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(revised 12/04/2023)

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The Development of the Pilot

The "Falcon Crest" predecessor entitled "The Vintage Years" — written by EARL HAMNER — was filmed as a one-hour pilot show in the spring of 1981, but was never aired on TV.

The process of creating the series started with a blending of various scripts EARL HAMNER had written:
One of them contained the idea of showing two wine growing families; one in California, one in France; the concept was to go back and forth each week between the two countries. CBS was not receptive to this idea because it reminded them of the unsuccessful old "Fair Exchange" serial.
Another script was entitled "The Barclays"; it concentrated on an urban family moving from New York to a little town in Kentucky — with a father working in the newspaper business, the mother being called Maggie and their children Victoria and Cole... who finally became the Giobertis in "The Vintage Years".
The title of the pilot was not approved of for the series. One reason was that there had been an old radio show with the same title; another reason was that CBS was afraid the connotation of the word "vintage" might indicate it was a show about old people.
MICHAEL FILERMAN suggested "Vulture's Nest", but that title was given the ax because it sounded too aggressive.
EARL HAMNER's new suggestion was "Falcon's Lair", based on the name of RUDOLPHO VALENTINO's Beverly Hills mansion, later "Falcon Ridge" and "Falcon Valley".
The final compromise for the show's title was "Falcon Crest".
The Characters and the Cast
Compared with the series, some of the characters were portrayed by different actors. The cast list is available here.
Angie Channing:
BARBARA STANWYCK, who later won the rôle of Constance Colby on "The Colbys", was the original choice for the rôle of Angie Gioberti Channing. The actress, however, was not interested in the part. Other casting suggestions for Angie were DOROTHY McGUIRE, DOROTHY MALONE and ALICE FAYE.
JANE WYMAN was in a gray wig on the predecessor as the producers wanted Angie to appear older. This proved to be inappropriate for the series because, on the one hand, all characters were to be younger and, on the other hand, the actress did not like the wig. This led to the producers' decision Angie be the same age as JANE WYMAN.

The family matriarch is always called Angie on the pilot whereas that nickname will not be used that often in the series; her character will be called Angela most times.
Angie rules the roost on the predecessor, "The Vintage Years" — as she will do in the series later.

Richard Channing:
This rôle in "The Vintage Years" is not identical with the character of Richard Channing, who will appear in season 2 of "Falcon Crest".
In the pilot, Richard Channing, is a son of Angie and Duncan Channing. Richard is an extremely dark, ruthless and dangerous man, a soldier of fortune, whom his mother ordered back to the valley when Chase and Maggie arrived because Angie needs Richard's helping hand to get rid of the unwelcome relatives.
In contrast to this final version of "The Vintage Years", previous character outlines spoke of Richard Cumson, an older brother to Lance, in context with this rôle.

Dorcas Cumson:
This character is identical with the rôle of Julia Cumson.
Compared with what will be depicted in # 004, the predecessor makes many more obvious allusions to her drinking too much alcohol. This was apparently the groundwork for Dorcas being or becoming an alcoholic — a storyline that was rather hinted instead of being realized in the series.


Maggie Gioberti:
In contrast to the series, Maggie was to be an English lady and to work as a stewardess.


Mario Nuñez:
The original first name of the character was Angelo. He was renamed shortly before the filming of the pilot because the name was too similar to the one of the leading rôle, Angie.

Cole Gioberti:
Another actor besides BILLY R. MOSES auditioning for the part was BRIAN KERWIN.
Victoria Gioberti:
Other actresses besides JAMIE ROSE auditioning for the part were HEATHER LOCKLEAR, who later won the Sammy-Jo rôle on "Dynasty", and JANINE TURNER.
Lee Fong:
This character is identical with the Chinese butler and majordomo, Chao-Li Chi. As the original name seemed too clichéd, JANE WYMAN suggested CHAO-LI CHI use his own real name in the series.

Lupe Nuñez:
This character was to be a 10-year-old son of Gus and Alicia and brother to Mario. He was erased when the pilot was remodeled into the series.

