Falcon Crest is an American prime time television soap opera that aired for nine seasons on CBS from December 4, 1981 to May 17, 1990. A total of 227 episodes were produced. The series revolved around the feuding factions of the wealthy Gioberti/Channing family in the Californian wine industry. Jane Wyman starred as Angela Channing, the tyrannical matriarch of the Falcon Crest Winery, alongside Robert Foxworth as Chase Gioberti, Angela's nephew who returns to Falcon Crest after the death of his father, Jason. The series was set in the fictitious Tuscany Valley (modeled after the Napa Valley) northeast of San Francisco.
The show was created by Earl Hamner, who had previously created The Waltons, which had just finished its final season in 1981. Hamner wanted to create a family drama involving the wine industry entitled The Vintage Years. An unaired pilot episode was produced, but CBS requested that Hamner make the show more along the lines of Dallas, which was the network's biggest hit at that time.
The script was rewritten and several cast members changed for what became Falcon Crest. The series first aired in December 1981, when CBS scheduled Falcon Crest at 10 pm on Friday nights, right after Dallas. The Dallas-Falcon Crest one-two punch proved lucrative for the network and Falcon Crest was a top-20 show in the Nielsen Ratings for several years. Both shows (like The Waltons) were produced for CBS by the same company, Lorimar Productions.
Cast and Characters
At the center of the action is Angela Gioberti Channing, a corrupt, tyrannical matriarch who rules the Falcon Crest vineyards with an iron fist. When her brother Jason Gioberti dies from a fall in the winery, his son Chase Gioberti, who lives in New York with his wife and children, arrive to claim his inherited portion of Falcon Crest. The rivalry between Angela and Chase — whom Angela sees as an interloper — sets the tone for much of the series.
Surrounding Angela are her two daughters, Julia (Abby Dalton) and Emma (Margaret Ladd), and her lazy playboy grandson, Lance Cumson (Lorenzo Lamas), who aids her in her battles against Chase. Julia is Falcon Crest Wines' chief winemaker, though often feels oppressed by her domineering mother.
Kind-natured Emma does not work in the family business, but is emotionally troubled. Julia's son Lance loves money and yearns for power, but lacks Angela's discipline and determination. Her ever-tightening grip on him eventually sends him to work for his grandfather's newspaper, The San Francisco Globe. Aiding Angela in her quest for more power is her crooked lawyer, Phillip Erikson (Mel Ferrer), who would later become her second husband.
Chase's wife Maggie (Susan Sullivan) is a freelance writer who later works at The New Globe newspaper; their grown son Cole (William R. Moses) works at the winery with Chase, and daughter Vickie (Jamie Rose, later Dana Sparks) is just finishing school. Eventually realizing that she would not gain control over Chase's land anytime soon, Angela hopes to enlarge her empire by forcing Lance into an arranged marriage with Melissa Agretti (briefly played by Delores Cantú, later by Ana Alicia), heiress to the much-coveted Agretti Vineyards. Scheming Melissa becomes embroiled in a love triangle with Lance and Cole, even marrying Lance while pregnant with Cole's child.
In the second season, a true rival for Angela arrives in the form of conniving Richard Channing (David Selby), the illegitimate son of Angela's ex-husband Douglas Channing and Chase's mother, Jacqueline Perrault. He inherits most of his father's shares in the family newspaper after Douglas dies, and uses his new wealth and power to seek retribution against both Angela and Chase for always treating him like an outcast. Richard crosses them at every turn and makes several attempts to wrest control of Falcon Crest.
After Chase dies, Maggie marries Richard, until SHE dies herself. When the series ended, it ended on a happy ending with a family wedding, and Angela toasting the land (in a monologue written by Ms. Wyman herself).
Early Season Plot
Despite its reputation as merely being "Dallas with grapes", Falcon Crest soon found its own niche among the prime-time dramas of the 1980s, occupying the middle ground between the two extremes of the genre — being more glamorous than Dallas, yet not quite as outrageous and campy as Dynasty. The distinctive location filming in the Napa Valley and the dry, wryly humorous tone of the scripts gave the series a personality of its own.
The rivalry between Angela, Chase, and Richard stayed at the core of the show for several years, as more romantic entanglements spun around them. Lance and Cole found themselves not only caught up in their family battles for control of Falcon Crest, but were also competing for Melissa's affections.
Like Dallas and Dynasty, Falcon Crest employed memorable end-of-season cliffhangers to boost ratings. The 1982–83 season ended with a murder mystery "whodunit" plot (surrounding the death of Melissa's father, Carlo Agretti) that had spanned most of the season. The killer was confronted in front of the entire cast, only to produce a handgun.
