Christine's take on what was cool in the 80s.

Knots Landing

cast-from left to right: Joan Van Ark, Ted Shackleford, Nicollette Sheridan, William Devane, Michele Lee. Seated: Donna Mills and Kevin Dobson

I was drawn into Knots Landing simply because my mum watched it. It was interesting so I didn’t do what I usually do if she was watching something I didn’t like ie: go to my room and listen to music/practice drumming, so, I watched it with her, as did my brother. The three of us became totally addicted and rarely if ever missed an episode.

1st season: Ted, Joan, Don Murray, Michele, Constance MCcashin and John Pleshette

The show, which was actually conceived of first, was a spin off of the immensely popular Dallas. It was a soap opera that centered on four married couples living in a cul de sac, Seaview Circle, in a fictional suburb of L.A. (Knots Landing) They were: Gary and Val Ewing – freshly in from Dallas; Sid and Karen Fairgate; Richard and Laura Avery and Kenny and Ginger Ward. It sounds fairly dull but it was anything but that. Quite the opposite, Knots Landing included drug smuggling, corporate intrigue, criminal investigations, kidnapping, and of course rape and murder. By the time of its conclusion, Knots Landing had become one of the longest-running primetime dramas on U.S. television. Frankly, it was like crack and although initially not as popular as Dallas, Knots Landing eventually outlasted it and garnered much critical acclaim. The series peaked during the 1983–84 season with a 20.8 rating (finishing in 11th place) and a 20.0 rating for the 1984–85 season (when it finished 9th). By the 1988–89 season, Knots Landing was ahead of the infamous Dallas in the ratings.

The show had a massive impact on me as I so very badly wanted a friendship like Val (Joan Van Ark) and Karen (Michele Lee) had. I adored Karen; she was the moral center of the show but she was never bland and she was loyal to the Nth degree. I think it’s fair to say I wanted to grow up to be exactly like her. Perhaps oddly, another character that had a huge impact on me was Greg (the awesome William Devane). Sadly, I didn’t turn out as rich as him but I adored his dry humor and cutting to the quick of a problem, which I also picked up. What worked for a TV character may not be best for the real world though – I’m quite blunt – as was Greg.  You really can’t answer the phone with: ‘speak’ ;p btw… my friendship wish was granted in that I actually do have the absolute best, best friend that anyone could ever hope to have :)

Back: Lisa Hartman, Julie Harris, Constance McCashin, Teri Austin
Seated: Michele Lee, Joan Van Ark and Donna Mills

As well as wonderful writing, the cast were absolute fantastic. The characters were engaging, layered and you were genuinely interested in them. Unfortunately, however, Val became a bit of a joke near the end and we, the audience, would often be saying ‘poor Val’ – because if something horrible was going to happen it often happened to Val. Eventually we had a character who became totally sick of Val and tried to kill her and she used the phrase ‘Poor Val’ a lot while taunting her and explaining why she was killing her. It was amusing to me to be perfectly honest because the ‘poor Val’ thing was really played out. You can only torture a character so much before it loses impact – and Knots ran 14 seasons. My memory may be failing me (it’s been a long time!) but I don’t recall Val getting a break in any of those 14 years. I may be wrong on that – but suffice it to say, Val was a long, long suffering character.

The show was rich in interesting characters and with many of them being hot women and my brother fell in love with a lot of them. His first was Donna Mills’ Abby. Then he (and every other male on the planet) swooned over Lisa Hartman’s Ciji, then Nicollette Sheridan’s Paige and finally Michelle Phillips’ Anne. We girls had Alec Baldwin for a while but – at least for me – the manly men of ‘Mack’ and Greg were also totally marriable ^.^

Anyway, if you haven’t seen Knots Landing I can’t recommend it highly enough. Whether it be on DVD or reruns, watch it. You won’t be disappointed.  Below is a brief character synopsis of some characters. Apologies if it goes on. I’ll try not to do all of them – only the ones that stood out for me or were important. There may be spoilers too, so beware.

