November 1991. It was the worst of times; it was
the worst of times. After a couple of months of denying the
problems, David Jacobs was coming to grips with the shortcomings
of his 13-year-old pride and joy creation, Knots Landing (CBS,
CTV). I remember watching the first couple of shows last fall,
says Jacobs, and thinking, They dont feel or look exactly like
Knots Landing, but theyre pretty good. I didnt admit that simply
wasnt good enough. There was a lot of denial on my part. I was
busy with other things. I had some health problems. Things conspired
so that we were going down to the wire when it came to fixing
the problems. Other years, wed fouled up early on, too, but
had time to get back on track. This time, we got a very late
start on the problems.
Such a late start that as the story went to press the future
of the venerable drama - the last of a late-70s, early-80s infusion
of prime time soaps that included Dallas and Dynasty - was still
in doubt. With the last two episodes airing April 2 and 9 Jacobs
was saying, Ive told CBS that not doing anything about whether
were picked up is tantamount to pounding nails into the coffin.
At this moment, CBS hasnt ordered a buy [for another season].
Im still confident that well get picked up, and I thing since
we got the show back under control weve done some of the best
episodes ever. But the longer a decision about the future waits,
the more it makes doing the show next year a nightmare. We had
no choice but to write the April 9 finale as we normally would,
with cliffhanger elements in it. Pause. If we dont get renewed,
Im sure well be back to wrap it up with a movie. With a frustrated
sigh, he adds, Not that wed necessarily bring it to CBS.
Jacobs frustration is understandable; it had been building
for months. While readily admitting miscalculations, including
his own, there have been other factors just plain out of his
control - including preemptions at critical moments when the
series was gathering steam.
When it started the season, Knots - a network staple since
December 1979 - was assumed to be virtually foolproof. Over
the years, as other nighttime soaps grew stale or self- destructed,
Knots always found a way to keep a loyal audience. I created
Dallas too, notes Jacobs, and I felt it was sort of the same
story every year, and the last three years it was just kind
of completely out of it. But Knots has always generated so many
changes - with all kinds of potential for emotion and constant
sparks from the relationships. We have a rich history without
staying stuck in the past.
This seasons decline of Knots really started innocently enough
last spring when ABC ordered Homefront, a new drama set in post-World
War II and created by Jacobs. He became its executive producer
and brought along producers Lynn Marie Latham and Bernard Lechowick,
who had been running Knots in recent years. It was a mutual
decision, Jacobs recalls. Lynn and Bernie were a little tired
of Knots, and they had a right to put their stamp on their own
show. Now, please understand that I replaced them with very
good people, but maybe not the right people for this show. And
on top of that, I gave those people some bad advice. You know,
one of the networks complaints about the show is that it didnt
re-run well. So I told the new people, Lets try to make the
stories shorter - compress them a little more. More in the style
of L.A. Law.
By way of example, Jacobs says that when Bruce Greenwood was
hired as Pierce to romance Paige (Nicollette Sheridan), It was
my bright idea that we start right out with them as lovers.
We didnt build up to a romance, we didnt see her fall for him
- it was just, boom, theyre in love. Our audiences love to see
those things evolve, not those shortcuts.
As it turned out, the chemistry between Bruce and Nicollette
didnt work. No knock on Bruce, whos a wonderful actor, but sometimes
the chemistry isnt there. Even if the chemistry had been there,
our audience couldnt have bought that relationship, because
they wanted to see how those two fell in love in the first place.
Disappointment about the show overall was soon reflected in
the Nielsen ratings, where Knots was competing against L.A.
Law and PrimeTime Live. Disappointment was reflected by way
of Jacobs personal reality check - the response of the waitresses
at Arts Deli, where he gauges public response firsthand from
the waitresses. A couple of them have watched the show from
Episode 1. Ive used them as a barometer all these years. And
all of a sudden they werent talking about Knots Landing at all!
Disappointment was voiced directly by key cast members. Sheridan,
for one, Came to me one day with a file folder under her arm
and a very specific list of what she felt wasnt working, including
the Pierce romance and Paiges abrupt reconciliation with her
mother, Anne, after a long estrangement. When the season started,
says Jacobs, I heard from Nicollettes agent that she wanted
to leave at the end of this year. But Im not so sure now, because
the constructive way she explained her difficulties this season
indicates a great fondness for the show.
William Devane also approached Jacobs with some sense of alarm,
admitting for the first time that this is the best character
Ive ever played. Says Devane, Ive stuck with it all these years
because it gives me a great character to play week after week
with a great group. it keeps me from getting stuck with mediocre
movie material that a dozen other actors have passed on/ Knots
is a great gig.
Another star who voiced concern, Michele Lee, feels there were
too many new characters introduced this season who didnt impact
on the principals that the traditional audience cares about.
Some of the new characters didnt affect the lives of Karen,
Mack, Val, and Gary, Lee says. If you shuffle those characters
who were there from Day 1 into the background, you lose viewers
who have been there from Day 1.
The cast members complaints were registered in a firm but respectful
way. They knew Jacobs was already recognizing shortcomings -
and that he was simultaneously recovering from surgery. It was
prostate surgery, and everything is fine now, says Jacobs, but
at the time I was sort of out of it for two months. Between
that and launching Homefront, I didnt get back to dealing with
Knots as soon as I normally would have.
He shut down production during November and started working
on scripts, bringing back longtime executive producer Michael
Filerman to help with the hands-on-work. By then, though, the
storylines were already set for 15 of the shows 22 episodes;
seven of the old batch remained to be aired before the new knots
could strut its stuff, starting Jan. 30. As if there wasnt enough
for Jacobs to worry about in gaining back his audience, the
show was reempted for two weeks in February by the Olympics
and for another two weeks in March by NCAA basketball. Plus,
over at the competition, LA Law creator Steven Bochco returned
to that series to spice it up, and PrimeTime Live landed exclusive
interviews with the woman who charged William Kennedy Smith
with rape and with Hillary Clinton, wife of presidential candidate
Bill Clinton, in the wake of allegations about his sexual affairs.
As Knots ends up this season, Jacobs has the pot boiling ever
with cliffhanging potential. Paige was recently hospitalized,
suffering paralysis from a shot by Pierce, who had been trying
to kill Sumner. Pierce then kidnapped Paige from the Hospital.
Any time you put a major character in jeopardy and have the
rest of the characters affected by that, its riveting drama,
Sumner, apparently still in love with Paige, is forced to reevaluate
his life. Greg may go off in search of himself. In the last
two shows, he comes to a major decision.
Val is still avidly pursuing a book on Sumners misdeeds over
the years, while Gary - having lost a fortune in an innovative
energy project - worries about her getting in harms way by being
in proximity to Sumner.
A lighter touch has Mack taking Anne into his home with Karen
in the wake of the shooting and kidnapping, causing some consternation
on Karens part.
And as for sex, new character Alex Barth becomes entangled
in a rectangle, as Jacobs puts it - trying to juggle affairs
with Claudia, her daughter Kate and another new addition, Vanessa.
Waiting by his phone in his Burbank office for the network
call that would decide the future on Knots Landing - be it another
full season or a wrap-up movie - David Jacobs says, Despite
being put through the wringer on this, the last few months have
been more fun than Ive had in years, actually going to the word
processor and getting directly involved in the writing of the
stories. Whatever form we come back in, thats what Ill keep
Copyright KnotsLanding.Net 2003