Gary and Valene left their mark on primetime

Television fans of a certain age have long known that “Dallas” spinoff “Knots Landing”  was in the works before the Texas saga of the Ewing family was even a sparkle in CBS’s eye.

What’s even less well known about the long-running cul-de-sac prime-time soap is that when it finally premiered 40 years ago this week (more than a year after “Dallas”), on Dec. 27, 1979, it wasn’t much of a continuing soap at all. Episodes were mostly self-contained. It was only after “Dallas” cliffhangers proved ratings gold in 1980 that “Knots” began to bubble into the sudsy legend it became.

Creator David Jacobs said he was inspired to develop the show in 1977 by Ingmar Bergman’s popular 1973 Swedish miniseries “Scenes from a Marriage” and the 1957 big-screen melodrama “No Down Payment,” about the intertwining lives of a group of California neighbors. But when he pitched it, CBS passed on the idea for its lack of sprawl. (The three biggest dramas at the time, all on ABC, were “Charlie’s Angels,” “The Six Million Dollar Man” and “Baretta”; CBS had just two in the entire whole Top 30: “Hawaii Five-0” and “The Waltons.”)

William Devane and Constance McCashin from 'Knots Landing.'

Jacobs came back to the network with “Dallas,” which aired as a five-episode miniseries in the spring of 1978.

Picked up as a regular series that fall, the success of  “Dallas” allowed Jacobs to revisit “Knots,” eventually seeding it into early episodes of the Ewings’ third season. The spinoff’s  concept: Ewing good son Gary (Ted Shackelford, in the role played by David Aykroyd on “Dallas”) and wife Valene (Joan Van Ark) have moved to Seaview Circle in the fictional Los Angeles suburb of Knots Landing, where they come to know neighbors the Fairgates (Don Murray and Michele Lee), the Averys (Constance McCashin and John Pleshette), and the Wards (Kim Lankford and James Houghton).

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