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.