Sunday, August 30, 2015

An Introduction To KNOTS LANDING


 

AN INTRODUCTION TO KNOTS LANDING
 

 

                Without hyperbole, I can say that Knots Landing is amongst the very greatest television series to ever grace the small screen.  To know Knots Landing is to know true joy.  When you watch Knots Landing, your life is changed.  When you finish Knots Landing, you are a different person.  When you finish Knots Landing, you are a better person.  There are very few things in this world that are as pure and as sublimely magical as the majestic, transcendent experience known as Knots Landing.

                Knots Landing is a spinoff of Dallas, but it was actually conceived first.  Sometime in 1977, David Jacobs went to CBS with the idea of a Scenes-From-A-Marriage-type show following the lives of four married couples living on a cul-de-sac.  Unable to see the brilliance of this concept, CBS passed on this and asked for a series with “more glamour.”  The result: Dallas.

                Now, obviously this is a Knots Landing blog and not a Dallas blog, but even still, the two series were conceived and created by the same person and they do exist in the same universe, although that was much more prevalent during the first half of the 1980’s.  After the 1985-1986 season (when Bobby Ewing “died” and then was revived and it was revealed that the entire season had been a dream), the two shows severed ties with each other and the crossovers ended, aside from Gary and Val appearing in the 1991 series finale of Dallas entitled Conundrum. 

Anyway, Dallas began as a five episode miniseries during the 1977-1978 season, and it was then picked up for a second season from 1978 to 1979, and it was actually in the premiere of the second season that we first met Gary and Val.  The next season, 1979-1980, while Dallas was pumping along with its third season and starting to become monumentally popular (it would finish that season at #6 in the Nielsen ratings and it would finish the next season at #1), David Jacobs took the opportunity to use Gary and Val as his gateway into Knots Landing.

                In the Dallas episode entitled Return Engagements (which originally aired December 20th, 1979), Gary and Val were officially reunited, got remarried, and were given a house in California as a gift from Miss Ellie Ewing.  They flew out to California and their own series premiered the next week.  The rest, as they say, is history.  For fourteen glorious seasons, we watched the drama and hijinks and shenanigans of life on the cul-de-sac.  There were marital spats, divorces, affairs, rapes, murders, kidnappings, political intrigue, espionage, abusive husbands, alcoholic benders, shocking deaths, and it was all so very good.  Why, then, does nobody seem to remember this series?

                That is the purpose of this blog.  Both Dallas and Knots Landing had 14 seasons, but while everybody over the age of 30 seems to remember Dallas very well (maybe in part because of its shitty sequel series on TNT?), nobody nowadays seems to remember Knots Landing, and for the life of me, I can’t figure out why.  I’ll just say right now that I think Knots Landing (or KL, as I shall be abbreviating it from now on) is the far, far better show.  Indeed, I really do think it’s one of the greatest television series of all time.  In terms of my own personal television show rankings, I put KL as my second favorite series of all time, right behind David Lynch’s brilliant Twin Peaks.  Yet the series was just never as popular as Dallas.  While Dallas spent half the ‘80s as either #1 or #2 in the Nielsen ratings, KL only hit the top ten during one season (its sixth, which would be the 1984-1985 season), where it finished at #9.  By the time KL was getting better ratings than its parent series (which would be the 1988-1989 season, the tenth for KL and the twelfth for Dallas), the ratings for both shows had fallen quite a bit from their previous glory, as the nighttime soap was beginning to die off at this point.  However, as further proof that artistic quality and mainsteam popularity often do not coincide with each other (let’s reflect on the sickening fact that the series Friends was on for ten whole years and spent all ten of those years within the top ten in the Nielsen ratings!), KL may never have achieved the popularity of its parent series, yet it was a much better series as well as being far more artistic and mature.

