Unfortunately, the final season of "Falcon Crest" was a big disappointment for most fans because the cast and the storylines changed in a more than shocking way. The deterioration beginning in season 8 dramatically culminated in season 9.
After LORIMAR's plans of a hostile takeover of WARNER COMMUNICATIONS failed, the production company itself was taken over by TIME WARNER, Inc., the newly formed company after the merger of WARNER COMMUNICATIONS with TIME, on January 21, 1989. In the process of restructuring its holdings, WARNER BROS. made some LORIMAR staff members redundant; others were assigned in new fields of the company. Especially after the regime changes at LORIMAR in the previous years, this led to a lack of continuity not only on the executive side, but also on the set of "Falcon Crest", where almost a completely new crew took over.
But that was not the only dark side of this season.
The primary factor for the ongoing downfall of the show was JANE WYMAN's long lasting absence in the course of this season. The actress being in a serious health crisis, her scenes had to be reduced drastically. But "Falcon Crest" was not the same without Angela. The show, however, probably could have survived even that crisis especially since JANE came back for the three final episodes. The ultimate destruction of the show started with SUSAN SULLIVAN being written off; if Maggie had not been killed off, "Falcon Crest" most likely would not have suffered from such an extreme loss of viewers because Maggie always was the character most fans could identify with best. As it was officially said, SUSAN left because of creative differences — a decision that could be understood easily after what the new writers and producers had done to the show in season 8 and which led to a more than shocking climax in season 9. But the truth is SUSAN was fired by the show's new regime for money reasons. With what she had earned, they could now easily pay WENDY PHILLIPS, ANDREA THOMPSON and GREGORY HARRISON. Three new actors for the price of one star... — not really a good deal, considering they did not only save on money, but also on quality.
When LORIMAR executives realized the season 8 crew had failed, once again new producers and script writers were hired instead of rehiring the experienced people who had made seasons 1 through 7 a success. The new producers certainly were competent movie and TV series developers in general, but they obviously did not get access to what "Falcon Crest" was all about. No more attention was paid to previous storylines.
As far as the seasonal bible written by JOEL SURNOW and SHERI ANDERSON states in the preface that "Season nine will bring 'Falcon Crest' back to its roots, and the battle for control of the family empire," this is a mere lip service that the writers did not put any real focus on.
JOEL SURNOW, who had written action shows like "Miami Vice" and "The Equalizer" previously, was hired as co-executive producer and writer. He made ROBERT COCHRAN the executive story editor; later, both of them became very famous as the creators and executive producers of the "24" series. On "Falcon Crest", however, they were drifting away from the original wine concept and put too much emphasis on investments, the stock market and white collar crimes. LORIMAR's mandate for SURNOW was to fill a blank page, i.e. not to care about the show's history. After season 9 was a total flop, JOEL SURNOW even bragged about having been given the carte blanche and said he and COCHRAN had "written the best unwatched season in television history".
At the beginning of season 9, SHERI ANDERSON, co-producer and writer, had announced JANE WYMAN's absence would not seriously affect the show because Angela's presence will be felt in every episode; but when the scripts were written, this was obviously forgotten soon. Only a few scenes with hardly any depth dealt with Angie after she had gone into a coma.
The disappearance of Nick and Ben Agretti (played by DAVID BEECROFT and BRANDON DOUGLAS) was poorly handled, too. Whereas the original draft of the script for # 206 at least contained a short mention of those characters, the final version that went on the air left the audience wondering what happened to them. It also remained unanswered how Frank had suddenly become the executor of Melissa's estate, why exactly Emma left Daniel Cabot and why Richard was no longer charged with having kidnapped Angela.
The fact that the new writers did not sufficiently track back the show's history is also illustrated by inaccuracies in the character descriptions in this season's bible. Here are just two examples of what JOEL SURNOW and SHERI ANDERSON wrote:
Peter Stavros was described as Angela's "ex-lover and confidant"; the writers did not know that he was her ex-husband.
