Fresno (miniseries)

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Fresno (TV miniseries).jpg
Written by
  • Mark Ganzel
  • Barry Kemp
  • Michael Petryni
Directed by Jeff Bleckner
Theme music composer John Morris
Country of origin United States
Original language(s) English
Producer(s) R. W. Goodwin
Editor(s) Andrew Chulack
Cinematography Robert Steadman
Running time 360 minutes
Production company(s) MTM Productions
Budget US$12 million[citation needed]
Original network CBS
Original release November 16, 1986 (1986-11-16) – November 20, 1986 (1986-11-20)

Fresno is a 1986 television comedy miniseries that parodied popular prime time soap operas of the day such as Falcon Crest, Dallas, and Dynasty. The series featured high production values, including lavish haute couture gowns by leading costume designer Bob Mackie, a stellar cast of American comedy greats, including Carol Burnett, Teri Garr, Charles Grodin and Dabney Coleman, and a strong supporting cast of character actors including Charles Keating, Pat Corley, Louise Latham, Tom Poston and Henry Darrow. Fresno is also noteworthy for providing early featured roles for future stars Bill Paxton and Michael Richards. It was noted at the time as being the first American satirical TV comedy to be made in the then-popular miniseries format.[1]


Parodying popular prime time soap operas of the era such as Dallas, Dynasty, Falcon Crest and Knots Landing, Fresno chronicles the struggle of matriarch Charlotte Kensington (Burnett) to keep control of her dysfunctional family and defend their declining raisin empire against their arch-rival, the villainous Tyler Cane (Dabney Coleman).[2] In the words of a contemporary network press release:

Fresno rips apart the surface gloss and glitter of the nation's 64th largest city to reveal the sun-ripened passions and freeze-dried hearts of wealthy raisin tycoons as they wage a life-and-death battle for money, power and control of the vital raisin cartel.'[1]


The primary plot of Fresno concerns the ruthless battle for domination of the Fresno raisin industry between the Kensington family and their neighbour and bitter rival, Tyler Cane, as both parties vie to acquire the crucial water rights that will make or break their business. Subplots include the marital conflict between Charlotte's scheming son Cane (Charles Grodin) and his bitchy, promiscuous wife Talon (Terri Garr), the travails of Charlotte's "sensitive" younger son Kevin (Anthony Heald), the legal and marital troubles of Kensington ranch-hand Billy Joe Bobb (Bill Paxton) and his wife, housemaid (and aspiring country singer) Bobbi Jo Bobb (Teresa Ganzel), and the continuing struggles of the Kensingtons' long-suffering foreman, Juan (Luis Avalos). Connecting these various subplots is the blossoming romance between a mysterious, perpetually-shirtless drifter, Torch (Gregory Harrison), who works to reveal the truth behind the death of Charlotte's husband 20 years earlier, and Charlotte's naive 'adopted' daughter Tiffany (Valerie Mahaffey), whose quest to find her real parents leads to the gradual exposure of the Byzantine hidden relationships between the main characters.[2]


In an 'historical' flashback to 1581, explaining the foundation of Fresno, we see a party of Spanish conquistadores exploring northern California. An excited scout returns with wild grapes from a nearby valley, and after tasting them, the Commandante (Henry Darrow) is delighted, declaring them to be delicious. Two other scouts then arrive with more fruit from another nearby valley, but when the Commandante tastes the new grapes, he immediately spits them out in disgust, angrily shouting, "You call these grapes? They taste like Fresno!"

Part One[edit]

In present-day Fresno, the raisin-growing empire of the once-wealthy Kensington family has fallen on hard times, and they are locked in a bitter struggle with their arch-rival and former business partner, the villainous Tyler Cane. The Kensingtons are pinning their hopes on a new grape variety they have developed, a breakfast raisin with the bran already inside the fruit. Faithful foreman Juan (Luis Avalos) is charged with getting the prototype raisins to the patent office in Sacramento, but on the way he is ambushed by Tyler Cane's men, who destroy the shipment. Juan is saved by the sudden appearance of a mysterious, shirtless stranger, Torch. He accompanies Juan back to the Kensington ranch, where he is immediately hired as a ranch-hand. As Charlotte shows Torch around the ranch, she explains how, 20 years earlier, her late husband Yancey fell out with his former friend and partner, Tyler Cane, and then died as the result of a mysterious fall into a raisin dehydrator. Torch begins to investigate the Kensingtons' affairs, awakening suspicions in Charlotte about the circumstances of Yancey's mysterious death, and later, his conversation with Charlott'e adopted daughter Tiffany sparks her interest in finding her real parents.

