three — including Bishop — might not match the manpower of Miami-Dade’s, “we’re small but mighty. Our captain, Angela, she’s brilliant, so I think that when you put the right storm together, anything can happen.”
“Is it possible Dexter’s the smartest guy in the room for a reason? Maybe. Does that showcase itself a lot in the show? Possibly,” Magidoff told THR. “I think people will enjoy seeing [Dexter] navigate this small-town forest community. He’s the force of 15 police officers at once, you know?”
Bishop, who in addition to being the town Sheriff and a single mom, is also Indigenous, and Jones said the character’s identity themes resonated with her. “I think that she deals with things that are uniquely contemporary for an Indigenous person in today’s world,” Jones explained. “One of those things is just sort of having one foot in both roles and how to mediate that.”
She’s also a romantic interest for Dexter, and as fans know, that can be a complicated and dangerous place. But Jones tells THR that audiences “should not underestimate her.”
While there’s a number of things in Dexter’s new life that resemble his old one — all part of that recipe of responsibility — Hall says one key element of the show’s original run, his son Harrison (Jack Alcott), will perhaps play the biggest role in the Showtime serial killer’s limited-series iteration.
“He’s maybe making as earnest an attempt as he’s ever made at being authentic or having a real life even though he’s maybe taking baby steps in that direction,” Hall explained. “And even though he’s doing it within the context of pretending to be someone else, once his past comes knocking and his son arrives, every piece of order that he’s managed to cobble together for himself turns into chaos.”
As for Phillips — who called filming in the snowy, remote location during COVID “a blast” — as well as much of the cast, just getting a shot at the revival and working with each other made the second go worth it.
“Whether we succeed or fail or however we want to put it in the middle, it was still an honor to be a part of it,” Miller said. “For me, I feel like what I know, what I’ve shot, what I’ve read, I think that Dexter is gonna be just fine.”
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