Interview With Executive Producer, Dan Paulson, “Chesapeake Shores”

By Ruth on August 5, 2017 in Interview, movie, television
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During the first season of Hallmark’s original series Chesapeake Shores, I was an avid watcher, supporter, and promoter of this simply delightful show. With the arrival of the much-anticipated season two happening tomorrow (August 6th), I am so excited to be able to share the wonderful chat I had with one of the creative geniuses behind the hit show, executive producer Dan Paulson. It was refreshing to hear his perspective on the industry, including how he got his start in this business that is directly in line with his passions and interests. 

RH: Dan, thank you so much for agreeing to talk to me today.

DP: My pleasure, Ruth.

So how did you get started in this business?

Um, do you have the rest of the afternoon?

Oh, I can imagine it’s a long story.

I guess the short version is that it is something that I always wanted to do, which was fortunate for me. I love films and television. I had a liberal arts education, and then I got a master’s degree in business at Columbia.  My first job was at NBC because they’re the only people who interviewed at the school and in the business. Technically, I guess there was Warner’s, but as it turned out, believe it or not, they’re a huge bra maker, and that’s just not what I had in mind.

So I went into business affairs at NBC, which I I didn’t really care for.  It was just too dry for me. I don’t think I was even there a year. I left NBC and I went to work as a PA in television commercials.  I really didn’t have any film experience. I used to sell the director’s reel, and in these sales I made, I would produce the spots. I did that, and ultimately, I went into business for myself.  I did some big projects, but they were more like industrial films. I was writing at the same time, and I got to know certain story editors in New York.

Back in the ’70’s, Darryl Zanuck took over the studio at Fox, and his son got thrown out. David Brown was his son’s partner. I guess they overreacted and they needed some bodies.  I got hired as a story editor, which is really a glorified reader. So I would read some scripts and send some coverage into Los Angeles, but nobody ever talks to you when you hold that position. I was maybe at the company for seven or eight months and they got involved in a proxy fight. Because of my business background… a lot of my classmates were on Wall Street… I got involved because everything stopped at the company.  The guy that I worked for became the head of finance at the company and then became the president.  I got introduced to the head of production at Fox and he hired me as his executive assistant.  They moved me to California and even though I had no power, I certainly had an ear to the throne.

“My graduating class,” you know, these guys today are running networks, studios, and talent agencies. I developed some good relationships.  I’ve never considered myself a great soldier.  I kind of march to the beat of my own drum.  After maybe like five years, I went out and packaged my own film.  Jane Fonda and Jimmy Caan were pretty big at the time. I made a film called Comes A Horseman. It was a big picture for United Artists. So I just started producing my own shows.

Somewhere along the line, I think I realized that television was more of a business than feature films. That’s maybe one of the better decisions I’ve made in my career.  Television is a business.  There hardly is a feature business today.  Along the way, I ran Dick Clark’s company for a little over five years–all his movies and series.  Then I went back out into business for myself, I never looked back, and I’ve produced over fifty films and Chesapeake Shores is my first series. I’ve done pilots, but this is my first show on the air. And it’s doing very, very well.  This season is gonna be bigger than the last. It looks great.

Well, I think you did very well putting your entire career in a nutshell. 

That was a four-minute version. I didn’t want to bore you.

You didn’t bore me. I loved your story. I typically interview actors, directors, and writers, but I rarely get the chance to interview an executive producer.

Well, being an executive producer is a combination of things. You’re both a businessman and a creative head. You want to do what’s best for the show on the screen, but then you’re running a business.  You need to make a profit at the end of the day if you like to eat.

I was a big supporter of Chesapeake Shores during its first season, and we are all so excited for the upcoming season. 

You’re going to find this season a lot different than last season. It is a much better show.

I have no doubt. That usually happens with the second season because the first season is when they have to establish the characters and the stories, and the second season is where you can kind of take off from there. 

This season, we have a much better balance of humor, drama, and romance. There’s a nice lighter feel than it was last year.  Last season got a little dark at times.

Well, that’s definitely something for us to look forward to then. {pause} According to what I was reading about you, you are an executive producer who makes it a point to be on set for most of the filming.

Ruth, I’m there all the time. Twenty-four-seven. I don’t leave the set. Some of my peers prefer to phone it in, which is fine.  They hire people, and that’s great. But with me, I see it this way.  My name is on the show. I’m responsible for the show creatively, the bottom line. I’ve just got to be there.  That’s just the way I’ve always been in my business.

With Meghan Ory and Jesse Metcalfe 

Dan, I think that is fantastic. I was actually very impressed when I was reading about the fact that you are on set all the time. You just don’t see that all that much any more. 

I want to be there for my actors and my directors.  I’m always by the monitor. Also, Sherryl Woods, the author of the books, I certainly owe her for trusting me with her baby, with the property.  The same thing for the cast. They like to know that I’m there.

I talked to Sherryl last year too. She’s still an executive producer and reads through the scripts like she did last year?

Oh yeah, she’s great. I love Sherryl. She definitely gets involved.

For those who have read the books…I know there was some variances last year, but it followed the heart of the books, at least from what I understand. So for season two, how well does it follow the books?

I see the book as a jumping-off point.  Obviously, we have to make modifications for a television series. Sheryl always understood that, but we try to stay as close as we can to the characters. The main characters in the book are the basis of our series.  But as we proceed, if you want to go seven years, you better evolve and change each season. And then you still want to give the viewers and the readers who came to the television series what they initially bought going in.