Gary Ewing (Ted Shackleford) The son of Jock and Ellie Ewing, first introduced in the TV series Dallas. Gary, the middle Ewing son between J.R & Bobby, was the family black sheep and a recovering alcoholic. He’s the true love of Valene’s life. I didn’t really like Gary that much as he horribly weak. At least to me. He was also rarely if ever interesting. I could be doing the character an injustice of course, as I was young when I watched it and your perspectives change as you get older but, going by memory, Gary was incredibly bland and that’s pretty much all I have to say about him.

Valene Clemments Ewing (Joan Van Ark) The true love of Gary’s life. Valene originally came from Tennessee and married Gary while they were still in their teens, but she was outcast from the Ewing family by J.R. After she and Gary remarried, they moved to Knots Landing where she became Karen’s neighbor and best friend. ‘Poor Val’. I enjoyed her friendship with Karen, although Val tended to need support more then Karen – but – she was there for Karen and she was a good person – which is probably why so much crap happened to her. On the upside, she became a published writer and had a unique strength of her own that you admired.

Karen Fairgate Mackenzie (Michele Lee) The principal character of Knots Landing & mother of Diana, Eric and Michael Fairgate. Karen worked as a community activist and eventually at Knots Landing Motors and Lotus Point. One of my ultimate favorite characters, Karen was strong, astute, intelligent and caring. She also had great morals and her relationships were stable and romantic. I’m making her sound perfect – and in my eyes she all but was – but she had her flaws too. Michele played her brilliantly as well, earning herself an Emmy nomination in the process.  Karen just rocked.

Sidney Fairgate (Don Murray) Karen’s first husband, and the owner of Knots Landing Motors. Hard working, fair and at times stubborn, Sid was the emotional rock of the show during the first 2 seasons. I won’t say how or why Sid leaves the show in case you haven’t seen it but he was a really decent guy and I liked him a lot. Sorry I can’t say more but he was only in it for 2 seasons and it’s been a long time since I’ve seen the show. They really need to hurry up with those DVD’s :/

M. Patrick ‘Mack’ Mackenzie (Kevin Dobson) Karen’s second husband; an attorney who worked for the Governor’s office before opening his own private practice. He talks tough with a heavy East Coast accent, but has a heart of gold. He first met Karen when he worked as the Federal Prosecutor. After getting married, Mack was determined to get Karen to believe in almost everything he did, whether it was honest or not. Mack simply rocked. He was strong, no-nonsense and tough but also the sweetest person ever. I loved Mack and he was often my hero. Simply, he’s the kind of guy you want as your husband.

Abby Fairgate Cunningham (Donna Mills) Sid’s sister, and the neighborhood troublemaker, to put it mildly. Abby was the one to keep your eye on. She’d steal your guy and plot and scheme to get what she wanted. However, like the other characters, she had layers and wasn’t totally heartless. There were lines she wouldn’t cross and she would do anything for her children. Another marvelous character and very entertaining to watch, Donna played her wonderfully.

Laura Avery Sumner (Constance McCashin) The wife of Richard Avery, and later, Greg Sumner. Initially a housewife, she later became a successful real estate agent. Her first husband, Richard (played by John Pleshette), was a failure and a jerk & their marriage was an unhappy one.  After their divorce, he fled town. This was the result of Laura suspecting Richard of murdering her friend Ciji (Lisa Hartman), since he had a hostility toward their friendship. Laura was another character I loved. She was sweet, gentle but conversely had a quiet strength about her that you couldn’t help but admire. She was a poignant character.

Greg Sumner (William Devane) Mack’s ex-best friend and classmate who attended law school with him and even offered him a job working for the crime commission. Initially a politician, Greg became a businessman after inheriting father’s corporation. You wouldn’t want to cross Greg. He could be ruthless in business; he’d do pretty much whatever it took to get what he wanted. Again, however, he wasn’t totally without a heart and was capable of showing great love – especially to Laura. Bill Devane played him brilliantly and apparently the writers let him re-write things to make them ‘more Greg’. He was an absolute joy to watch and I’m a fan of his to this day.