Shots were fired (and heard from outside as the camera panned away from the mansion), which then faded into the final scene of a coffin being lowered into the ground, leaving the audience to wonder who had been killed. It was later revealed that Angela's daughter, Julia, who had killed Agretti, and was shipped off to a sanitarium. She would later go to a convent and found her happiness there.
The third-season cliffhanger in 1984 involved a plane crash carrying most of the major characters, resulting in the deaths of three of them. A bomb explosion which ended the fourth season left Richard and Maggie in peril, and an earthquake that rippled through the valley ended the fifth season. The cliffhanger of the sixth season put Chase, Melissa, Richard, newcomer Dan Fixx, and Maggie's baby in danger of drowning in the San Francisco Bay area. At the end of the seventh season, Melissa had finally wrested complete control of Falcon Crest away from Angela, while Richard was apparently murdered by "The Thirteen", a powerful group of shady businessmen whom he had turned against.
The series also frequently cast former Hollywood royalty in guest roles; Lana Turner, Gina Lollobrigida, Cesar Romero, Robert Stack, Cliff Robertson, Celeste Holm, and Kim Novak all appeared in Falcon Crest. This aspect to the series seemed to be well-embraced by the producers, who at one stage instituted a rotating guest-star policy. Leslie Caron, Lauren Hutton, Eddie Albert, Eve Arden, Roscoe Lee Browne, and Ursula Andress all made appearances during the 1987–1988 season, as did Rod Taylor, who would remain with the series until its final season. After producer Jeff Freilich left the series at the end of the 1988 season, fewer special guest stars appeared to boost ratings, one of them being Susan Blakely in the final year.
With the departures of many of the core cast, coupled with the shifting tastes of the public in the mid-1980s, ratings began to drop (as had ratings for all of the primetime soaps of that era). By the late 1980s, U.S. ratings were dominated by sitcoms and more realistic legal/crime dramas such as LA Law and In The Heat of the Night. During its eighth season, Soap Opera Digest gave Falcon Crest the title of "Most Ruined Show". In the spring of 1989, the series finished in 52nd place in the ratings. The series attempted to revitalize itself, much in the way that rival soap Knots Landing had successfully done, but by the beginning of the ninth (and final) season in 1989, Angela, Lance, and Emma were the only three characters from the original first-season cast remaining on the series. During the 1989–90 season, Jane Wyman was absent for most of that season due to her health problems. The final season then revolved around a battle between Richard and newcomer Michael Sharpe for control of Falcon Crest.
CBS executives made the decision to end Falcon Crest when ratings during the ninth season dropped to 81st place. Defying doctors' orders, Jane Wyman returned to the show for the last three episodes. After the many traumatic events during the nine seasons of the wine country saga, Falcon Crest ended happily with a family wedding taking place on the grounds of the mansion.
Taking a walk outside, Angela delivered a monologue (written by Wyman herself) that brought the series to a conclusion, mentioning past characters and events, but looking forward to the future. The final scene of the series shows her raising her glass to the land, "A toast to you, Falcon Crest, and long may you live."
The Vintage Years
A pilot episode for the series entitled The Vintage Years was filmed in the spring of 1981, but never aired, and featured a number of significant differences from the series that would air in December. The character of Richard Channing was present in the original pilot, played by Michael Swan; this alternate Richard was Angela's biological son fighting for his domineering mother's favor. Abby Dalton's character, Julia, was called Dorcas, Jane Wyman wore a grey wig as Angela, and was called "Angie", which Ms. Wyman did not approve of, and Chase and Maggie were played by Clu Gulager and Samantha Eggar, respectively. Emma was not seen, but a subplot concerning a mysterious woman crying for her mother while locked away in one of the upstairs rooms was seen.
Though never broadcast or released on DVD, The Vintage Years pilot was made available for download on the AOL video-on-demand service In2TV.
- JANE WYMAN -- Angela Gioberti Channing
- STEPHEN ELLIOT -- Douglas Channing
- ROBERT FOXWORTH -- Chase Gioberti
- LORENZO LAMAS -- Lance Cumson
- MARGARET LADD -- Emma Channing
- WILLIAM R. MOSES -- Cole Gioberti
- JAMIE ROSE -- Vickie Gioberti #1
- DANA SPARKS -- Vickie Gioberti #2
- ABBY DALTON -- Julia Cumson
- DAVID SELBY -- Richard Channing
- CHAO-LI CHI -- Chao Li
- ANA ALICIA -- Melissa Agretti Cumson
- SUSAN SULLIVAN -- Maggie Gioberti Channing
- MEL FERRER -- Phillip Erikson