Question: I was a h-u-u-u-ge Knots Landing fan and always wondered about some of the gossip of the day. Is it true the cast hated each other? How did they really get along? Thanks for the answer. Harry K., Newark, Del.
Televisionary: Well, on the screen, Knots Landing was about a community of ambitious, scheming, somewhat narcissistic people trying to get theirs via means ranging from upright and fair to downright nasty. Behind the scenes, it was pretty much the same thing.
But that's only to be expected when you consider that the series, which launched on CBS in December 1979 as a Dallas spin-off revolving around Ewing black sheep Gary (Ted Shackleford) and wife Val (Joan Van Ark), saw more than 100 cast members march across its sets by the time it left the air nearly 14 years later. Take 100 of any kind of people and you're bound to see some sparks fly. Take 100 Hollywood types and you can count on electrical storms.
Knots Landing already had a tough cookie in Michelle Lee, who was on the show from the beginning and stayed with it over its entire run. But when Donna Mills signed on in 1980 to play the conniving Abby, who immediately set about tearing the neighborhood's relationships apart, she took the tension to a new level in front of the camera and behind it. "At that time I had hopes they'd build my part into another J.R., but when Donna came along I saw she would be the J.R.," John Pleshette, who played Richard Avery, told TV Guide in 1983. "As for the women already in the cast, they can't be blamed if they thought: One more pretty girl, that much less for me."
Despite Lee's and Van Ark's assertions that they welcomed the newcomer for the spice she added to the show, Mills said she caught some attitude right away. "I was the outsider," she said three years after joining the cast. "The others had been working together for more than a year and they didn't need me."
As these things go, of course, people spend time together, get used to each other's quirks and settle into a smooth routine that benefits everyone, right? If you just said "right," you need to go back up and read the part about this being Hollywood again. Claws were bared, blood drawn. And nowhere were the scars more apparent than when TV Guide asked each cast member for some parting shots as the series was wrapping up.
There was Lee's tense relationship with the younger blonde, Nicollette Sheridan, who joined the cast in 1986, for example. "Nicollette would walk in with that rump of hers, in whatever she was wearing or not wearing and I would just scream, 'Get this girl off the set! Keep her out of my face!'" Lee recalled in 1993. "That was not animosity, that was my sense of humor. It's a joke I'm telling her how beautiful she is. But, please, not in my face!"
Sheridan wasn't laughing quite so hard. "That was a joke, but there is probably a little truth in all jokes," she said in response to the comment. "I guess whenever the young relatively young attractive addition comes on a set, all the feathers do get a little ruffled."
Meow! But just so you don't think it was only the show's ladies whose tempers flared, star William Devane, who signed on in 1983, bears mentioning. "I don't want to sound like sour grapes, but my character's integrity was completely assaulted," he complained after the series finished up. "Once, he told me that the writers were terrible and that the only one who could write his character was me," said Knots creator David Jacobs when asked about the actor. "So then I wrote all his material, and then I heard back that he wouldn't do any of it. First he tells me I'm the only one who can write, and then when I write, he won't do the lines."
"Bill is something else," Lee added. "He doesn't watch his mouth. There were times when there was a lot of jealousy and competition on the set and nobody ever talked about any of this except Bill. He just spilled the beans on everything." Added Sheridan: "Bill tends to rule the roost and have people shake in their boots. I wasn't about to take Bill's s--t. Sometimes the two of us would get into it. I found him amusing and liked the repartee. I couldn't help but indulge."
Get the picture? Mind you, one could easily make the case that all the on-set tension may have played a large part in the show's longevity since such ego-driven shenanigans can only help motivate people acting like they hate each other. Whatever the reason, Jacobs was quite the soothsayer as the show first got rollling, when he told his then-new cast his expectations for the series after his experiences with Dallas. "We're not going to get any attention. We won't win any awards," he said. "But we're going to go on forever." Not quite, but in TV terms, 14 years is about as close as it gets.