                My KL story actually begins with Dallas.  I watched that series first (as all 14 seasons were/are easily available on DVD), along with my brother.  Brother and I loved the series, well, for the most part.  When we finished the series, we agreed that the show was best from about 1978 to 1985.  As anyone who watched that series will remember, things take a pretty sharp decline towards the absurd with the 1985-1986 season, and things only got more ridiculous when they decided to bring Bobby Ewing (Patrick Duffy) back from the dead during the 1986-1987 season and declare all the events of the prior year a “dream” inside of Pam’s (Victoria Principal) imagination.  After this, things were never the same, and honestly, those last few seasons are a real slog.  We persevered because we wanted to watch the whole thing, but my goodness, did that series ever drag on.  Sadly, by the time we finished it, we were totally burned out and happy to be done with the series, as it had gone on far too long and lost most of its previous glory.

                After finishing Dallas, I became curious about KL.  Whenever Gary and/or Val would show up for an episode of Dallas, I would remind myself that they were coming from their own spinoff but wasn’t in a terrible hurry to see that series.  After all, nobody ever really talked about it, right?  So I figured the spinoff must not be as good as the original.  However, since the first two seasons of KL were available on DVD, and since I was curious mostly to see the crossover episodes with Larry Hagman or Patrick Duffy, I decided to check them out.  Now, upon first viewing, I was very underwhelmed by these first two seasons.  I watched them, I finished them, and then I sorta forgot about the series for awhile, dismissing it as “Not as good as Dallas.”  But then something happened.  As time went by, I started thinking about the series more, wondering it if improved as it went along.  I started to read about some of the developments from later in the series and I started to feel a desire to keep watching.  But seasons 3-14 of the series were not available on DVD, and there appeared to be no plans to release it!  What to do?

                Eventually, I actually found a seller through YouTube who had all 14 seasons and was willing to sell me disks at a very reasonable price.  Intrigued but nervous about getting screwed over, I sent her enough money (cash in the mail!  I sent cash in the mail!  Imagine what Karen would say!) to get seasons 3, 4, and 5.  I figured if I didn’t like it after five seasons, it just wouldn’t be my series.  I was very pleased as the seller sent the disks right away, so I got started with watching these disks, and that’s when my love started to grow.

                I will say right off the bat that I believe the first three seasons of KL are its worst.  This is not to say they are bad per se, but I can see why someone might watch these seasons and not feel terribly compelled to proceed with the series.  These early shows tend to be “bottle episodes,” meaning that they deal with some conflict which is then wrapped up after 48 minutes.  This is unlike Dallas, which was a full-on nighttime soap by the time KL started, but I don’t think you can really call those first three years of KL “soap.”  Really, it’s more like a little movie every week.  Maybe this week evil bikers come to town and cause havoc, but then they are exiled and run away just in time for the ending credits (one of the worst episodes of the series, Land of the Free, but one which I am very eager to discuss).  Or perhaps a bunch of evil burglars hijack a baby shower and hold all the women hostage, but don’t worry, because those burglars are taken away by the cops before the hour is up (Moments of Truth).

                That’s not to say that there are no continuing storylines in these early years.  In season two, we have the affair of Richard (John Pleshette) and Abby (Donna Mills), which lasts pretty much the whole season, and we also have a continuing storyline involving Sid (Don Murray) making an environmentally conscious car engine, which eventually leads into a storyline involving mobsters and a whole series of events that lead to Sid leaving the series early in season three.  However, for the most part, these first three years are self contained.  You finish an episode and you don’t feel a drive to jump into the next one because you feel that the “issue of the week” has been nicely wrapped up.

                However, this all changes gloriously in the fourth season (1982-1983).  You get the introduction to the series of the magnificent Kevin Dobson as Mack MacKenzie, a character he would play all the way until the conclusion of the series in 1993.  You also have the introduction of Lisa Hartman as Ciji, and she’ll stick around until 1986 (although not as Ciji….we’ll discuss this later).  Finally, it is during this season that KL officially became a full fledged soap, telling lavish, exciting, over-the-top stories that continued in a serialized nature from week to week.  Honestly, starting this season, I feel like pretty much every year of KL was a homerun, and I declare it as having the longest “Peak” of any TV series ever, lasting from the fourth season all the way through the twelfth (that would be a nine year “Peak” from 1982 to 1991).  Honestly, I feel like for this nine year period, the series could do no wrong.  The thirteenth season would prove to be a little rocky thanks to changing writers and producers, though still not terrible, and then the fourteenth season wrapped the series up very nicely, at least according to my memories.