Emma Channing:
This character is also part of the predecessor, but was only a tiny little rôle. She is held captive in the rooftop studio of the Mansion. In one scene, she can be seen on the top of the stairway — but only her body can be noticed in that short scene; her face is off camera. In a couple of other scenes, she can be heard screaming, whining and singing. The extra portraying Emma (not MARGARET LADD on the predecessor) was not even credited.
Program practices in the pilot script state the audience will learn in later episodes that Emma is not retarded.
Characters without on-screen appearances in the pilot — original concept:
By and large, the ancestors are the same as in the series: Joseph Gioberti and Tessa Lindström as well as Jasper Gioberti.
Joseph and Tessa, however, were also to have a stillborn male infant.
Jasper's wife, Lilly (later Lily in the series) Travers, was to be a French Creole. In the pilot itself, there was no explicit mention of that, but her French-Creole heritage was to be revealed in later episodes (finally executed in the scene with Angela and Vickie at the Gioberti Family Cemetery in # 147). Except the story about Angela's mother being unfaithful to her husband, her history did not become part of the series.
In contrast to the series, Jason Gioberti was to be Jasper's bastard son, making him only a half-brother to Angela.
Jacqueline Fourri or Jacqueline Jourrier, a French attorney, was the original idea for the character of Jacqueline Perrault.
Duncan Channing is the original name for the character who was called Douglas Channing in the series.
While early script drafts contained Tony Cumson in some scenes, he was in Portugal buying cork in the final version of the predecessor. According to program practices in the pilot script, however, he was to be a regular in the following episodes; in contrast to the series, he was to live with Julia and Lance in the Mansion.
Timothy Channing was to be another son of Angie and Duncan (Douglas). Originally intended to be an editor at his father's newspaper, later character outlines meant him to be a San Francisco attorney and be groomed for political office there. In the course of the following episodes, he was to marry a San Francisco socialite, Geri Cook. Both characters were parts of the early script drafts, in particular for the party scene at Angie's Chateau, but did not make it to the final version of the predecessor. Both Timothy and Geri were completely erased from the show's bible when the predecessor was revamped into "Falcon Crest".

The original CBS promo composite to advertize "The Vintage Years": CLU GULAGER (Chase), JANE WYMAN (Angie) and LORENZO LAMAS (Lance).

