|Most of the original cast, before the show tried to keep up with the Joneses and glamorized itself to death|
The "middle class" party line that its creators and stars like to emphasize really only applied to the first four seasons of "Knots Landing." I acknowledge that the 1979-1983 seasons of the show are sublime in how it examined the foibles of modern marriage and middle class angst in a way that was unique and humane. The shallow and misogynist "Desperate Housewives" never came close to tapping into the reservoirs of emotion that those first four years did. During that time, "Knots Landing" truly was about middle class suburbanites and this was reflected in the fact that Donna Mills's vixenish and scheming Abby Cunningham was more a neighborhood troublemaker than the high-powered mogul she later became. The argument that the show was more "realistic" and "down-to-earth" really applied during those first four years. (Even then, it should be noted that the show was clearly about the UPPER middle class, who could afford a nice home on a cul-de-sac and were working as attorneys, music producers, and owned car dealerships. There was a comfortable lifestyle depicted in those early years that was still alien to many working class viewers, who struggled to make ends meet with their low-paying jobs.)
|JR visits Knots Landing in a "special guest villain" appearance|
During this time when it was comparatively more grounded in reality, "Knots Landing" was a show that was doing moderately in the ratings. It was dwarfed by the success of "Dallas" because viewers at that time probably didn't find anything particularly exciting about "Knots" compared to the epic storytelling of "Dallas." It was only in the 5th season, when the show introduced William Devane's mysterious and powerful Greg Sumner, and the show started moving away from depicting the mundane aspects of suburbia by focusing on stories about corporate intrigue and organized crime, that "Knots Landing" started becoming more of a ratings winner. Characters like John Pleshette's troubled and mercurial attorney Richard Avery (he deserved an Emmy for that role), and the newlywed couple Kenny and Ginger Ward (James Houghton and Kim Lankford), who were key to establishing the community suburban atmosphere in Seaview Circle, were phased out during this time as the show moved further away from scenes depicting curbside conversation and more towards boardroom boredom. Even though I liked Devane's work on "Knots Landing" and feel that he created a compelling character, at times there was far too much of him on the series for my liking. Sometimes "Knots Landing" felt like it had become "The William Devane Hour." (I once met John Pleshette in a bookstore in Los Angeles and complained about this direction to "Knots Landing." He seemed to acknowledge this and joked that the show became "Dallas in California" by the time he left.)
|Scene from the pilot episode, before the glamorous clothes and the facelifts ruined everything...|
"Dallas" did a good job of maintaining our interest with its corporate intrigue storylines because there was an emotional basis for them. JR was constantly trying to build Ewing Oil into being bigger and more powerful than what his daddy Jock Ewing had created in an effort to try to win his father's approval and love. Bobby got involved with Ewing Oil at his wife Pam's encouragement, at least in the beginning, in order to move away from being the company's "pimp" and become a man of substance and character. I never felt there was the same motivation on "Knots Landing" for its characters to become involved in such larger-than-life corporate storylines. Abby Cunningham simply wanted to be richer and more powerful. I know I'm simplifying matters by stating that, but that's all there was to it. (Even "Falcon Crest" did a better job with these sorts of business-oriented storylines, due to Angela Channing's determination to carry on her grandfather's legacy with the winery he created. There was never such a legacy with the characters of "Knots Landing" to warrant its emphasis on such stories.)
|Donna Mills ponders how she can drag her show in an upscale direction in this scene from the second season.|
As much as I like her, Donna Mills is one of the leading and most egregious perpetrators in the ongoing hypocrisy of "Knots Landing." She has boasted in interviews as to how she urged the writers in the early seasons to make Abby richer and more powerful, like JR on "Dallas" was. She has talked about how she urged the producers to shell out for a better wardrobe for the female cast members in the 3rd or 4th seasons because people want to watch escapism when they watch television. These days, because depictions of wealthy characters are less politically correct, you'll find Mills contradicting herself and claiming that "Knots Landing" was unique because it was about "us" (the middle class) rather than "them" (the wealthy and powerful). This is blatant hypocrisy since Mills was the leading proponent in the early seasons of "Knots Landing" to urge the producers to move away from the suburban milieu in favor of something more glamorous.