Ciji Dunne (1982–1983)/Cathy Geary Rush (1983–1986). Ciji and Cathy were both singers. Ciji was murdered, leaving almost everyone in Knots Landing as a suspect. Some months later, Ciji’s doppelganger Cathy Geary showed up after being released from prison. The doppelganger who were both singers is very daytime soap but the truth of the matter was – everyone loved Lisa and simply didn’t care – she was actually brought back by popular demand so we couldn’t complain b/c we were too happy to see her back…. Anyway, both characters were very sweet and talented, and despite it all, the stories that both chars were involved in were engaging.

Joshua Rush (Alec Baldwin) Val’s half brother who was abandoned by her mother as a baby. He came to Knots Landing as a rather innocent young preacher. He later became a televangelist and married Cathy Geary. Joshua was only in the show a year so I don’t remember that much about him other than he started out a really sweet guy then became not-so-sweet later due to a breakdown. As usual though, Alec was great and played the character arc believably.

Jill Bennett (Teri Austin) A brief colleague of Mack’s and later Gary’s mistress. Jill’s story and character were interesting from nearly the beginning. She and her brother initially had come to get even with Greg, whose father had screwed over their father (or something [again, it's been a while so forgive me!]). Jill’s story segued away from that somewhat and instead she fell for Gary and seemed to forget about her revenge plot. Or did she? ;p  Teri is a great actress and did a great job with Jill. She could be scheming, vulnerable, loving and cold. She was another one to watch the show for.

Paige Matheson (Nicollette Sheridan) Mack’s daughter with Anne Matheson. Paige was another handful. She faked her own death, accidentally killed her boyfriend, was shot and kidnapped to name but a few things. She was another character that plotted and schemed her way around and as I heard someone say – she was a devilish delight and Nicollette played her magnificently, wining herself awards for the character. Simply, Nicollette’s Paige was just another reason to dig in, just sit back and thoroughly enjoy Knots Landing.

Anne Winston Matheson (Michelle Phillips) Paige’s mother and Mack’s first love, Anne was from the jet set and often left her daughter in boarding schools if she wasn’t dragging her around the world. She had sincerely loved Mack, however, and it was her parents that split them up, believing he wasn’t good enough for her. You understood Paige more once you were introduced to Anne. Another plotter and schemer with little morals, Anne was another one you had to be on the lookout for and unlike Abby, Anne didn’t mind if she meddled with – or hurt – Paige. Paige was used to her mother’s ways, however, and rather than weep in a corner would strike back. Anne was devious but unlike say, Abby or her daughter, Anne’s grand schemes often fell through. Michelle made her a fun character to watch, despite some of her later storylines being a bit iffy.

Claudia Sumner Whittaker (Kathleen Noone) Greg Sumner’s sister, who moved to town under the guise of accompanying her daughter for college; in reality, she wanted to meddle in Greg’s affairs. Like Anne, Claudia was fun to watch and the two had some wonderful scenes together that made up for the later flagging couple of seasons of the show. Claudia’s daughter btw…was the most boring bland person on the planet. If I recall correctly, I often wanted her to oh, I dunno…die. Sadly for me, Claudia was extremely protective of her. Over protective, actually. Anyway, don’t get me wrong – Claudia wasn’t all about comedic scenes with Anne – she was not a nice woman, although she was extremely strong and charismatic – which I loved.

Knots Landing had some boring characters too of course that I only recall now due to researching and refreshing my memory for this page. However, they were few and far between and overall the show was obviously successful because it really was truly excellent. It also kickstarted some excellent careers – like Alec Baldwin & Halle Berry as well as had some wonderful guest stars such as Ava Gardner, Karen Allen, Bruce Greenwood, Helen Hunt, Gary Sinise, Doug Savant, Marcia Cross, Michael York and Billy Bob Thornton – as well as cross over stars from Dallas – Larry Hagman (JR) and Patrick Duffy (Bobby). Julie Harris (perhaps most famous for playing opposite James Dean in East of Eden) was also present as Valene’s mother. Tonya Crowe was great as Abby’s eldest, Olivia, and Brian Austin Greene played Abby’s young son, Brian.

Overall, the show was wonderfully dramatic and mixed the real world with the glamorous world wonderfully and it was certainly far more interesting than the overly flashy and tacky Dallas. This may sound odd – but there was more grit to it or something. Anyway, it’s a show I really miss and when (and if) they ever release a box set – it’s mine!

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