Since 1980, a serial drama usually concluded its season with the requisite cliff-hanger in spring to keep "viewers on pins and needles all summer" until the season-opening resolutions in the fall. On the 'Knots Landing' cliff-hanger in 1988, the season finale was described as "the most daring thing we've done on the series in nine years.

"There's a full, uninterrupted act and a half of two characters going at each other in one room. It's brave, it's exceptional writing." Joan Van Ark considered the writing as "a gift from the writers. Thank you God, and thank you writers, brave and daring. The show never did this before and I loved the challenge of it. Because of the writers' strike, I don't know how they plan to resolve it."

The cliff-hanger, Harvey Shephard of CBS insisted, "They're very important. Right before summer, the cliff-hanger builds to a crescendo and brings them back in the fall." However David Poltrack of CBS maintained by delaying the cliff-hangers until May (for the sweeps), the networks had a smaller pool of viewers than during the winter, when more people were at home and watching TV.

The cliff-hanger on 'Knots Landing' first went on air in May 1988 was regarded unprecedented for series television because the scene was uninterrupted for 20-plus minutes by other plots. Teri Austin observed, "Most shows look like MTV with two-minute scenes. This was really more like doing a play." Of the four most popular prime-time soap operas in the 1980s, three were on CBS and one on ABC.

David Poltrack of CBS pointed out, "Wednesday, Thursday and Friday nights are covered, people don't stay home every Saturday night and on Sundays and Mondays you have an established pattern of mini-series and major films that pull people away. For example, when CBS had 'Emerald Point N.A.S.' on Monday nights (in 1983-84), NBC had one big movie after another. So Tuesday is the only night that has the potential (except 'Paper Dolls' 1984)."

'Dynasty', 'Knots Landing', 'Dallas' and 'Falcon Crest' had been mostly successful in their time periods. Of the four, David Poltrack remarked, "The characters (in 'Knots Landing') are right out of middle-class America and are a little more believable than those in the bigger-than-life fantasies." It was noted the networks normally would not end canceled programs with cliff-hangers.

By 1988, Leonard Katzman believed the genre had used up a lot of material and proposed the episodic format change instead of relying on the continuing plot. The self-contained stories would feature guest stars for each episode such as on 'The Love Boat', 'Fantasy Island' and 'Arthur Hailey's Hotel'. At the time, programs such as 'L.A. Law' featured one-episode stories together with stories that would continue over several episodes.

Leonard Katzman told the 'Los Angeles Times' "contained stories make each episode viable for summer reruns and for several economic reasons, including boosting their value in syndication." Leonard Katzman said simply, "In all of television production, there is creation and there is execution. Creation is what gets a show on the air; execution is what keeps it on the air. I think I've executed the show."

Rick Kennedy of 'Scripps Howard News Service' reported in 1988, "With a new decade approaching (the 1990s), historians have begun tagging the 1980s as the era when we worshipped wealth. No TV series has better reflected that than the sinister, 'Dallas', which quietly marks its 10th anniversary in (April 1988). The fact that 'Dallas' is popular worldwide 'seems to mean the show's appeal is something fairly simplistic,' said Clifford Hardie, associate professor of English at Wilmington College.

"'My hunch is society's fixation with wealth has a lot to do with it.' Elliot Gorn, director of the American Studies program at Miami University in Oxford, Ohio contends the pathos in 'Dallas is more complex than one might think. 'People watch 'Dallas' in order to distance themselves from its characters. The fact that the characters are wealthy and never happy is reassuring to people. 'Dallas' is a way of looking at wealth and convincing yourself you don't want to be that way.'"

Of the episodic format, Esther Shapiro begged to differ, "One of the things that people traditionally liked is the fact that you're building on a story, and people want to know what's going to happen. Generally, in an hour show (that is not serialized), you have to do a lot of exposition to introduce a new story, since each new character and story will need to be explained."

Harvey Shephard of CBS reasoned, "Every television show reaches a point where it experiences audience decline, usually after five or seven years. When a show with key individuals has been on for so many years, you sort of run into dry spells as far as storytelling avenues are concerned. There are only so many stories about the oil or wine industries."

Mike White worked in advertising made the observation, "We use up television programs so fast. With the soaps, you probably get tired of watching the same casts of characters going through basically the same kinds of problems. Or maybe it's the whole titillation thing, which was one of the reasons for their success. Titillation that is continual isn't titillating anymore; it's boring. These shows also lose their believability. They get more and more bizarre, and after a while you say, 'I don't need this.'"

Most TV series filmed 22 episodes a season, 'Knots Landing' had produced up to 30 episodes per season. Lawrence Kasha acknowledged, "You don't want to repeat yourself … It's hard. We used to do them on a seven-day shoot and now because of the expense we do them in six days. It's non-stop. We don't do reruns because we are serialized. We take Christmas week off, but it's just that one week." 

Lynn Marie Latham told 'Soap Opera Digest', "We always say that 'Knots Landing' is about people who take out the garbage and do home permanents, so we feel that our best dramas come from personal stories." Bernard Lechowick added, "Our hallmark comes from David Jacobs: 'This is a show about ordinary people in extraordinary circumstances.'"

Lynn Marie Latham also stated, "We try to have story lines that deal with family dynamics. We feel very strongly about children's rights. And our art director, Ray Markham, has created one of the best sets I've ever seen on television, the Sumner Group office on Stage 20. The set, where he puts elevators and glass room partitions, has given us ideas to write."

Speaking to Libby Slate on Stage 25 at the former MGM Studios, Michele Lee who was preparing  to make her directorial debut discussed Karen MacKenzie's addiction to prescription drugs. "That was one of my most favorite periods of time but also my least favorite, because I had to become lethargic, inactive, and certainly the antithesis of what my character usually is. As an actress, though, I got to do a little stretching."

William Devane discussed writing for 'Knots Landing', "The script needs to be done in five days; I don't enjoy having to work that hard because I always wait till the last minute to do anything. So they gave it to me on a Friday, and I had the weekend, which helped. They looked for an episode in which my character dominated, which naturally makes it easier."

On 'Dynasty', "(The character of) Alexis' idea of breakfast is champagne and grapes in bed, where she reclines on embroidered Pratesi sheets." TV shows such as 'Dallas', 'Dynasty' and 'Falcon Crest' "offer a unique vision of America: one in which the backyard is a polo field and houses are so vast one practically needs a passport to get from one wing to another."

Tom Trimble was the art director of 'Dynasty'. Of the show's style, "We like to think of it as good taste. The Carringtons are old wealth, with a quiet elegance. They like very fine and rich things (including the reproduction of Winterthur furniture, French marble-topped chests and lots of accessories). Alexis represents new money. Alexis took out all the older furniture and put in flashy Italian pieces with two metal palm trees." Tom Trimble told the press in 1987 he drew inspiration for the set from home design magazines, "I go through them frequently. 'Architectural Digest' is, of course, my bible."

Blog Archive