Monday, 4 July 2016

434 Knots Landing

First  viewed  : 26  April  1980

While  the  nation  sweated over  the  fate  of  J.R.  and  the  identity  of  his  assailant  our  thirst  for  all  things  Ewing  was  partly  salved  by  a  spinoff  series  following  the  fortunes  of  errant  middle  brother  Gary  and  his  white  trash  wife  Valene  as  they  started  a  new  life  together,  far  away  from  you-know-who,  in  California.

The  idea  for  Knots  Landing   actually  pre-dated  Dallas  in  the  mind  of   their  creator   David Jacobs  but  it  was  not  until  the  success  of  the  latter  that  he  got  the  green  light  for  it  by transplanting  Gaz  and  Val  into  the  new  setting. It  was  trailed  by  an  episode  early  on  in  the third  season  of  Dallas  where  Gary  appears  with  a  new  head  ( Ted  Shackelford  )   reunites  with  Val  ( an  unchanged  Joan  Van  Ark )  and  Miss  Ellie  buys  them  a  house  in  a   suburban  cul-de-sac  somewhere  in  California.

Gary  and  Valene  were  just  one  of  four  married  couples  in  the  crescent; the  other  three  had  no  connection  to  Dallas.  Their  neighbours  were  Sid  and  Karen  Fairgate  ( former  Monroe  co-star  Don  Murray  and  Michele  Lee )  and  their  three  kids , sleazy  lawyer  Richard  Avery ( John  Pleshette )  and  wife  Laura  ( Constance McCashin ) who  had  one  son  and  a  younger  couple  , record  producer  Kenny  Ward  ( James  Houghton ) and  wife  Ginger  ( Kim  Lankford )  who  were currently  childless. Sid  helps  in  getting  Gary  back  on  his  feet  by  giving  Gary  a  job  at  his   car  dealership.     

Though  relatively  affluent  the  characters  were   middle  class,  not  super-rich  like  the  Ewings   and  subject  to  economic  vicissitudes. Therefore  the  series  had  a  much  greater  emphasis  on contemporary  social  issues  and  more  youth-related  storylines  with  the  Fairgates'  teenage children  to  deploy. In  the  first  couple  of  seasons  there  were  frequent  guest  appearances  by other  more  familiar  Ewings  but  as  the  series  found  its  own  feet  these  were  gradually  phased out.  When  Dallas   "jumped  the  shark "  by  resurrecting  Bobby  from  the  dead, the  producers  of Knots  Landing  decided  to  cut  the  umbilical  cord  and  there  was  no  more  crossover  between the  two  series; as  far  as  Gary  and  Val  were  concerned , Bobby  remained in  his  grave.*

Although  usually  regarded  as  the  poor  relation,  Knots  Landing  eventually  overtook  Dallas  in the  ratings  and  survived  for  long  enough  after  the parent  show's  demise  to  become  the longer-running  of  the  two  shows. It  finished  in  1993  with  an  inevitable  two-part  mini-series  four years  later. Michele  Lee  appeared  in  every  episode.

In  the  UK  the  first  series  went  straight  into  the   Saturday  night  time  slot  vacated  by  Dallas. It  took  some  getting  used  to  because  it  was  so  different  from  Dallas  but  it  finished  very strongly  with  a  harrowing  two-parter  when  Gary  fell  off  the  wagon  and  you  saw  a  whole different  side  to  him . Both  Shackelford  and  Van  Ark  were  terrific  in  it  and  established  Gary and  Valene  as  strong  characters  in  their  own  right.

The  second  series  a  year  later  was  switched  to  Friday  nights.  It  saw  the  introduction  of  Donna  Mills  ( Clint  Eastwood's  girlfriend  in  Play  Misty  For  Me )  as  Sid's  sister  Abby  , a  homewrecker  and  all  round  nightmare  who  quickly  became  the  series'  J.R.  figure. She  was  a  plus  but  the  series  was  a  bit  uneven. There  was  a  strong  episode  where  the  Fairgates' youngest  son  turned  out  to  have  ADHD  , all  the  better  for  not  having  a  glib  conclusion  and then  a  terrible  one  where  their   eldest  son  saves  an  overdose  victim  and  the  other  characters keep  saying  he  is " the  man  of  the  hour"  ad  nauseam.

At  the end  of  the  season,  Sid's   sabotaged  car  plunged  off  a  cliff  leaving  him  on  life  support. We  had  a  long  wait  to  learn  his  fate  as  the  series  didn't  return  until  September  1983 , again  on  Fridays. Don  Murray  wanted  to  quit  the  series  so  Sid  eventually  copped  it  in  Episode  Two. I  may  have  seen  one  more  episode  before  I  headed  off  to  university  and  abandoned  Knots  Landing  for  good. Just  as  well  really  because  the  Beeb   axed   it  before  the  season  was  complete  that  December.

I  can't  remember  too  much  protest  at  the  time. It  was  reinstated  almost  three  years  later  when  it  became  part  of  the  new  daytime  schedule  in  October  1986. I  remember  Wogan  being  pretty  sarky  about  "the  long-awaited  return  of  Knots  Landing"  and  I  never  watched  any  more  of  it. To  its  credit  the  Beeb  started  it  where  they  had  left  off   and  showed  the  entire  series, though  always  at  least  three  years  behind  the  US , through  to  the  finish, which  in  the  UK  came  in  1996.

* Gary  and  Val  appeared  briefly  in  the  recent  revival  of  Dallas   with  Bobby  but   of  course   Knots  Landing  was  long  since  over  by  then.      

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