I know there were some characters that were added this year. I recognized some of the actors who joined the cast. So would you say there are lots of new characters?

There are some. There are romances for everybody. I think the audience enjoys that.  We created some of those people, and I think a very solid mainstay of this series is the romantic relationships that happen with the boyfriends and girlfriends of the brothers and sisters of the O’Brien family.

I believe you’ve done other things for Hallmark, correct?

Yes, I’ve done a bunch of movies for them.

with Treat Williams

That’s what I thought. So what do you appreciate about working for Hallmark?

First of all, I like the fact that with everything today being so dark, whether it’s Amazon or Hulu or Netflix, there’s really only dark and edgy shows out there. For instance,  Breaking Bad, which is a great show by the way, but still dark and edgy. But with Hallmark, you can do a show that reaches a very wide tent, if you will.  Kids, their parents, their grandparents can watch the show together, so it’s family programming, and I like that. It’s something a little bit different than the other fare that you can get on other networks. The people at Hallmark generally let you do your thing. They’re involved, but they’re pleasant to work with.  They’re helpful. They have ideas, and they certainly know their brand much better than I do. That’s a big help for me in keeping within the parameters ’cause I sometimes try to stretch the envelope a bit.  I think our audiences are always evolving and you have to keep up with that,  but again not going against the Hallmark brand completely. That would be foolish.

I absolutely love Hallmark, but I do appreciate when they stretch it just a little bit. Not to the point where you would wonder if you were still on Hallmark, but I noticed last season with Chesapeake Shores how they dealt with real family issues, and they dealt with it in such a way that I would have no problem with my teenage daughter or my parents watching it. I am so glad I don’t have to sit there and worry that something is going to come up on Hallmark that will shock me or I’ll feel bad about the rest of the family seeing it. The show dealt with divorced families and child custody and other real issues families could relate to.

Exactly. I think we’re dealing with life.  I don’t wanna dock life for the sake of fantasy.  It is nice to get involved in issues that people can discuss and relate to.  I think that’s important for the success of the show. If it was all positive all the time, nobody would want to watch it. It’s gotta be based on some realities.The real question, Ruth, is to what degree do you want to take it?  HBO, for example, will do some things that go a lot further than we would ever go obviously, but it doesn’t necessarily make it better.

I know that the fans are going to ask, “How do we get another season of Chesapeake Shores?”

Well, I would have your friends watch the show with you and get those ratings up there. That’s how you get another season.

with Barbara Niven

That’s what I always tell people, so I’m sure we’ll all do that as much as we can. I know people are really looking forward to the show, myself included. 

I have high hopes for this season. I have to tell you, and as a rule, I don’t like to blow smoke at myself certainly, but when I watch these cuts, I can’t wait for the next episode.  There are some really great scenes and the acting has taken a huge leap. These people have really come into their own. It’s a great cast, and they work so well together. We took great pains to cast the right people, but you never know if the chemistry will be there. And that’s just all worked out for us.

I’m certainly looking forward to it. The additions to the cast–Cameron Bancroft, Gregory Harrison, and so many others–we love these actors, and we’ve seen them in other productions, and now they’re on the show.

Yeah, Cameron is great. And Gregory Harrison plays Treat’s {Williams} brother. These guys–Gregory and Treat–were roommates at one time, believe it or not, when they were on Broadway. So they know each other, and everything is very comfortable and seamless with them. When you do see the show, please let me know what you think. In fact, I hope all the viewers will let me know what they think.

I definitely will. And I’ll also let you know what my parents and my daughter think. I do that regularly with Hallmark. Thank you so much, Dan, for taking your time and sharing your views. I really appreciate it.

Thank you, Ruth, for reaching out. And if there’s anything else I can do to help or answer any other questions about the show, please let me know.

The thing I most appreciate about Dan is that he is committed to the show in a way few executive producers are in today’s hectic society. As an individualist who brings incredible experience and dedication to the show, he is one of the many reasons the show is so successful. While most viewers spend much of their time thinking about the actors and their favorite storylines, it is abundantly evident that if Hallmark didn’t have someone like Dan on board, the show would never work as well as it does. He refuses to put sub standard content out there with his name on it, and he does his best to be accessible at all times to the cast and crew of the show. That kind of consistency and devotion is something that gives a stability to the show that makes the viewers feel at ease and truly connect with it. If the cast and crew know that they have the full support of those who are working behind-the-scenes, it allows them to concentrate on doing their job to the best of their abilities without having to worry about peripheral things that shouldn’t be their concern anyway. I think that Dan has labored tirelessly to foster the kind of environment that promotes true creative expression on-set which has, in succession, turned out absolutely phenomenal content that genuinely resonates with the viewers.

I hope that everyone will check out all of Dan’s links below and follow him where applicable. In a world that often seems out-of-control and spiraling downward with no focus in sight, it’s invigorating to have a show where everything and everyone work well together and any on-screen drama is resolved in a logical, positive way that still provides a realistic solution and engaging entertainment. I hope everyone tunes into the Hallmark Channel tomorrow night (August 6th) for the highly anticipated premiere of one of the best shows currently out there (at least, in my opinion)–Chesapeake Shores.

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About the Author

RuthView all posts by Ruth
42-year-old single mother of an active 13-year-old girl Born in Tacoma, WA; lives in Yelm, WA Entertainment Writer Available For Interviews and Reviews Substitute Teacher

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