They all seem to have had realism in mind, the primetime soaps of the 1980s. The first episodes of Falcon Crest showed a common working class family moving to sunny Tuscany Valley in California after inheriting land there. We saw them try to open a winery and face every problem known to wine producers on the west coast, including competition from colleagues. And then everything got out of hand, as it always did on these shows.
The family was the Giobertis, Chase, Maggie and two teenagers. Chase (Robert Foxworth) was determined to make it as a wine producer in spite of fierce opposition and dirty tricks from his own aunt, Angela Channing (Jane Wyman), the most powerful wine mogul in the valley. Most stories on the show revolved around various characters’ attempts to seize control of Falcon Crest, Angela’s lucrative vineyard, and her number one enemy became Richard Channing (David Selby), a multi-talented and equally ruthless businessman. Several seasons into the show it was revealed that Richard was Angela’s son, something most viewers probably suspected long before the contentious couple did. Credibility went out the window already in the second season when Angela’s daughter Julia turned out to be a murderous, gun-wielding nutcase (she would later join a monastery to repent), and things would just get crazier with every new season. Earthquakes and plane crashes eliminated superfluous characters and the writers even found a way of incorporating Nazis, who at one point were planning to kill everyone connected with Falcon Crest in order to locate a treasure that was buried on the grounds. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not really complaining. All this happened at a time when the show was sexy and fun, entertaining and creative, when the characters were colorful and engaging. It was a guilty pleasure but what a pleasure it was.
The writers got desperate
The show went south sometime in 1988. The villains simply got less interesting, the stories seemed familiar and several of the best characters left the show. One obvious telltale sign of the sorry state of the show was the fact that Jane Wyman all but left it in the final season, leaving Angela in a coma that she magically awoke from in the very last episode. As the ratings took a dive the writers got desperate and made the show as violent and ugly as possible, but Falcon Crest nevertheless ran out of (grape) juice. At least the character of Maggie was allowed to leave the show in style; after Chase’s death she had married Richard but drowned when her wedding ring got stuck in the drain at the bottom of their swimming pool. How symbolic.
There was plenty of money spent on the three supersoaps of the ‘80s and Falcon Crest was no exception. There was a lot of glamor, Bill Conti’s main theme was the perfect accompaniment, and unlike Dallas and Dynasty this show had fabulous California locations. Wyman may be an Oscar-winning movie star but most people will probably remember her as Angela Channing, that tough lady who ran her vineyard and family with an iron fist. But my personal favorite would have to be Selby as Richard, a person whose laidback appearance and sense of humor sometimes would lead people into thinking that he isn’t a shark – that was always a mistake. Much like thinking the show’s original realistic approach would last.
Falcon Crest 1981-1990:U.S. Made for TV. 227 episodes. Color. Created by Earl Hamner. Theme: Bill Conti. Cast: Jane Wyman (Angela Channing), Robert Foxworth (Chase Gioberti, 81-87), Susan Sullivan (Maggie Gioberti, 81-89), David Selby (Richard Channing, 82-90), Lorenzo Lamas, Ana Alicia (82-88), William R. Moses (81-86), Margaret Ladd (81-89), Abby Dalton (81-86), Laura Johnson (83-86), Cesar Romero (85-87), Jamie Rose (81-83), Dana Sparks (86-88), John Callahan (86-88), Brett Cullen (86-88), Rod Taylor (88-90), Kristian Alfonso (88-90), Gregory Harrison (89-90), Wendy Phillips (89-90).
Golden Globe: Best Actress (Wyman) 84.
Quote: “Oh, I never eat shark. Call it professional courtesy.” (Selby)