Reviews of select episodes -
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Since I became hooked on "Falcon Crest", I wanted to learn more about the predecessor, which was supposed to be the pilot of a new vineyard show LORIMAR and CBS wanted to introduce. As it was never aired on television, I started to do a research in the early 1990's for a special newsletter our fan club intended to publish at that time. It was then when my friendship with series creator EARL HAMNER started because I was fortunate to do a phone interview with him,... and we were the first organization to publish first-hand and in-depth information about that made-for-TV movie. We managed to dig out publicity stills that nobody had ever seen before, particularly JANE WYMAN in that gray wig, as well as exclusive set photos from the filming, and got access to the script so we could write a synopsis, but WARNER BROS., the successor of LORIMAR, never gave us access to the movie itself. It was only in 2004 when EARL, who has become my dearest friend in Hollywood, screened it to us during a meeting in his office. WARNER BROS. finally made the predecessor available through their AOL In2TV Internet video-on-demand service between March 2006 and January 2009.
From the standpoint of the development of the series that later became "Falcon Crest", this predecessor is most interesting although it is hardly comparable to the later series as far as the production value and the depth of character development is concerned. The predecessor features characters who are basically good or bad in the sense of a black-and-white scheme whereas the strength of the series would be in presenting colorful, complex, multi-dimensional characters that are hard to be categorized as extremes.
However, it is most interesting to see how the creator and the producers felt their way along and how much they improved the original pilot. What came out was The Harvest (# 004 <1.04>), which is basically the same storyline as the predecessor, except the few differences in minor aspects and the casting. The most striking difference is probably the character played by MICHAEL SWAN in the original pilot - Richard Channing, a soldier, a character that does not exist in the later series. It may be confusing for those who have not seen "The Vintage Years", but this Richard Channing played by MICHAEL SWAN is not the same character as Richard Channing played by DAVID SELBY. When Richard Channing was written into "Falcon Crest" at the end of season 1, the new character was only given the same name, but he is an entirely different character. Richard Channing in "The Vintage Years" was Angela and Duncan's (renamed Douglas on "Falcon Crest") son. In earlier drafts, MICHAEL SWAN's character was named Richard Cumson and he was meant to be Julia's older son and a brother to Lance.
What I particularly liked is the title because "The Vintage Years" is a play on words, with the vine and wine motif. As good as it might be for an episode, however, I liked the "Falcon Crest" title for the whole series much better.
THOMAS J. PUCHER