In a bid to save the family business, Cane Kensington strikes a deal with sinister businessman Mr Acme (Jeffery Jones), owner of Acme Toxic Waste. He pays Cane to allow him to secretly dump toxic waste into Duke Lake, a private dam owned by Cane's neighbour Ethel Duke, which is the main water source for both the Cane and Kensington ranches. Suspecting that their meeting may have been overheard by the family maid, Bobbi Jo Bobb, Cane decides to get her out of the way by sending her to Bakersfield to appear on a radio talent show hosted by country music impresario Tucker Akerjanian (Jerry Van Dyke). However, Cane's patronage upsets Bobbi Jo's jealous husband Billy Joe Bobb (Paxton), and their ensuing quarrel has tragic and far-reaching consequences.

Crucial to the fortunes of both Tyler Cane and the Kensingtons are the water rights owned by their common neighbour, Ethel Duke (Louise Latham). Tyler visits Ethel, offering to buy the water rights for $500,000, but she refuses. Later that day, in Fresno, Charlotte is outmanoeuvred by the scheming Tyler, who takes control of the annual Raisin Festival Masquerade Ball (traditionally hosted by the Kensingtons) and vows to erase the Kensington name from Fresno forever. Talon tries to seduce Billy Joe, but he rebuffs her. That night, as Billy Joe listens to Bobbi Jo on the radio, he becomes enraged when she makes an on-air dedication to Cane. He angrily shoots the radio, but the bullet ricochets off it, accidentally killing his neighbour, Ethel Duke. Billy Joe is arrested and charged with murder, and his case is taken up by glamorous public defender Desiree DeMornay (Melanie Chartoff).

Nature-loving Kevin finds dead fish floating in Duke Lake, and soon discovers a leaking Acme Toxic Waste drum at the bottom of the river. Kevin confronts Mr Acme, who orders his henchmen (J.E. Freeman and Michael Richards) to ensure that Kevin doesn't leave the plant alive, but their first attempt to kill him fails miserably when they blow up Acme's nearly identical truck by mistake. Talon visits Torch in his room, and tries unsuccessfully to seduce him. A desperate Juan confronts Charlotte and demands a raise at gunpoint, but his courage fails him, and Charlotte punishes him by cutting his wages in half. Cane makes an anonymous phone call to the police, implicating Kevin in the death of Ethel Duke, and Kevin is also arrested and charged with murder.

Ethel Duke's sudden death triggers a desperate struggle between Tyler Cane and the Kensingtons to buy the water rights from Ethel's boorish husband, Earl (Pat Corley). Tyler initially gains the upper hand by agreeing to give Earl $250,000 and (at Earl's insistence) a new Chevy Impala, but when Cane learns of Tyler's bid, he makes a counter-offer of $300,000, which Earl accepts. That night, Charlotte goes to Earl's trailer with the intention of seducing him to seal the deal, but her plan is ruined when she discovers that Tyler has already sent his beautiful young "niece" Candy Cane, who emerges from Earl's bathroom clad only in a towel.

The next day Charlotte visits Kevin in jail, where she is dismayed to learn that his bail has been set set at $250,000. Cane blackmails Mr Acme into paying him an additional $300,000, so that he can buy the water rights. He rushes to the bank to clear the cheque, but Charlotte arrives just after he leaves, and immediately withdraws most of the money. Tiffany meets Torch at a Fresno restaurant and asks for his help in finding her real parents. Back at the jail, Kevin and Billy Joe deduce that Cane is behind the entire conspiracy. Bobbi Jo arrives soon after, but when she learns of Talon's earlier attempt to seduce her husband, she suspects the worst and rejects him.

