Falcon Crest

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. 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, opposite Robert Foxworth as Chase Gioberti, Angela's nephew who returns after the death of his father. The series was set in the fictitious Tuscany Valley (modeled after the Napa Valley) northeast of San Francisco.

Falcon Crest
Main title card (season 9)
GenreSoap opera
Created byEarl Hamner Jr.
StarringJane Wyman
Robert Foxworth
Susan Sullivan
Lorenzo Lamas
David Selby
Abby Dalton
Margaret Ladd
William R. Moses
Ana Alicia
Chao-Li Chi
Theme music composerBill Conti
Country of originUnited States
No. of seasons9
No. of episodes227 (list of episodes)
Executive producer(s)Earl Hamner
Michael Filerman
Joanne Brough
Jeff Freilich
Camille Marchetta
Jerry Thorpe
Producer(s)Malcolm R. Harding
Barry Steinberg
Robert McCullough
John F. Perry
Phil Parslow
Running timeapprox. 50 minutes
Production company(s)Amanda & MF Productions
Lorimar Productions (1981-1986)
Lorimar-Telepictures (1986-1988)
Lorimar Television (1988-90).
DistributorLorimar-Telepictures (1986-1989)
Warner Bros. Television (1989-Present)
Original networkCBS
Original releaseDecember 4, 1981 (1981-12-04) 
May 17, 1990 (1990-05-17)


The show was created by Earl Hamner, Jr., 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.[1] 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 double bill 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 Channing (Jane Wyman), a corrupt, tyrannical matriarch who rules the Falcon Crest vineyards with an iron fist. When her brother Jason Gioberti (Harry Townes) dies from a fall in the winery, his son Chase Gioberti (Robert Foxworth) arrives 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 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 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. 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.


Early seasons

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 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 the resolution of a murder mystery "whodunit" plot (surrounding the death of Melissa's father, Carlo Agretti) that had spanned most of the season. The killer was revealed 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 rose-draped coffin being lowered into the ground, leaving the audience to wonder who had been killed.

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 (Brett Cullen), 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.

Falcon Crest was a top ten series from 1982 to 1985 (peaking at #7 in the 1983–84 season), airing after Dallas on Friday nights at 10:00 p.m. 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 on 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 cancellation in 1990. 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.

Later seasons

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"[2] (that season finished 52nd in the annual 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 (storylines had Angela in a coma). The final season then revolved around a battle between Richard and newcomer Michael Sharpe (Gregory Harrison) 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 series 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. 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 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. Lamas, Moses, and Rose appeared in the sames roles, and Chao Li-Chi's character was named Lee Fong.

The pilot was written by Hamner and directed by Alexander Singer. Though never broadcast or released on DVD, it was made available for download on the AOL video-on-demand service In2TV.

Behind the scenes

Searching for a location to use as the principal backdrop for the show, Lorimar producers decided upon Spring Mountain Vineyard, a winery located in St. Helena, in California's Napa Valley. This site contained the 1884 Victorian mansion "Villa Miravalle", the exterior for which was used as the Falcon Crest mansion where Angela lived with her daughters, Julia and Emma, and her grandson, Lance, as well as the winery building which had just been constructed in the mid-1970s.[3] As a tie-in, the Spring Mountain Winery also produced a "Falcon Crest" wine during the show's run.

Barbara Stanwyck had been considered for the role of Angela Channing, but turned it down. The role then went to Stanwyck's friend Jane Wyman.

Wyman reportedly had had a long-running feud with fellow movie star legend Lana Turner, which dated back to their Hollywood years.[4] The two actresses supposedly refused to speak to each other and the producers had to film their confrontational scenes separately and then edit them together; Turner was written out of the show soon after. A few years after she appeared on the program, Turner noted that she believed Wyman was negative in demeanor because her ex-husband, Ronald Reagan, was elected President during the 1980s, something that Turner believed Wyman could not reconcile within herself. Lana Turner appeared on The Phil Donahue Show in 1982 and emphatically denied the rumors of the reported feud. "It's a bunch of bull. It's all publicity trying to drum up a feud between us. I adore Ms. Wyman. I respect her as a lady and an artist, and there is no feud."[5]

Sophia Loren was set to star in the role of Francesca Gioberti, Angela's secret half-sister, who comes to the valley to threaten Angela's control of Falcon Crest. Loren was to play 13 episodes, and producers promised a fabulous wardrobe and a dynamic character that would rival Dynasty's Alexis Carrington. At the last minute, negotiations with Loren fell through and Gina Lollobrigida (a longtime rival of Loren's[6]) was then cast in the role, but only signed on for five episodes. Lollobrigida earned a Golden Globe nomination for her guest role.[7] Loren was also Aaron Spelling's first choice for the role of Alexis Carrington on Dynasty, but was passed over when she demanded too much money and the role instead went to Joan Collins.

According to Dallas creator David Jacobs, before auditioning for Falcon Crest, Robert Foxworth turned down the role of J. R. Ewing on Dallas because he did not want to play such an unsympathetic character. The role ultimately went to Larry Hagman.[8]

Possible revival

Following the relaunch of Dallas in 2012, it was reported that stars of Falcon Crest had been approached about appearing in a revival of their show. It was proposed that the series would focus on Cole Gioberti (William Moses) and Richard Channing (David Selby),[9] however the proposed revival never went into production.

