July 11, 2009 - 21 years of Santa Barbara : le site Francais
July 30,
2009 - 36 years of Santa Barbara

Jeffrey Lerner : «There were so many rich characters.»

 By Nicolas, exclusively for Santa Barbara : le site Francais, July 2020

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On July 08 2020, Jeffrey Lerner agreed to take on his time to answer exclusively the questions of Santa Barbara : le site Francais. The producer talks about his debuts in Santa Barbara, his work on the show, and the production process of a daytime soap-opera.

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

Santa Barbara was my first job in television, and my first and only experience working on a daytime drama.

What was your daily work on the show ?

I had various roles during my 5 years on Santa Barbara. I began at the bottom, as one does in showbiz, as a runner (getting coffee for producers, delivering scripts to actors, etc). This was followed by stints as a remote location coordinator, booth production assistant, continuity supervisor, production manager, associate producer, and booth producer.

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 ?

The Dobsons sought to break the mold of the daily soap, a goal shared by NBC, and embraced by the writers, production team and cast. This informed the storytelling, tone, look and feel of Santa Barbara, and distinguished it from other daytime dramas. The drama was leavened with a healthy dose of humor. (Gina and Keith... Julia and Mason... Bunny !) Scenes were shorter, quicker and less repetitive, and we strived for greater authenticity in performance. We spent a lot time out of the studio on location. Our sets had depth and detail, our lighting was cinematic, and our music choices were eclectic. These are just a few of the areas which set us apart from the rest.

You worked on Santa Barbara under many executive producers : Bridget and Jerome Dobson, Jill Farren Phelps, John Conboy... How did these changes influence your work ? What were the differences between all of them ?

I learned something from all of these folks. The Dobsons taught me about dramatic writing, character development and story structure. I learned a ton from Jill about how to make the material come alive in terms of direction, performance, and above all, digging for the emotion, in my view the key to audience engagement. John really knew how to wow the audience. He taught me about scale, production value, and delivering a great looking show.

How is decided the creation of a new character : his personality, his storylines, the choice of the actor to perform him ?

A character originates in the vision of its creators, starts to materialize in my the casting process, and becomes fully realized in the joint efforts of writer, producer, director, and of course the actor who brings the role to life. Wardrobe, hair and makeup can play an important role too.

Were there characters you prefered to work on and why ? Maybe also actors and actresses with whom you liked to work with too ?

There were so many rich characters. The first that come to mind : Cruz and Eden, Gina and Keith, Mason, Julia, Augusta, Lionel, Sophia, Sandra, Mary. I loved working with the actors in these roles, and too many others to mention.

Santa Barbara knew many recasts, even in its main cast. I think of C.C., Mason, Kelly, Gina... When an actor wants to leave, how is made the decision to recast the character or to simply make him disappear ?

A role that is central to ongoing story and embraced by viewers stands a good chance of being recast when the actor leaves the show. Daytime audiences usually buy into the change once they get used to the new face, except in rare cases where they so identify with the performer who originated the role, as to be unwilling to accept another's interpretation. Santa Barbara might have faced this had Cruz or Eden needed to be recast, which thankfully didn't happen.

What was your best remembrance from the show, on a relational and on a professional level ?

The mentoring I received from the Dobsons; engaging in lively discussions in story meetings; executing a good scene on the stage. Most of all, times spent in the trenches with my colleagues, some of whom remain close friends to this day.

How did you live the legal conflict between the Dobsons and New World in 1988 ? Do you think the series may have been different after 1988 if the Dobsons continued to work on it ?

It was a difficult time, but as they say, the show must go on, and it did. My fondness and respect for the Dobsons never waivered.

You left Santa Barbara in 1990. What were the reasons of your departure ?

I left to pursue other passions, and to deepen my knowledge of the craft. I studied acting, did some writing, and did some development work in Paris where I lived for a year, in addition to stints in reality tv, talk shows and music videos. I eventually migrated back to production, in the nearly 2 decades I spent as a creative executive for Sony Pictures Television. I owe that job to an exec named Steve Kent, who years before, gave me my start on Santa Barbara !

Did you continue to watch the show after that ? If yes, what did you think of its evolutions until its end ?

After I left Santa Barbara, I watched whenever I could. I was a fan till the end.

Did you keep in touch with members of the cast or the crew after your departure ? You told me you brought Judith McConnell to Russia to guest star in a drama series in 2007. Can you tell us more about that experience ?

While at Sony, I did a lot of work in Russia, where we had a successful alliance with a leading local production company. I quickly learned about the Russian audience's reverence for Santa Barbara, which was one of the first American TV series they ever got to see. When Timur, my Moscow counterpart, set his sights on developing a Russian daily serial, he approached me with the idea of inviting Judith to do a guest role. Judith was delighted to oblige, and made quite a splash with fans and the press, not to mention bringing a lot of luster to the Russian series.

What would you like to say to all the Santa Barbara fans all over the world who didn't forget the show?

I and the others who contributed to the magic of Santa Barbara, appreciate your longtime devotion and loyalty... and applaud your good taste !!


Once again all my thanks to Jeffrey Lerner for his time and his memories.