                But wait, I’m getting way ahead of myself.  This is supposed to be an introduction to KL.  Therefore, we really ought to start at the beginning.  This blog will actually begin in Dallas with a breakdown of the four Dallas episodes that introduced us to Gary and Val before they were spun off into their own series.  From there, I’ll proceed into season one of KL with an episode-by-episode breakdown, pausing every now and then for what I’ll call “A Brief Dallas Interlude,” meaning any time that Gary and/or Val crossed over into their parent series (there are twelve crossover episodes altogether). 

                The purpose of this blog will be multifaceted.  First off, I simply want to gather some attention to this magnificent TV series.  It’s a crying shame that, as of this writing, only two seasons out of fourteen are available on home media.  With the surge in popularity over the last ten years for streaming services such as NetFlix, I can’t believe that nobody has picked up this series (although I fear that, if they did, they would be forced to do some dreaded musical changes and cut out some or all of Lisa Hartman’s amazing musical performances!).  So, I’m hoping this blog will shed some light on the series or help get it a renewed appreciation.

                Secondly, I will say that I have only watched the series all the way through once, so I think it will be interesting to do a rewatch and see if my feelings stay the same.  Honestly, I was so blown away by my first screening that whenever I think about KL, I turn into something of a groveling sycophant, going on and on about how brilliant and perfect the series is.  Well, maybe it isn’t, who knows?  Perhaps a second viewing with a real close eye for details will show me viewing the series in some new way, or at least not being so enthusiastic about all things KL.  Perhaps I’ll have a complete reversal of opinion and find the first three seasons to be amazing and some of the later seasons not as good as I remembered.  It will be fun to explore how my feelings either change or stay the same as I do a thorough, episode-by-episode look at the entire 344-episode run.

                Thirdly and finally, I blog simply because I enjoy writing about entertainment and media.  I have a sister blog related to film and discussing all the films of different movie directors such as Brian De Palma, but this blog will be to discuss art on television.  I like to think I have a good eye for the artistic merits of different forms of entertainment, and I hope I can provide a thorough analysis in good detail for what made KL such a wonderful and, dare I say it, groundbreaking series. 

                I also want to note that I am watching this series alongside My Beloved Grammy.  We also watched Dallas together and when we finished, I thought it only natural for us to jump into KL as our next series.  As we watch, I will make sure to write up some of her thoughts and opinions, as I love listening to her insights or hearing her tell stories that relate to what was going on at the particular time an episode aired (a reminder that I was not even born in 1979; indeed, when KL started I was negative eleven years old).

                I don’t want to flood the internet too fast with material, so there will be new write-ups going up just once per week, every Sunday.  I obviously welcome feedback and comments; please leave comments on the blog and post your thoughts and whether you agree or disagree with me or whatever is on your mind.  You can also E-Mail me at brettmroberts2@gmail.com and I will make sure to respond to your feedback!

                That shall conclude my introduction to KL, so let us now proceed forward to our first of twelve “Brief Dallas Interludes.”  This first interlude will be discussing Dallas: Season 02, Episode 01, which originally aired on September 23rd, 1978 and was entitled Reunion: Part One.  I shall see you then!
 

3 comments:

  1. Love your writing style, completely fun read. I may look for ways to watch KL myself to refresh my distant memories of the episodes I saw back in the day. If I could find one of my old blazers or sweaters with shoulder pads to wear as I watch, all the better! :) ~ Sandy

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  2. Brett - Looking forward to following your blog. You have undertaken quite a task. And it is great to see a guy as young as you interested in the series. You are right...it is totally underrated in the grand scheme of the TV universe. But for those of us who love it, it is an awesome secret.

    I am a Knot's fan from way back when I was 15 (started watching around the time the twins were kidnapped). I, too, bought the first two seasons on DVD and figured that was it. But then I found someone who was selling all 14 seasons for a very reasonable price (I paid online...so I think Karen would be ok with that). I just finished watching them all for the first time in a long time. It was like catching up with old friends.

    Cheers!
    Dave

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  3. Knots Landing is my favorite series ever and I am looking forward to following your thoughts on each of the episodes. Thanks for sharing your thoughts on this great series with the world.

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