Pilar's character description is introduced by the words "the Scarlett O'Hara of 'Falcon Crest'" — a comparison that does not do justice to the rôle as established in season 8.
Michael Sharpe was supposed to build the "first industrial complex in the Tuscany Valley", a project that would be opposed by a RALPH NADER (real-life politician) type person. These plans were dropped on short notice when the writers finally realized that season 8 had already dealt with Richard trying to consolidate the valley's wineries into one huge industrial complex and that the storyline would be repetitive.
More emphasis was put on new stars; just two examples:
GREGORY HARRISON, who got the Michael Sharpe rôle just as compensation because the LORIMAR sitcom he was originally hired for did not make it to the screen that season. The authors overextended the number of scenes including his character; their endeavors to force him into a show he did not belong with proved desperate and unsuccessful. Sharpe's relationship to the family was very confusing — strange allusions about being a second cousin either to Richard or Maggie. Creating a family relation to Richard seems to be a problem: Richard getting married with Lauren at the end of the season would not be incest, of course, but leave a bad aftertaste anyway. There are good arguments for a family relation between the Sharpes and Maggie, but in that case one question remains unanswered: Would that relation be through Maggie's adoptive parents or her natural ones? — The seasonal bible solves the mystery: The Sharpes are Maggie's second cousins, but the episodes themselves are confusing.
WENDY PHILLIPS' rôle of Lauren Daniels was sort of a replacement for SUSAN SULLIVAN. But she was nothing more than a faint and poor copy of some elements of Maggie's character; contrary to Maggie, who will always be best remembered by the audience, Lauren failed to become a real lead.
JERRY THORPE, the new executive producer, had the idea to give "Falcon Crest" a new direction — with focus on sex and crime, which may come from shows he previously produced successfully, e.g. "Miami Vice" and "The Equalizer". Maybe he would have done better to stay with them! As far as "Falcon Crest" is concerned, this producer had no idea of what had made the show successful.
The number of scenes shot outside the studios was radically diminished — even most of the exterior scenes were shot on the lots of CBS-MTM STUDIOS and WARNER BROS. Old footage of Napa Valley exteriors was inserted on rare occasions only. The new crew did not even attempt to make the show appear as if it was set in the Wine Country — the audience got the impression everything was happening in some backyard, but not around San Francisco.
The main title design was also changed in a horrible way. It now looked more like a crime drama's opening sequence. The season première's titles did not even include the traditional falcon coat of arms any more; a new typeface and an updated theme, which only contained a small sequence of the original theme music, contributed to the fact that season 9 drifted away more and more from what was previously known as "Falcon Crest". Heavy protests of the audience led to the coat of arms being reintroduced in # 207 already; the typical "Falcon Crest" typeface was back from # 212 on. These half-hearted attempts to limit the damage, however, could not compensate for the lack of continuity and the bunch of ridiculous open-ended storylines, which had to be terminated hastily within one or two episodes because the audience apparently had completely lost interest.
Season 9 is a negative record: a chaotic and more than embarrassing production, which has nothing in common with the original "Falcon Crest" the audience loved and where the fans felt at home. After being among the top ten shows for three consecutive seasons and among the top 25 in three more seasons, "Falcon Crest" now only made it to the lowest ranks on the Nielsen Ratings hit list.
Due to its low ratings, CBS gave "Falcon Crest" the ax after # 223 in March 1990. LORIMAR finally filmed a couple of scenes with JANE WYMAN in order not to disappoint longtime fans; she returned for the sneak preview of # 225 at the end of # 224 and for the last three episodes, which were aired after a hiatus. Unfortunately, MARGARET LADD and ROD TAYLOR were not rehired for the final episode.
It was JANE WYMAN's advice not to terminate the show with an open ending because she felt the loyal fans, who still watched "Falcon Crest" despite its unsuccessful season 9, must not be disappointed. JANE, therefore, wrote the final scene, Angela's soliloquy, herself; she wanted to mention all the important characters once again as a final tribute to the successful years of "Falcon Crest" — a wonderful idea most appreciated by the fans.