July 11, 2014 - 15 years of Santa Barbara : le site Francais
July 30,
2014 - 30 years of Santa Barbara

Josh Griffith : «The show was ahead of its time.»

 By Nicolas, exclusively for Santa Barbara : le site Francais, July 2014

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On last July 10, Josh Griffith agreed to take on his time to answer exclusively the questions of Santa Barbara : le site Francais. The writer talks about his debuts on Santa Barbara from 1988 to 1991, and the process of writing a daytime soap-opera.

How did you start your career as a writer ? Was Santa Barbara your first experience on a daytime soap-opera ?

Yes, I started on Santa Barbara. It was my first writing gig. I'd watched the show and become addicted, and then a lovely, wonderful writer on the show, Lynda Myles, helped me prepare a sample script. It got the attention of Chuck Pratt and Anne Howard Bailey, and I flew out to Los Angeles from New York to do some outline samples. They liked my work and hired me.

Santa Barbara was known for having a lot of comedy, adventure, and above all storylines which go on very much faster than in the other daytime soap-operas. Was it something specifically asked by the producers or the network ?

I think the sensibility and vibe of the show was always intended to be funny and a little outrageous, not your typical soap. Everyone involved knew we had to keep breaking rules and pushing the envelope of what soaps could do and be so we'd stand out. It was ahead of its time.

On which storylines did you intervene on Santa Barbara ?

I started as an outline writer and worked my way up to associate head writer, so I had a voice in all the stories during my time on the show.

In 1988, Mason began to suffer of split personality, and thought he was Sonny Sprockett, a country singer. It was a complete comedy storyline, even if it led to Julia and Mason's wedding cancellation at the end of the year. Do you remember how this storyline came up ? Was it a demand from Lane Davies or the producers to bring more diversity in Mason's character ? What was your opinion on this storyline ?

I don't remember too much about the story, but I'm pretty sure the head writers came up with it because they thought it would be a fun story that Lane could handle well, not that it came about as a request by Lane.

In 1988 too, Eden was raped and brutally hurted by Zack Kelton, her gynaecologist. I read that this storyline shocked many female viewers at the time. What was your opinion on this storyline ? Weren't you afraid to go too far in drama (especially when Eden thought she could be pregnant with her rapist's baby instead of Cruz's) ?

This was one of the most powerful stories told while I was at Santa Barbara, and I think we did it very well. I don't think you can go too far with a dramatic premise if the story is well told and honest.

I love the Robert Barr / Quinn Armitage storyline in 1991. How did this storyline came up ? As a writer, do you use the actors' personality to write or modify their characters ? I think of Flame's character : I can't imagine a better actress to play her than Roberta Bizeau-Weiss. Do you think the character would have been different and have had a totally different life if it has been played by another actress with less sex-appeal and feline attitude than her ?

I honestly don't remember how this story came about, but I remember that Roscoe (Born) had a lot of fun with it. And Roberta is the only one I can imagine playing Flame.

Can you tell the process of writing for a soap-opera like Santa Barbara ? How the main storylines are decided ? By whom ? What is the place of the executive producer and the producers in the writing work ?

The headwriters work out the long story (usually arcs of 3 or 6 months) and then break that into weakly thrusts. They work with the outline writers to turn the thrust into 5 daily show structures, which are then met on and noted by the producers and the network. Usually the executive producer is part of the long story creation. The daily structures, or outlines, are then sent to scriptwriters who provide the dialogue.

You worked on Santa Barbara under at least three executive producers : Jill Farren Phelps, John Conboy and the Dobsons. How did these changes influence your work as a writer ? What were the differences between all of them ?

Every producer has his or her own sensibility. As a writer you need learn to adapt to that while not sacrificing the unique voice and talent you bring to the project.

What is the storyline (or character) you are the most proud of ? And perhaps the less proud of ?

They all had their magic - I don't think I can single out one story. And all the characters were wonderful and richly layered. I guess I always felt a certain special connection to Mason, the dark prince of the Capwell clan. He was so much fun for me to write. And I loved writing for Cruz.

You also worked for the daytime soap-operas One Life to Live, As the World Turns, General Hospital, The Young and the Restless... What differences do you find in your work between these shows and Santa Barbara ?

Well as a writer you need to come in and embrace the sensibility of each show. No two shows are the same. The key is understanding the characters.

You left Santa Barbara in 1991. What were the reasons of your departure ?

I was approached by executive producer Linda Gottlieb to co-head write One Life to Live with Michael Malone. They made me an offer I couldn't refuse.

Did you keep in touch with members of the cast or the crew after your departure ? Did you continue to watch the show after that ? If yes, what did you think of its evolutions until its end ?

Yes, I have stayed friends with many of the writers, actors and producers. Jill Phelps and I recently worked together on Hollywood Heights and The Young and the Restless. No, I didn't watch the show after I left. When you're headwriting a show, it's all consuming and it's difficult to be able to watch anything other than the show you're working on.

Is there something you'd like to say to the Santa Barbara fans all over the world who didn't forget the show ?

It's because of your loyalty and appreciation for this wonderful show that it's still remembered after all these years. You knew from the beginning how special Santa Barbara was. And wouldn't it be great to bring it back !

 

Once again all my thanks to Josh Griffith for his time and his informations.