Critique: ‘Knots Landing’ Episode 1 – ‘Pilot’

Bobby Ewing, Dallas, Joan Van Ark, Knots Landing, Patrick Duffy, Pilot, Valene Ewing

North Texas, West Coast

Gary and Valene Ewing begin a new life in “Knots Landing’s” pilot, but it’s hard for me to get excited for the couple, given all the unfinished business they leave behind in Texas.

In “Dallas’s” third-season episode “Return Engagements,” which aired one week before “Knots Landing’s” debut, Gary and Val remarry and decide to relocate to Southern California. Incredibly, they don’t bother to share this news with their daughter Lucy, who is now a college freshman.

In the “Knots Landing” pilot, Gary explains this decision to Bobby, who appears in two scenes at the top of the hour. According to Gary, he and Val don’t want Lucy to know they’ve remarried until the couple is sure their second union is for keeps. “Our marriage was short the first time around. This time, Val and I have to know it’s gonna last,” Gary says.

If Gary and Val aren’t sure their relationship will succeed, why get married at all?

Don’t get me wrong: I like Gary and Val, but I’ve never bought their tortured explanations for allowing the Ewings to raise Lucy. When you think about it, Gary and Val are kind of deadbeat parents, which makes CBS’s decision to build a show around them a bit surprising.

Oddly, the “Knots Landing” producers choose to have their pilot revolve around neighbor Sid Fairgate’s attempt to tame his rebellious daughter, Annie. The storyline seems designed to echo Gary and Val’s strained relationship with Lucy, giving the couple plenty of opportunities to moon over her. But if the producers wanted “Knots Landing’s” first episode to be about parents reconnecting with an estranged child, why invent a surrogate?

Of course, while David Jacobs’s plotting in this episode might be curious, his dialogue is first-rate, as always. I’m particularly fond of Val and Annie’s beach scene. I love when Val asks the girl, “Home come you hate your daddy so much?” and Annie responds, “Grandma’s dead. I got no one else to hate.”

Joan Van Ark and Karen Allen’s performances here are as beautiful as Jacobs’ writing, but I can’t help thinking: Why isn’t Val having this conversation with her own daughter?

Grade: B


Bobby Ewing, Dallas, Gary Ewing, Joan Van Ark, Karen Fairgate, Knots Landing, Michele Lee, Pilot, Ted Shackelford, Joan Van Ark

Meet the neighbors


“Knots Landing” Season 1, Episode 1

Airdate: December 27, 1979

Audience: 15.3 million homes, ranking 23rd in the weekly ratings

Writer: David Jacobs

Director: Peter Levin

Synopsis: Bobby helps Gary and Valene move into their new home in Knots Landing, where the couple befriends next-door neighbors Sid and Karen Fairgate. Val helps settle a dispute between Sid and Annie, his rebellious daughter from a previous marriage.

Cast: Karen Allen (Annie Fairgate), Justin Dana (Jason Avery), Patrick Duffy (Bobby Ewing), James Houghton (Kenny Ward), Kim Lankford (Ginger Ward), Michele Lee (Karen Fairgate), Claudia Lonow (Diana Fairgate), Constance McCashin (Laura Avery), Don Murray (Sid Fairgate), Pat Petersen (Michael Fairgate), John Pleshette (Richard Avery), Ted Shackelford (Gary Ewing), Steve Shaw (Eric Fairgate), Joan Van Ark (Valene Ewing)

“Knots Landing’s” pilot is available on DVD. Watch the episode and share your comments below.


  1. Sounds like Knots Landing didn’t start on a high point. Perhaps because it’s a spin off? Seems like it would be riding Dallas more than trying to be a great show in its own right, at least at this early juncture.

  2. May I point out C.B. that Brother Garrison Arthur “Gary” Ewing (the middle child of Jock & Ellie’s 3 biological sons) was always thought to be the weakest of the 3 brothers. I always disagreed with that, why, b/c if he was so weak, why was he strong enough to helm his own independent nighttime weekly soap drama? Brother Gary seems rather stronger than folks give credit 4 II me!

  3. Just watched this for the first time as I’m going to watch the series chronologically along with Dallas. Noticed right off the bat that they must have filmed this months prior to “Return Engagements” as Gary’s hair is noticeably longer in this pilot but then I see that its back to ‘normal’ length in the preview for episode 2.

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