Original airdate: December 27th, 1979 to March 27th, 1980
Episode running time: 47 minutes
Creator David Jacobs
Cast: Ted Shackelford, Joan Van Ark, Don Murray, Michele Lee, James Houghton, Kim Lankford, John Pleshette, Constance McCashin, David James Carroll, Patrick Duffy, Larry Hagman, Charlene Tilton, Julie Harris and Karen Allen
Although I’ve spent most of my life living in the UK, my heart has always belonged to American television shows. Where I grew up they were always on, whether it was Dallas, Dynasty, Falcon Crest or even the daytime soap opera The Young & The Restless, they were magnificent shows to experience in the 80s, but maybe not as a child. I was exposed to a life of excess, decadence, murder, betrayal and a level of sauciness that sometimes forced my mother to shield my eyes with her hands, but there was one show that remained my favourite because it always felt so down to Earth, at least in comparison to the others.
Although launched as a spin-off to the hugely popular Dallas, Knots Landing was actually conceived before that show had even started. Series creator David Jacobs had pitched the idea to the network but they wanted something a little more glitzy. What they got was Dallas and while the show was taking off the network decided to give Knots Landing a go, allowing Jacobs to incorporate characters originally introduced in the parent series.
Set on the Californian coast in a fictional cul-de-sac called Knots Landing and loosely inspired by the 1973 Ingmar Bergman television miniseries Scenes From A Marriage, the show would feature four down-to-Earth married couples. It starts with Dallas‘ Gary (Ted Shackelford) and Val Ewing (Joan Van Ark) moving into their new home, bought for them by Ellie Ewing. To see them off is another familiar face, Bobby Ewing (Patrick Duffy). Gary and Val haven’t had the easiest of times at Southfork with the Ewing family and this was always down to the meddling of the show’s main antagonist, J.R. Ewing (Larry Hagman) and Knots Landing is a chance for the couple to start over.
No sooner than they arrive they start to meet their neighbours and realise this is a rather close knit community. There’s Karen (Michele Lee) and Sid Fairgate (Don Murray) and their three children who form what seems like the perfect family. Further down there’s immediately unlikeable Richard (John Pleshette) and his charming wife and dutiful wife Laura Avery (Constance McCashin) and not too far away we have record executive and womaniser Kenny (James Houghton) and his wife, kindergarten teacher Ginger (Kim Lankford).
At first Val’s hesitant about being part of such a community. With her southern accent, ribbons in her hair and somewhat demure ways, as well as all what she’s suffered back in Southfork, she feels she won’t fit in and that this isn’t the place for them. This soon changes once they’re settled in and Gary finds work as a car salesman with Sid. The couple soon become intertwined in the lives of their neighbours, helping them overcome problems with their teenage children, motorcycle gangs and even corporations that want to dig for oil in the nearby ocean.
I came to Knots Landing quite late on in the mid-80s, at the height of storylines such as the kidnapping of Val’s twins, as well as the scheming of Abbey Cunningham (Donna Mills) and Greg Sumner (William Devane), not to mention Olivia Cunningham’s (Tonya Crowe) drug problem, so it was quite an experience to return to the show over 25 years later and see it right from the start.
For me, there’s always a charm and air of nostalgia as I look back on shows from this time period. The clothes, the cars, home decor and the general way we see people going about their daily lives; it feels as if things were less complicated back then. Maybe I think that because it was only a child back then, but I don’t that’s it at all. Think back to the time before we had mobile phones, the internet and home computers, wasn’t it simply? Did it seem like you spent more with your family and friends rather than texting, emailing and tweeting?
Knots Landing also reminds me what community spirit means. That time when we knew our neighbours, when their kids played in the streets, when folks had garden parties in the summer and invited families from across the road for dinner to discuss how changes in the town would affect life for us all.
The storylines in this first season are episodic, meaning that the story-arcs the show became famous for didn’t start until season two. Conflicts would arise but they’d often be resolved by the episode’s end. Some are better handled than others; for example when Val goes back to school and has to study for a big test, she learns what it means to have her friends and husband support her. We also see Karen attracted to a handsome young teacher, David Crane (David James Carroll) at her daughter’s school and faced with the prospect of either committing adultery or returning home to her predictable but dependable and all round good guy husband, Sid.
Elsewhere we see Laura becoming a victim to a brutal rape and hiding the real facts from everyone, thus allowing for the rapist to go unpunished. The incident is never brought up again and Laura only exhibits effects from this traumatic experience in this single episode. However, the season’s two-episode storyline focusing on Gary’s violent return to drinking and the effect it has on Val and the community more than made up for how the show handled Laura’s rape as this would be something Gary continued to struggle with. Despite these bleak themes, Knots Landing was a show with many funny and touching moments. Examples of this is when Karen outsmarts J.R. when he arrives in town for an oil deal, and later on when Val sees the ocean for the first time, symbolising a sense of freedom she’s always longed for.
Featuring guest appearances from Patrick Duffy, Larry Hagman, Charlene Tilton, Julie Harris and Karen Allen, season one of Knots Landing introduces us to a core set of characters that audiences the world over would love for the next fourteen seasons and who would go on to become icons of television. From its humble beginnings it showed us a hit television show didn’t always need the glitz of Dynasty or the wealth of Dallas, and that sometimes all it took was just a group of ordinary, decent folks we could relate to.
The founder of Static Mass Emporium and one of its Editors in Chief is a composer and music producer with a philosophy degree. Static Mass is where he lives his passion for film and writing about it. A fan of film classics, documentaries and World Cinema, Patrick prefers films with an impeccable way of storytelling that reflect on the human condition.
You can find his music on Soundcloud .