The Plot
The plot is quite similar to what later became episode # 004.
Publicity stills galleries from the predecessor are available here.
The Falcon Crest name is not used on the predecessor. The estate is referred to as the Gioberti winery and vineyards only.
The wine growing fields Chase inherited from his late father, Jason, are most times referred to by a particular name either. Occasionally, they are referenced as the "Cottage Vineyard".
There is no explicit mention of the name of the Tuscany Valley (County) either. EARL HAMNER's early concept for the pilot used the name of the real Napa Valley. Other names discussed for the county of the show's major locations were San Leone County, Marsden County, Loma County, Grover County and Crescent County.
For the final version of the predecessor, however, it was decided that the name would be Tuscany Valley. Sheriff Tobias' shoulder patch and uniform are the same as in the series; the patch reads: "Sheriff — Tuscany Valley".
The major difference to the series is that Jason Gioberti has no on-screen appearance in the original pilot. Directions for program practices in the script indicate that Jason's body was found floating in a vat of Cabernet Sauvignon in the winery building and that the cause of his death was an unsolved mystery; this was not mentioned in the final version of the original pilot, but was to be revealed in later episodes.
The original pilot opens approximately six months after Chase inherited Jason's share of the Gioberti vineyards (100 acres on the pilot, whereas it will be 50 acres in the series) and moved into the Gioberti stone cottage with his family.
The original pilot was a lot darker than the series, and the characters were portrayed in a sort of black-and-white pattern, like "the good ones here and the bad ones there". Angie, for instance, was portrayed as a really evil and much darker character; Richard Channing, a character completely erased from the series, was an extremely dark and unscrupulous character who would stop at nothing to gain what he and his mother want. Chase and Maggie, on the contrary, are portrayed as the consummate good-natured down-to-earth couple. In contrast, the series will depict the characters from various perspectives and give them a complex outline. Although Angela will certainly be the "bad one" in the series, too, there will be a lot more depth in her character, and her rôle in particular will have a good number of positive characteristics as well; Chase, on the other hand, will no longer be portrayed as the consummate "good one", but also be given some bad habits in the series. All in all, the series will create much more complex and multi-dimensional characters.
Shortly before the filming began, the producing staff considered to include a wolfhound in Angie's first scene on the veranda of the Victorian Mansion (called the Chateau in the originial pilot). This idea was dropped though.
Early script drafts contained an act 1 scene with Vickie waiting — with her friend and fellow student Nancy (a deleted character) — in front of the Valley High School for Angelo (Mario in the final version) to pick her up when Lance drives by in his Corvette to confront Vickie about her relationship with Angelo. This scene was rewritten as the riding scene in which Vickie arrives at the irrigation canal where Mario is working and Lance stops by in his car.
Early script drafts contained an act 2 scene with Maggie shopping at the supermarket in the valley and running into Tony, who mentions that Dorcas is an alcoholic and that Lance was spoiled-rotten by Angie. He says that all other family members are totally caught in Angie's web of schemes.
The scene with Angie and Cole at the Gioberti Family Cemetery (act 2) gave away more details about the Gioberti family history in early script drafts, which were dropped in the final version: A younger Gioberti brother to Jasper, who died as an infant, is mentioned although the first draft of the script does not give away his first name. Also, Angie mentions her mother's heritage as a French Creole woman (see above) and Lilly (Lily) having been a doctor's daughter, whose idea the Chateau (later the Victorian Mansion) was and whose passion it was to furnish it with items purchased on six trips to Europe. Angie also mentions that her mother deserted her father for a Frenchman with whom she lived in Épernay / France — Jason's father. According to Angie, Jason would become very strange, cultivating his vines and harvesting the grapes, just to plow them under as fertilizer.
In early script drafts, the act 3 scene with Angie and Chase in the tasting room (staged outside in the gazebo in the final version) differed in Angie's wish to not only make Cole her heir, but to adopt him.
In early script drafts, the act 4 opener was a scene with Chase in his vineyards, seeking advice from Father Paxton, trying to find out if he knows anything about Jason's death. The priest cannot answer though because of the seal of the confessional. This entire scene was dropped in rewrites.
Chase's threat (during the party in act 4) to expose Angie's tactics with the picking crew by letting her know that Cole overheard the incriminating conversation with Lance was different in early script drafts: At a local jewelry store, Chase buys a Zippo cigarette lighter of the same kind that Richard has and artificially tries to age and deface it. During the party, he confronts Angie with this piece of "evidence", tricking her into believing he actually found Richard's lighter at the irrigation canal, just at the site of the pump house explosion, which would make Richard the culprit. That way, he blackmails her into sending the picking crew to his vineyard.
The Filming Locations
The predecessor was entirely filmed on location in the Napa Valley in Northern California's Wine Country over a period of six weeks.
The major filming location of the pilot were the Spring Mountain Vineyards in St. Helena, CA. Besides exterior footage on the winery grounds, the pilot's interior scenes were filmed on the first floor of its Victorian Mansion (Villa Miravalle). As MICHAEL and SUSAN ROBBINS, the winery's owners in those days, were shocked at their parquet floors being scratched by the production equipment, filming inside the house was out of the question for future episodes.
In contrast to the later series, no exterior footage of the Winery Building was used. There were only interior scenes filmed in the barrel room.
JANE WYMAN on the set at Spring Mountain's Villa Miravalle.
Left photo: with MICHAEL ROBBINS (winery owner, technical advisor and, on the pilot, Angie's party escort), CLU GULAGER behind them.
Right photo: with director ALEXANDER SINGER preparing a party scene.
The arbor and gazebo were specifically built for "The Vintage Years" by LORIMAR behind the Victorian Mansion. In the scenes pictured above, the view of the valley (Angie's POV in the scene with Cole; Chase's POV in the scene with Angie), however, is from a different spot east of the (unseen) residence at La Perla (see below), the camera facing east. A part of the gazebo was moved there, and the segments of the scenes were combined in the editing process. In real life, the characters would actually see the Spring Mountain Winery Building from where the gazebo and arbor were originally built.
The unseen residence at La Perla, by the way, burnt to the ground in the Boyson and Glass Fires (Napa Valley wildfires) towards the end of September 2020.
Another filming location for the pilot was Chateau Chevalier in St. Helena, CA, which posed as the Gioberti Estate. The main house was used as the stone cottage. The exteriors of the barn were used also whereas the interiors with the stalls were filmed in the barn at Spring Mountain. Additional shots were taken in the Chateau Chevalier vineyards and on the driveway.
The owners in those days terminated the contract, however, after the crew accidently damaged the property. Therefore, a new estate was needed to portray the Gioberti House in the series. Nowadays, Chateau Chevalier, by the way, is part of Spring Mountain.
The winery at the Gioberti Vineyard (exteriors and interiors, particularly Dorcas' lab) and parts of the vineyard were filmed at La Perla outside St. Helena, another property, which nowadys belongs to Spring Mountain.
The winery at La Perla, by the way, burnt to the ground in the Boyson and Glass Fires (Napa Valley wildfires) towards the end of September 2020.

