Battle of the daytime executives

 By Michael Logan, Soap Opera Digest, 1988

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Contract disputes have landed Santa Barbara creators Bridget and Jerome Dobson and New World Television in Court. Here's Bridget Dobson's version.

Everybody is suing everybody and the soap world has never seen anything like it. Santa Barbara, nervy in its risk-taking, envied for its casting, rocky in its ratings, yet triumphant in its Emmy citations, is at the dead center of a legal hotbed. New World Television, the company which purchased the show in 1985 from its creators, Jerome and Bridget Dobson, has filed a $25,000,000 suite against them. The charge (ignited by Bridget Dobson's desire to fire Santa Barbara's head writer, Ann Howard Bailey, who was appointed in 1986), is that the husband-and-wife team breached their contract and jeopardized the success of the serial when the "disrupted and confused" members of the show's production staff sought to discredit Bailey. New World, which has business and financial control of the soap, and NBC-TV, which has ultimate control over the creative elements of the series, would not agree to Bailey's termination. The Dobsons (Jerry, at this point, had left the show but Bridget continued on as executive producer) insisted they had the contractual right to hire and fire.

According to their attorney, Jim Hornstein, "Because New World refused to honor the Dobsons' right to creative control, the Dobsons were entitled to a return of the series they had sold to New World." The Dobsons countersued for nearly five times the amount - a whopping $120,000,000 - a few days after Bridget was physically barred from the set by eagle-eyed guards who'd been supplied with her 8x10 glossy and alerted to her probable arrival.

A mess, without question. A brouhaha of the highest order. But is La Dobson sweating bullets ? Well, not exactly. Court cases in the real world - as opposed to Soapland, where one can often go from crime to acquittal between station breaks - do take a while. So, while husband Jerry has busied himself with the creation of a new soap and a screenplay, Bridget's rented herself an office in LA's hottest high-rise, the Fox Plaza, and is word processing away at a novel.

Dobson, it would appear, is never without her sense of humor - it seems to have been her salvation through the last trying months. Speaking with her in her Century City office (the Dobsons long ago gave up their actual Santa Barbara digs in favor of Bel Air luxury, and a less harried commute to the Peacock Studios), it's impossible not to notice the occasional tears. They're not of the crocodile variety. "I'm addicted to constant feedback in daytime television. Whether one gets immediate gratification or pain, I love it. I feel a bit shut out now. I have many friends at the studio and I miss seeing them in a daily way."

"We'd like our baby back," she says in reference to the lawsuit. "We want the rights we had in our contract when we sold the show to New World. We had explicitly been given creative control. We're anxious to get the case to court. We hope to be restored to a position where we can chart the creative course of the program. The lawsuit is going to be a long and tedious process, but we're optimistic that justice will be done." In the meantime, Dobson doesn't mind getting down to brass tacks. No, she has not been riveted to her set since the enforced departure ("I find it painful to watch Santa Barbara - I have only seen some of it"), but the former executive does have a few quibbles and bits.

"I would have certainly maintained the Lockridges," she says of the soap's once powerfully drawn family, which gradually disintegrated into pointlessness. "And I would have never gotten rid of Hayley (played by Stacy Edwards). Besides the fact that Stacy was a very good actress, she was playing Gina's niece. The best reason to keep Hayley was that she made Gina vulnerable - and Gina as “pure bitch" is not as interesting to watch."

Such differences of opinion with head writers Ann Howard Bailey and Chuck Pratt, Jr. were transpiring even when Dobson was still holding the reins. She detested the killing of shady Southern belle Caroline Wilson, played by the excellent and very touching Lenore Kasdorf. "Head writers have to be excited about what they are writing. If they're not, it doesn't come out well. The Caroline story was complicated and gutsy, but the potential never materialized. It wasn't going anywhere, so I guess was probably just as well to end it. But when you throw out characters that the audience loves, you are making a vast mistake. No, when a head writer takes over, just as Jerry and I did on Guiding Light and As the World Turns, you use those characters that are loved and make your stories flow from them," believes Bridget.

The casting of the very important Pamela Capwell Conrad was, perhaps, the last point of contention between the factions. "Jerry and I had conceived Pamela many years ago but NBC did not want us to bring on another forty-ish character. But we kept pushing because we know it could be hot stuff." Once the powers gave in, movie queen Samantha Eggar was signed, but quickly got cold feet when the rigors of daytime grind were fully explained to her. Fellow British actress Shirley Anne Field was cast instead. "She was Ann and Chuck's first choice," reports Bridget. "Marj Dusay was my choice but we cast Shirley Anne because we wanted the head writers to be excited. To me, Marj is a great beauty and seemed to be the kind of person that C.C. (Jed Allan) would have once been attracted to. Ann and Chuck's perceptions were not marginally different from mine - they were very different."

Ironically, Field wound up delivering a tepid, colorless performance and was given the heave-ho after three months. The replacement ? Marj Dusay. Perhaps just as ironically, Dusay came on board as nothing short of brilliant with each icy line reading revealing encyclopedias full of character. Clearly, the plot possibilities were endless and the likelihood that the actress would emerge at the forefront of Santa Barbara - much as Elizabeth Hubbard rules supreme as Lucinda on As the World Turns - must have seemed delicious to loyal watchers. Guess again. Dusay was on the unemployment line before she knew what hit her and the dandy part was foolishly tossed into limbo.

As if her unprecedented circumstances and all the attending legal hoopla were not already the stuff of high drama, the plot further thickened when Santa Barbara won this year's Emmy for Outstanding Drama Series. While the head writing team went home without a trophy, Dobson did not.

Personally responsible for executive producing seven of the twelve months being judged by the Emmy voters, Dobson found herself sharing a table with the very folks she'll be soon wrangling with in court - an experience simultaneously fraught with great pride and great tension. When one of the producers of the Emmy telecast came out during a commercial break to warn all long-winded winners to "keep your speeches short or a security guard will haul you off," Dobson was heard to crack, "Hey, I'm right at home here !"

The talent for repartee is undeniable, but so, too, has been the emotional toll. "Jerry and I are sticking very close together on this. We are supporting each other and that helps. Being involved in other work also helps. Knowing that we have right and truth on our side helps. We don't have to lie, we don't have to exaggerate. Ultimately, I believe that we will be rewarded for our patience and our efforts."