Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
The show was created by Earl Hamner, famous for his work on The Waltons. Hamner wanted to create a family drama involving the wine industry. CBS ordered him to make the show more sensational, along the lines of Dallas (The show was created so CBS could easily win Friday night in the Nielsen ratings. Falcon Crest was scheduled at 10PM, with top-rated Dallas scheduled immediately before it).
Hamner proceeded to deliberately script what he viewed as trashy, turgid melodrama. It starred Oscar winner Jane Wyman as Angela Channing, a despotic woman who ruled with an iron fist over her vineyards in the fictional Tuscany Valley region of California (modeled after the Napa Valley). Robert Foxworth also starred as Chase Gioberti, a man new to the area, having inherited some fields from his father, Angela's dead brother Jason. The rivalry between the established professional and the newcomer, who both happened to be tied together by blood relations, set the tone for much of the serial. The Dallas-Falcon Crest one-two punch proved lucrative for the show and Falcon Crest was a Top 20 show in the Nielsens for many years. Despite its success, Falcon Crest usually lost about three to five million viewers from the previous hour and was never as dependable as Dallas had proven itself to be.
Other characters included Angela's grandson, playboy Lance Cumson, played by Lorenzo Lamas. He would rather womanize than work an honest day in his life, and Angela liked being able to control him. Susan Sullivan played Maggie Gioberti, Chase's wife. Toward the second half of the series, Maggie fell in love with Richard Channing, played by David Selby. Originally a newspaper editor, Richard got into the business of running the wine fields when he wished to take control from Angela (Richard was the love child of Angela's late husband, and Angela despised him). The schemer on the program was Melissa Agretti, played by Ana Alicia. She did what she wanted with little regard for others. In 1987, Melissa kidnapped Maggie's newborn baby and rode in a car that flew into San Francisco Bay. Chase jumped in to save the baby, succeeded, and out of the goodness of his heart, went back down for Melissa. Melissa survived but Chase did not (this was in tune with Robert Foxworth's decision to leave the show). In later years, key cast members left, which caused the ratings to drop. In 1988, Melissa perished in a house fire. In 1989, Maggie's finger was caught in a pool drain, and she drowned. For most of the final season, Angela, who had been the pivotal character since day one, lay unconscious in a coma. Shifting the show to newer cast members who weren't as popular, coupled with a smaller fanbase for nighttime soaps as a whole, moved CBS executives to end the show with the 1989-90 season.
At times the backstage feuding was more interesting than anything onscreen. Jane Wyman had a running feud with Robert Foxworth, to the point where they measured each other's trailers just to make sure they were equal in size. When Foxworth became a director for the show, Wyman demanded CBS add a clause to her contract making her a director. Although she never directed an episode, Wyman was pleased that she had the same designation as Foxworth. Wyman had a long-running feud with fellow movie star Lana Turner which dated back to their Hollywood years. The two legends quickly refused to speak to each other and the producers had to film their confrontational scenes separately and then splice them together. Turner was written out of the show soon after. Jose Ferrer and Simon MacCorkindale also accused Wyman of running them off the show.
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