The Gioberti Family Cemetery was also filmed at La Perla on a hill southeast of the winery.

LORIMAR's original drawings and sketches of the aforementioned filming locations are available for DFCF members in the Show – Production Office – Filming Locations – Distant Locations section.

The panorama of vineyards for the main title was filmed from the terrace of Sterling Vineyards in Calistoga, CA.

The hospital interiors in the scene with Mario are from the Queen of the Valley Hospital in Napa, CA.
The interiors of the Cold Duck (the bar where Lance and Mario fight and where Chase and Gus try to hire the fieldhands later) are portrayed by what used to be Claudie's Place (nowadays Bistro Jeanty) in Yountville, CA.
Identical picture cars that were used later in the series as well:
  • the Giobertis' 1972 beige Jeep CJ-5 (although it has a different prop license plate — the number is 640 PAP in the pilot; compare # 003 for the one in the series)
  • and the red 1975 Maserati Merak SS (type 122) Angie gives as a present to Cole (earlier script drafts suggested a Porsche though).
A beigeish / grayish (officially called "Sand over Sable") Bentley S-Series saloon car was Angie's vehicle (screen capture 1) instead of the black Mercedes-Benz 600 that was later used in the series (screen grab 2).
It is either a Bentley S1 or S2, which differs in the engine and interior details only. It is impossible to determine these features just from the film; picture car documentation is not available though.
Lance's 1978 Chevrolet Corvette C3 was gray (screen capture 1). His 1977 Corvette C3 model in the series, in contrast, was black / gray (screen grab 2).
The Hispanic pickers used a light green 1967 Chevrolet C-10 with the license plate number 45747E in the pilot (screen capture 1) whereas the series featured a red 1967 C-10 with the license plate number T976312 (screen grab 2).
The prop masters had to wire a lot of faux grape leaves onto the vines because at the time of filming "The Vintage Years" (spring 1981) they were not in bloom.
Visual Identity
The main title of the predecessor did not contain the falcon coat of arms that later became famous for the show. The original "logo" were grapes on a stained glass window with the title, "The Vintage Years", in gold lettering being superimposed on.
The initial typeface design discussed for the title is pictured on the left; it was used for LORIMAR's location placards.
In the end, the lettering pictured on the right made it to the main title.
A font called "Souvenir" was used for the cast and crew credits (no photos; names only) in the main title. Under these credits, a panoramic view of vineyards was shown.
The design of the lettering was totally different from the typeface later used for "Falcon Crest". Information about the visual identity of "Falcon Crest" is available in the Production Office resources.
Screen captures of the main title are available here.
Identical Footage
Some scenes from "The Vintage Years" were reused later on "Falcon Crest":
Please refer to the behind-the-scenes information for # 003 (first screen grabs), 004 (other screen captures), 019, 028, 030, 036, 038, 099 and 138 (vineyard panorama from the main title).
Refilmed Scenes
Some other scenes, e.g. the ones pictured, were refilmed for # 004 almost identically.
If not stated otherwise in the following overview, screen capture 1 in each paragraph is from the predecessor while screen grab 2 is from # 004 of the series.
The Giobertis in their living room: Cole and Chase are studying wine-related nomenclature; Maggie intends to fix a leaky faucet in the kitchen.
After the explosion of the pump house, the Giobertis come out of their house to check out the damage.
Chase talks to Sheriff Turk Tobias about the explosion.
Lance ridicules Victoria's relationship with Mario.
Chase and Maggie arrive in their jeep in front of Angie's Mansion.
Chao-Li opens the door to Angie's Mansion for Chase and Maggie.
Angie welcomes Maggie and Chase to her party.

Angie, Chase, Maggie and Dorcas a.k.a. Julia (as well as Richard in the original pilot) in a conversation at the party. Screen grabs 1 through 3 are from "The Vintage Years"; screen captures 4 through 6 from # 004.

Fight between Lance and Mario at the Cold Duck (name in the predecessor) a.k.a. Hideaway (new name in the series).