Rushing back to Earl's trailer, Cane tries to stop Tyler from buying the water rights, but when Earl phones the bank to verify Cane's cheque, he learns that it is worthless, because Charlotte has already withdrawn most of the money to pay Kevin's bail. All seems lost for the Kensingtons, but at that moment Ethel's attorney arrives - he explains that Earl cannot sell the water rights that day, because Earl will not legally inherit Ethel's estate until after the reading of the will at 2pm the following day.



Fresno was created and co-written by Barry Kemp, Mark Ganzel, and Michael Petryni, and was produced for CBS by Mary Tyler-Moore's MTM Productions. The miniseries was directed by Jeff Bleckner, who had previously directed episodes of some of the shows parodied in Fresno, including Dynasty, Knots Landing, and Falcon Crest.[2]

The miniseries starred Carol Burnett and Dabney Coleman, with Charles Grodin, Terri Garr, Valerie Mahaffey, Bill Paxton, Anthony Heald, Gregory Harrison, Luis Avalos, Jerry Van Dyke, Charles Keating, Pat Corley, and Jeffrey Jones.[2]

The production shot for two days in the city of Fresno, California in July 1986, completing its remaining 53 days in Los Angeles.[3] The music was composed by John Morris, and the Emmy-nominated gowns worn by the female leads were designed by Bob Mackie. It was executive produced by Barry Kemp.

Fresno was screened three times in the USA in 1986. 1987 and 1989. It premiered at 8 pm on Sunday 16 November 1986 with a two-hour series opener, followed by four further one-hour episodes over the next four days.[1] (In Australia the miniseries was shown the following year, where it was screened as two two-hour blocks). The 1989 U.S. re-run had an altered soundtrack, with canned laughter added.

To date (2015) Fresno has never been commercially released on any domestic video format, and the MTM library is now owned by 21st Century Fox.

Awards and nominations[edit]

  • 1987 Casting Society of America Artio Award for Best Casting for TV Miniseries
  • 1987 Emmy Award for Outstanding Achievement in Hairstyling for a Miniseries or a Special
  • 1987 Emmy Award for Outstanding Art Direction for a Miniseries or a Special
  • 1987 Emmy Award for Outstanding Costume Design for a Miniseries or a Special
  • 1987 Emmy Award for Outstanding Editing for a Miniseries or a Special
  • 1987 Emmy Award for Outstanding Sound Editing for a Miniseries or a Special


No. Title Directed by Written by Air date
1 "The Raisin Basket of the World" Jeff Bleckner Mark Ganzel, Barry Kemp, Michael Petryni 16 November 1986 (1986-11-16)
Raisin Baron Tyler Cane seeks to cut off the Kensington Ranch water supply so he can control the raisin crop of Fresno, but Cane Kensington will fight him for every last drop.
2 "Episode 2" Jeff Bleckner Mark Ganzel, Barry Kemp, Michael Petryni 17 November 1986 (1986-11-17)
The Kensingtons need the Duke tract of land for access to the water they need, and Charlotte uses her female wiles to get it. Charles frames his brother Kevin to cover up his own foul deed.
3 "Episode 3" Jeff Bleckner Mark Ganzel, Barry Kemp, Michael Petryni 18 November 1986 (1986-11-18)
Tiffany finds a kindred spirit in Torch, a drifter without a shirt, and their search reveals the identity of her true parents. Tyler uses Juan as a spy to get the goods on Cane.
4 "Episode 4" Jeff Bleckner Mark Ganzel, Barry Kemp, Michael Petryni 19 November 1986 (1986-11-19)
Skeletons come out of the closet at the Annual Raisin Festival Masquerade Ball, and an attempt to kill Cane goes wrong.
5 "Episode 5" Jeff Bleckner Mark Ganzel, Barry Kemp, Michael Petryni 20 November 1986 (1986-11-20)
The identities of two killers are revealed amid courtroom pandemonium. Cane has to be in two court rooms at the same time and tell two different stories.


External links[edit]