Knots Landing premiered on CBS in December 1979. It followed the lives and relationships of Gary & Valene Ewing (Ted Shackelford & Joan Van Ark), recently remarried and new to town; Sid & Karen Fairgate (Don Murray & Michele Lee), the strong married couple with three children; Richard & Laura Avery (John Pleshette & Constance McCashin), the couple with marital problems; and Kenny & Ginger Ward (James Houghton & Kim Lankford), the young newlyweds.
Abby Cunningham (Donna Mills), Sid's younger divorced sister in the "bitch" role, came to town with her two children at the beginning of the second season; she was added to stir up the pot, so to speak, and began trying to seduce everyone's husband; she eventually set her sights on Gary and married him after ruining his marriage to Val. Donna Mills, who had for years played weak female and "victim" roles in various TV shows and movies, was thrilled to play a strong, powerful female lead. In fact, the show had many strong female characters.
In the beginning, these characters were a lot like people that lived down the street. They wore jeans and did the dishes... something you would never see on "Dynasty" or "Dallas"! Also, the early episodes (first 2 seasons) were self-contained and did not have the serialized format that was standard for most of the other nighttime soaps.
Early in the third season, Sid Fairgate died during emergency surgery after a car crash because Don Murray wanted to leave the show. By the end of the fourth season, original characters Richard Avery, Kenny Ward and Ginger Ward were all written off the show. The new characters of Mack MacKenzie and Gregory Sumner became more prominent.
The biggest mistake was when the powers that be fired actress Constance McCashin during the 1987-1988 season due to her real-life pregnancy. They had written her two previous pregnancies into the story, but they did not plan to do so this time. Granted, the storyline involving Laura's brain cancer and subsequent death was very well written and poignant, and superbly acted by Constance McCashin and William Devane as her husband Greg Sumner; however, they could have just had Laura leave town or written the character out of a few episodes to accommodate the actress' pregnancy since Laura was not very heavily involved in a big story at that time. Apparently, many other reviewers liked this character and felt that letting this actress go was a mistake.
There were many great actors on this show, but special mention must go to Julie Harris as Lilimae Clements, Valene's mother, and Michelle Phillips as Anne Matheson, Paige's shallow, self-absorbed mother and Mack's ex-girlfriend. They both brought lighter comedic moments to the show with their roles.
The fact that the show lasted 14 seasons demonstrates that it was far better than the other prime time soaps. The show managed to stay true to form for the most part throughout the entire series run by focusing on the characters and their motivations and not on overly outlandish plots.