1 9 8 1 – 1 9 9 0 (USA)
220 x 60 minute episodes
There were enough dead bodies in this tempestuous tale of North Californian vineyards to drive a pathologist to drink.
Those that didn’t die had numerous narrow escapes as buildings suddenly exploded or caught fire, cars and planes crashed, and wronged parties ran amok with machine guns.
Throw in the odd drowning and even the occasional death from natural causes, and you’ve got a fair picture of life in the fictitious Tuscany Valley.
The most important person in the valley was Angela Channing, around whom most of the action (and a lot of the attempted murders) revolved. Angela looked like an up-market Ma Sugden of Emmerdale Farm – but without the ironing board.
Angela Channing was played by Jane Wyman, none other than the ex-wife of the then US President, Ronald Reagan. One writer said: “Divorce kept Wyman from being the First Lady of the White House, but she’s certainly First Lady of the old soap bitches”.
She was the tough, all-conquering boss of Falcon Crest Wines who schemed to swindle her nephew Chase Gioberti (Robert Foxworth) – which sounds like a kids party game – out of his birthright.
Chase had inherited 50 acres of vineyard from his late father, Jason, but Angela wanted the land and was prepared to go to any lengths to get it.
Made by Lorimar (the Dallas and Knots Landing producers) and filmed in California’s Napa Valley, Falcon Crest was first shown in America in December 1981. It continually tried to outgun Dallas and Dynasty and after a sticky start did do extremely well.
America’s TV Guide commented at the time: “A show that teaches us how to pronounce ‘Cabernet Sauvignon’ can’t be all bad” . . .
Other major characters in Falcon Crest were Chase’s writer-wife Maggie Gioberti (Susan Sullivan), ruthless newspaper proprietor Richard Channing (David Selby), Angela’s evil playboy grandson Lance Cumson (Lorenzo Lamas) who was once convicted of trying to murder his dear old granny, and Lance’s ex-wife, the equally shady Melissa (Ana Alicia).
Angela’s eldest daughter, Julia (Abby Dalton) briefly added blindness to her staggering list of problems: she was a drunk, insane, prone to mass shootings, on the run from a mental institution dressed as a nun and should have died in a cabin fire! Her eye problem was a side-effect suffered as a victim of an earthquake.
The malevolence of the Falcon Crest plots seemed to spread to some of the cast. Reports of open warfare frequently leaked out.
Robert Foxworth had a chance to direct episodes which led to Jane Wyman asking to direct. Her request wasn’t granted but when he directed she got a directors salary!
Jane Wyman and Lana Turner’s relationship became so hostile that their scenes together were filmed separately and a split-screen technique was used.
The series featured a stellar cast, including Morgan Fairchild, Gina Lollobrigida, Rod Taylor, Cesar Romero, Kim Novak and Jane Badler.
In the final episode, after years of wrangling, attempted murders and the like, the family were reunited and reconciled. Richard (who had turned out to be Angela’s son after all) married newcomer Lauren Daniels (Wendy Phillips) and sold the vineyard back to Angela, whom he recognised at last as its ‘rightful owner’.
Plans were made for Falcon Crest to be handed down after her death, hopefully without recrimination.
Julia Cumson (Channing)
Melissa Agretti/Samantha Ross
Lauren Sharpe Daniels