|When the show was truly "middle class," albeit "upper"|
Even now, the ongoing elitism of "Knots Landing" persists. These days, when the cast of "Knots" is interviewed and asked if there is a chance that it could be revived the way TNT has revived "Dallas," they usually say that "Dallas" was more likely to be revived because there will always be an on-going interest in the so-called "1%" of society, whereas "Knots Landing" was less lauded on an international basis because it was purportedly more "believable" and "intimate." That's a load of hogwash. I direct your attention to the 5th season storyline about the Wolfbridge Group organized crime syndicate, the 6th Season storyline involving Val's Babies (and its entanglement with the introduction of Howard Duff's powerful Paul Galveston), and the 7th Season storyline involving Empire Valley (which involved the building of an underground espionage communications headquarters) to refute these claims that the show was more grounded in "reality."
|"Hi...I'm here to take over your show..."|
The truth of the matter is that "Knots Landing," for all its good qualities, simply was never as popular as "Dallas," which is why it is less likely to be revived on TNT the way "Dallas" has. "Dallas" featured amazing characters whose popularity and appeal crossed over on an international basis--and it never tried to pretend to be something that it wasn't. "Knots Landing" had more of a "niche" appeal and, as with anything that attracts a "niche" audience, a ridiculous form of reverse-snobbery developed with "Knots Landing" against "Dallas." "Knots Landing," and its personnel and constituents, repeatedly tout its purported superiority to "Dallas." They constantly compare themselves to "Dallas" rather than try to stand on their own. The irony is, "Knots Landing" tries too hard to build a legacy for itself when the reality is, if there's a legacy to be built for "Knots Landing," others will build it for them. "Knots" and its personnel would not have to do it for themselves if it were real. (The lukewarm ratings that greeted the 2005 2-hour CBS Reunion special "Knots Landing: Together Again," as well as the lackluster sales for the Season 1 and 2 DVDs, bear this out.)
|The underrated and underutilized Larry Riley and Lynne Moody, who were often short-shrifted in terms of screen time on "Knots Landing"|
For all of its airs, "Knots Landing" was still mostly a show about financially secure Caucasians. Its only ethnically diverse characters, the African American Williams family (played by the talented Larry Riley, Lynne Moody, and Kent Masters King) who joined the show in 1988, were often relegated to the sidelines and rarely had any stories of substance. Nevertheless, "Knots Landing" patted themselves on their backs for introducing the Williams family, as if they had done them a favor, but in the end never did much to substantially utilize them. Their characters were introduced as being in the witness protection program and, unfortunately, that was about it. They were primarily written as a plot device in terms of how they related to the other characters on the show, but the writers never allowed them to stand on their own as significant characters. It was a waste of the talents of these actors. (For the record, I am the last person in the world who believes that television needs to be politically correct or ethnically diverse, but if you're going to continue patting yourself on the back for your much-vaunted realism, you should be called out on it.) As someone who grew up in Southern California in a neighborhood that was populated by a combination of Caucasian, African American, Hispanic, and Asian American households, "Knots Landing" seemed hardly "realistic."
|A realistic show about "middle class America"?...um, really?|
I find it annoying that "Knots Landing" fans narcissistically speculate as to whether any of its characters, besides Gary and Val, will turn up on TNT's new "Dallas." There are too many characters from "Dallas's" rich history, such as Donna Krebbs (Susan Howard), Katharine Wentworth (Morgan Brittany), and Holly Harwood (Lois Chiles), who I'd rather see brought back before we even speculate as to whether they'll incorporate any "Knots" characters. I also wish "Knots" personnel and constituents would stop citing the fact that it was originally created before "Dallas" was created. At the end of the day, "So what?" It appears to be another tactic in an increasingly futile and desperate effort to establish the purported supremacy of a show that does not even generate enough DVD sales for Warner Brothers to even consider releasing further seasons of the show on its DVD-on-Demand mail order service, Warner Archive. While it's true that CBS asked creator David Jacobs, when he first proposed "Knots Landing" to them, to come up with another prime time soap that was more epic in-scope, and he came up with "Dallas," the fact remains that CBS only became interested in actually putting "Knots Landing" on the air when "Dallas" became a runaway hit, and only then if Jacobs could somehow make it a spin-off of "Dallas." It doesn't matter what was conceived first: "Knots Landing" still needed "Dallas" to get on the air. At the end of the day, in more ways than one, "Knots Landing," in order to be relevant, remains dependent on "Dallas" more than "Dallas" ever needed "Knots Landing."