Angie tries to talk Chase into selling his vineyard to her. Screen grabs 1 and 2 are from "The Vintage Years"; screen capture 3 is from # 004.

Gus informs Chase and Maggie about the fight at the Cold Duck a.k.a. Hideaway.
Angie talks to Sheriff Tobias about Lance (in "The Vintage Years", in Julia and Richard's presence; in # 004, without Richard).
Angie almost has an accident when riding on her horse (predecessor; screen grabs 1 through 4) / Angie's car breaks down (# 004; screen captures 5 and 6); Cole helps her.
Vickie visits Mario in the hospital; Alicia enters.
Chase and Gus make arrangements for the grape harvest with the pickers.
Lance asks his mother for some money in her lab.
Angie tells Cole about the Gioberti family history. Screen grabs 1 through 4 are from "The Vintage Years"; the publicity photo and screen captures 5 and 6 are from # 004.
Angie shows Cole the portraits of the Gioberti ancestors in the tasting room.
Angie confronts Lance because she is fed up with his behavior. The scene in # 004 includes Chao-Li instead of Richard.
Angie and Chase disagree over Cole's future.

Angela surprises Cole with a red Maserati Merak as a gift. The publicity photo as well as screen grab 1 are from "The Vintage Years"; screen capture 2 is from # 004.

Cole arrives at the Gioberti stone cottage / the Gioberti House in his Maserati.
Cole leaves the Giobertis' property / the Gioberti Estate again.
The Nuñez family wishes the Giobertis good luck for their first harvest (with Lupe being in the scene in the original pilot).
Angie calls Chase to let him know Cole will spend the night at Falcon Crest.
Cole hears Emma crying; Lance warns Cole not to underestimate Angie. The publicity still and screen capture 1 are from "The Vintage Years"; screen grab 2 is from # 004.
The picking crew calls off the appointment with Chase.
Angela, Cole, Lance and Julia a.k.a. Dorcas (as well as Richard on the predecessor) are having breakfast at the Mansion.
Chase, Maggie und Victoria are having breakfast at the Gioberti home.
Chase and Maggie see a plane in the sky during their harvest.
Cole overhears Angie's conversation with Lance. Screen captures 1 and 2 are from "The Vintage Years"; screen grabs 3 and 4 from # 004.
Cole gives the key to the Maserati back to Angie.
Cole runs back to his folks.
Chase confronts Angie (re: the picking crew). Screen grabs 1 and 2 as well as the publicity still are from "The Vintage Years"; screen captures 3 and 4 are from # 004.
During the party at Angie's Chateau, the musicians are playing "Tales from the Vienna Woods" (Op. 325), a waltz by JOHANN STRAUSS II (1825 – 1899). The same piece is played during the refilmed scene in # 004.
The Giobertis begin their grape harvest with a prayer by Father Paxton. Screen grabs 1 and 2 are from "The Vintage Years"; screen captures 3 and 4 from # 004.
Lance (and Richard on the predecessor) watch the Giobertis' grape harvest.
Stunt Doubles
In the more dangerous parts of a few segments in "The Vintage Years", the main cast members are replaced by stunt doubles:

When Richard is riding fast near the irriation canal, MICHAEL SWAN is replaced by stunt double (and stunt coordinator) JERRY GATLIN.


When Vickie is jumping over the gate on her horse, JAMIE ROSE is replaced by stunt double JOIE GATLIN (stunt coordinator JERRY GATLIN's daughter).


When Angie's skittish horse repeatedly rears up and Cole runs to her rescue, grabbing the reins, both JANE WYMAN and BILLY R. MOSES are replaced by stunt doubles MAY BOSS and JOHNNY HOCK respectively in the far shots.

Deleted Scene
In act 4, Chase knocks at the door of the Nuñez Cottage, but nobody is home. This scene, which was supposed to be featured right before Chase and Maggie's conversation at the Gioberti Family Cemetery, was shot (with the meanwhile demolished Workers' House at Chateau Chevalier as the filming location for the Nuñez Cottage), but removed in post-production.
Although, in 1981, LORIMAR and CBS executives decided to lock up "The Vintage Years" in their archives because they thought the show suffered from creative and technical problems, the original pilot is worth watching to understand the development of the series that later became "Falcon Crest". AOL In2TV aired the initial pilot in their video-on-demand system for the U.S. audience between March 2006 and 2008 — finally after almost 25 years.

General Information (Season 1)
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