Those who would even consider watching something like "Falcon Crest" don't care if it's good or bad; they only care if it's bad enough. It isn't. This thoroughly gratuitous attempt to increase the population of soap operas in prime time doesn't have characters as entertainingly overripe as those in "Dallas" or the festive purple blush of "Dynasty."
And yet the new CBS program, premiering at 10 tonight on Channel 9, has been dutifully and doggedly created in the image of those other shows, starting with aerial views of big houses and expensive cars in the opening credits and continuing on, shamelessly, by the numbers. This time the empire runs on wine, not oil; Jane Wyman plays the authoritarian matriarch of a huge grape-squashing empire in northern California. She and the program succinctly epitomize the time-honored phrase "one too many."
The producers take no chances with the opening scene: sex and violence, right up front. First a man attempts to divest a young woman of her virginity down amongst the vats, and then they are interrupted by drunken old Jason Gioberti (Harry Townes in a mercifully brief role), who, during a struggle, falls from a platform and dies. Now this is one of the world's richest families, so instead of calling the police and reporting it as an accident, they put the body in a car and then blow the car up.
Wyman gets to totter around saying things like, of the late Mr. Gioberti, "I'm afraid Jason just wasn't a vineyardist" and, to her grandson (that talking two-by-four Lorenzo Lamas), "Your mother's had too much wine. Would you see to her?" She also twice pronounces "dilapidated" as "dilapitated." Her nephew is played by Robert Foxworth, and his wife by the attractive Susan Sullivan, who looks as though she would like to grab her agent and throttle him for having sent her up this particular river.
"Falcon Crest" occupies one of the safest time slots in television, right after "Dallas," and both CBS and Lorimar Productions (which cranks out both shows) obviously hope people will be too lazy to change the channels. Meanwhile, for people who like at least a particle of thought with their TV escapism, ABC last week premiered a welcome and surprisingly sophisticated new suspense anthology, "The Darkroom," with James Coburn; it is 156 times better than "Dallas" and "Falcon Crest" put together.
If "Falcon Crest" were a wine, after all, it would be a vintage Thunderbird.