Santa Barbara canceled

 By Janet Di Lauro and Linda Susman, Soap Opera Weekly, 1992

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After months of speculation and rumor, Santa Barbara was canceled September 26. The soap, which premiered July 30, 1984, will air its final episode January 15, 1993. NBC has announced that Santa Barbara's time slot will be filled with game shows. Informed sources tell Soap Opera Weekly that talks are underway that could take Santa Barbara to ABC, but concede such a deal is "probably a pipe dream."

Warren Littlefield, president, NBC Entertainment, commented on Santa Barbara's cancellation, "NBC is committed to the daytime daypart, and this commitment is shared by our affiliates..." Word of Santa Barbara's demise came down in a joint press conference to announce the formation of an Affiliate Daytime Committee, and the assignment of John Rohrbeck, president of NBC Television Stations, to take over responsibility for daytime programming as well. (John Miller, executive vice president, advertising and promotion and daytime and children's programming, will now report to Rohrbeck on daytime.)

Susan Lee, vice president of daytime programs for NBC Entertainment, who retains her current post added, "We would like to salute everyone involved with Santa Barbara, which we believe is a wonderfully produced serial, as evidenced by the numerous Emmy Awards the show has received over the years. However, given the current daytime environment, we concluded that it's simply not economically feasible for us to continue to broadcast the series."

According to a report in the Los Angeles Times, sources say the network's decision to dump Santa Barbara was made when "Rohrbeck refused to continue carrying the soap opera after key affiliates in Boston, Philadelphia and St. Louis dropped the show."

James McNamara, president and CEO of New World Entertainment, co-owner of the soap, said, "While we are very disappointed that NBC decided to allow the series to leave the network, given the rapidly changing economics of network television, we understand their actions. The many fans of the show will be happy to know that discussions are underway with other broadcasters which may permit the series to continue in production." Insiders believe a move to another network or cable is unlikely.

Santa Barbara personnel got the not-surprising cancellation notice the weekend before McNamara's announcement. "It's like falling out of the womb, but hey, you go onward and upward," says Jed Allan (C.C.), who has portrayed the Capwell patriarch for seven years. "I'm going to miss the role, if, in fact, something doesn't come across. There's some chance of maybe going in another direction... of going into a syndicated situation."

Nancy Lee Grahn (Julia), who's been on the show for 7 ½ years, found out Santa Barbara was canceled while she was on vacation. She is trying to put a positive spin on the situation. "I know that it's sad when people lose their jobs, especially today. But I also know that all good things end. There are endings and there are beginnings. That's what life is about. I know it's going to get very difficult as it gets toward the end of the show. Santa Barbara is a place I've come to think of as home."

Grahn thinks two major problems brought about the show's demise : "Timing and changes. I think the show was really cursed with things happening at the wrong time. Whenever there was a problem or something wasn't working, there'd be a change at the network or company. Then there were legal problems," she says, referring to the long-running dispute over creative control between Santa Barbara creators Bridget and Jerome Dobson, New World and NBC. "There was always this feeling of the carpet being pulled out from under you," Grahn continues. "It was rough dealing with that. Whenever things started to come together and everyone was dancing to the same music, the carpet would be pulled out again... There were always new writers, new actors, lots of changes... A lot of times that was because the ratings were never high, and there was always this attempt to try and get them higher, which is understandable. But in an attempt to do that, very often they would fix what wasn't broken and break what didn't need to be fixed."

Allan thinks economics, not content, killed Santa Barbara. "Absolutely nothing went wrong with the show. We just don't have numbers because we don't have people watching. We don't have people watching because people are dropping out on us. People are dropping out on us because the network doesn't have control of the affiliates. How can you get numbers without having a major percentage of the market ? At ABC it's all the major percentages of the market. They have more control over their affiliates, from what I understand... New World was very fair with us. Even the vice president of NBC daytime admits we have a great show and has been fighting like crazy to keep it on the air. I have no quarrel with them. It's just that numbers are numbers."

A source close to the situation seconds Allan's opinion, specifically laying blame for the show's recent decline - and ultimate failure - on the network's flagship station, WNBC/Channel 4, New York. "When that station moved the show from 3 p.m. to 12 noon in 1990, that was a big bungle. It was just a small blurb in The New York Times, but it really was a very big blurb in my opinion, because after that is when other stations also began to move it."

Santa Barbara has been aired as a prime-time show in France since 1985, and in several other foreign countries as well. With 1000 new episodes not yet seen outside the U.S., the soap will be seen for at least four more years around the world.

Although both Days of Our Lives' executive producer Ken Corday and Bill Bell Jr. have soaps in development (Corday's Manhattan Lives, starring Deidre Hall, who plays Marlena on Days of Our Lives; and Bell's Coming of Age) which were vying for a spot on the NBC lineup, both declined to comment either about plans for their shows or about NBC's decision to replace Santa Barbara with game shows.