Nielsen ratings

Season Episodes Originally Broadcast Nielsen Ratings
Season premiere Season finale Time slot (ET) Rank Rating Viewers
(in millions)
1981–82 18 December 4, 1981 April 16, 1982 Friday at 10:00-11:00 PM #13 21.4 17.4
1982–83 22 October 1, 1982 March 11, 1983 #8 20.7 17.3
1983–84 28 September 30, 1983 May 18, 1984 #7 22.0 18.4
1984–85 30 September 28, 1984 May 24, 1985 #10 19.9 17.5
1985–86 29 October 4, 1985 May 11, 1986 Friday at 10:00-11:00 PM (Episodes 1-28)
Thursday at 10:00-11:00 PM (Episode 29)
#24 18.1 15.6
1986–87 28 October 3, 1986 May 15, 1987 Friday at 10:00-11:00 PM #23 17.3 15.1
1987–88 28 October 2, 1987 May 6, 1988 #42 14.2 N/A
1988–89 22 October 28, 1988 May 19, 1989 #52 N/A N/A
1989–90 22 September 29, 1989 May 17, 1990 Friday at 10:00-11:00 PM (Episodes 1-18)
Thursday at 9:00-10:00 PM (Episodes 19-22)
#81 N/A N/A

Theme music

Falcon Crest's theme tune was composed by Bill Conti, who also composed the themes to Dynasty, its spin-off Dynasty II: The Colbys, and Cagney & Lacey. Several variations of the main theme were commissioned throughout the series' run, though the most different of these was the theme for season 9 which was done in a heavily synthetic, new-age style by musician Patrick O'Hearn.

Also, stylistic changes were made to the incidental music. During seasons 1 to 5, the music was performed by an orchestra, composed mainly by Dana Kaproff and Peter Myers. In seasons 6 and 7, the background music became electronic-based and was performed by single artists using a synclavier, one of the early high-tech synthesizers. Mark Snow, who later composed the theme of The X-Files, was the main composer and performing musician from 1986-88. During season 8, the music returned to a more classical style, before the composers returned to the electronic style for the final season with the score provided by new-age composer Patrick O'Hearn.

Opening credits

Like Knots Landing, Falcon Crest ran several different styles of opening credits; the first four seasons show Angela's limousine being driven from San Francisco across the Golden Gate Bridge to the Falcon Crest vineyards as the theme music plays. After it arrives at the vineyards, the Falcon Crest emblem and title graphics appear. In season 1 and in the first half of season 2, each actor's title card was followed by a multiple-picture "split-screen" collage of them in character. In the second half of season 2 and seasons 3 and 4, the multiple-picture collages were replaced by location footage clips.

In season 5, the scenes of the limousine driving from San Francisco were eliminated and replaced with aerial shots of the vineyards. Each actor's title card now appeared in a frame directly over location footage clips, in a style vaguely reminiscent of the opening credits of Dynasty. The previous logo for the first four seasons was updated to look more like a wine label within a frame, complete with new typeface.

In seasons 6 and 7, rippling elliptical transitions between the title card and cast credit screens were added. The emblem was also redesigned with new colors and typeface. In season 7, the falcon graphic was animated to fly across the screen before freezing in the centre and becoming the emblem. Season 8 had a more basic variation of this style.

The final season used a completely different style. Each actor's title card was immediately followed by footage depicting sex or violence to cultivate the atmosphere of a crime drama.

Home media

The rights to the series are held by Warner Bros. (successor-in-interest to the original production company Lorimar). The first season was released on DVD in various European countries in April and May 2009, and the second season was released from October 2009 onwards, again in various European countries.

Warner Bros. has released the first three seasons on DVD in region 1. Seasons 2 and 3 were released by the Warner Archive Collection as Manufacture-on-Demand (MOD) releases. Season 3 was released on May 28, 2013.[10]

Season 4 became available from iTunes in 2016.

See also


  1. "Findings:@Everything2.com". Everything2.com. Retrieved September 19, 2012.
  2. Soap Opera Digest Special Issue, January 9, 1990
  3. "Spring Mountain Vineyard: Winery History". Springmtn.com. Archived from the original on August 19, 2012. Retrieved September 19, 2012.
  4. "Jane Wyman". The Times. London. September 11, 2007. Retrieved May 2, 2010.
  5. "Lana Turner Interview 1982 (Falcon Crest)". YouTube. January 2, 2010. Retrieved September 19, 2012.
  6. Hollywood Reporter - Gina Lollobrigida 90th birthay (July 4, 2017)
  7. Golden Globes - Best Supporting Actress TV (1985)
  8. Simon Hoggart, "Simon Hoggart's week: High-class rolling stones in Boulder", The Guardian April 15, 2006
  9. Keck, William (October 10, 2013). "Keck's Exclusives: Falcon Crest Stars Approached For Possible Reboot". TV Guide. Retrieved February 27, 2015.
  10. "Falcon Crest DVD news: Release Date for Falcon Crest - The Complete 3rd Season - TVShowsOnDVD.com". tvshowsondvd.com. Archived from the original on February 27, 2015. Retrieved February 27, 2015.
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