Ex-airline pilot turned vintner Chase Gioberti was portrayed by a chunky and haggard looking Clu Gulager. His former flight attendant wife Maggie was played by Samantha Eggar in this original pilot movie for the series Falcon Crest. The vineyard Chase had inherited was 100 acres which by the debut of Season One was cut in half to only fifty acres.
Julia Cumson (Abby Dalton) was called "Dorcas" in this version which, to me sounds kind of "Dorc-ky".
Tony Cumson, her husband and father of her son Lance (Lorenzo Lamas) would be mentioned in this pilot and be peripherally tied to Falcon Crest as its overseas buyer. Clearly they didn't know what to do with the character which is something the writers wouldn't know what to do either up until the sixth season of the series when he became an actual part of the show rather than an occasionally recurring character.
Crazy Emma, Julia's sister who would be portrayed by Margaret Ladd in a tour-de-force role stealing practically every scene she was in, was portrayed only off-screen via the tormented, muffled screams of an unnamed woman heard in the upper floor of the Falcon Crest mansion.
Richard Channing (portrayed here by Michael Swan) was introduced in the beginning of the narrative. On the actual series it would be a full season before we would see him and he was a very different character than the one shown here. The Michael Swan version of the character was nearly completely obedient to his conniving mother Angela Channing (Jane Wyman).
The reason I think this was a solid starting point for the series is because you can readily identify what kind of tweaking it will need before the network picks it up. Clu Gulager was far too menacing to play Chase and that raspy, whispery, mumbly way he recited lines (Which probably made him a nightmare for every sound guy he worked with) was at a noticeably lower level than that of the other actors, Jane Wyman especially.
Samantha Eggar as Maggie? Not American enough to win over U.S. audiences and British wasn't the European demographic they were going for. They also decided to make the Maggie character a writer instead of an ex stewardess in order to open up different storyline avenues.
A lot of the action in the pilot was shot left to right. I don't know why they did it that way. Must have something to do with the location which in the series was different.
Jane Wyman was set to play Angela with gray hair as we see her here but looked tired rather than distinguished doubtless resulting in the Miss Clairol treatment for her time on the actual series. There are considerably more horses seen in this version of Falcon Crest perhaps because the Angela character was originally offered to Barbara Stanwyck who famously adored horseback riding and preferred projects which let her indulge that passion.
Various similar but different moments would tie this offering to the actual show. The shed with the irrigation pump is blown up like in "The Harvest" but Lance did it in that episode. Here we see it done by Richard. The bar-fight at the Hideaway in which Lance gouged Mario with a bottle is instead done at a club called the "Cold Duck" and Mario is played by a different actor. Angela's grooming of Cole to displace Lance as her chosen heir is another aspect seen in "The Harvest" 1.4.
What they sacrificed here was a lovely classical music theme and the gimmick of a stained glass frame portrait of the valley as beginning to the opening titles montage and underneath the closing titles. As far as location goes the version in the pilot features exteriors of the mythical Tuscany County which is very hilly compared with what would be seen on the series. The winery interior is different too - quite opulent (particularly the tasting room) unlike that seen early in the series.
The Richard Channing character was shelved and revamped. I don't think Michael Swan did a bad job in a role which initially allowed for very little. He certainly had the right continental look for the show. The writers didn't appear to know where to go with the character and producers likely judged it to be a redundancy giving much of Richard's storyline to Lance in the first season and bringing Richard back as a much more complicated character at the beginning of Season Two.
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