The galley of romance

 By Vincent Toledano, TÚlÚrama, 1988

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She has the same red nose and the same devastator humour as W.C. Fields. "TV writer" for 30 years, Anne Howard Bailey works in the old way : she uses a type-writer. She thinks of having already written at least five hundred episodes of soaps before joining the team of Santa Barbara two years ago. Charles Pratt Junior uses a microcomputer. The buckled hair, the sporting look, the Californian skin, he works on Santa Barbara since the beginning of the show. That is to say on July 29, 1984. He knew Anne Howard Bailey at the great time of General Hospital, one of most famous soap-opera of the history of American television. Together, they write from now on Santa Barbara. Every day, from 8.30 a.m. to 6 p.m..

As its name does not indicate it, Santa Barbara is entirely shot in Burbank, in the North-East of Los Angeles. Huge hangar posed in the middle of a carpark, the studio 11 of the network NBC shelters under the same roof the production, the writers, the lodges and the stage of the show. The American televiewers consume one hour per day of it, from Monday to Friday, from 2 p.m. to 3 p.m.. In France, TF1 aires at 7 p.m. a condensed thirty minutes version, with two years and a half of delay compared to the American channel ! In the United States, TV shows obey to seasonal cycles. There is the September re-opening, disturbed this year by the five months of strike of the writers. Then spring. The summer, cooler period, new products are tested. The pilots of the shows which will perhaps begin in autumn. Everything depends on the ratings. Head writers of Santa Barbara, Anne and Charles thus first write a synopsis which covers all the season. It is approved, after some nerves crisis, arguments, threats of resignation and phone call of their agents, by the producers of the show and the persons in charge of the network NBC. Both head writers write then, for each day of the week, a detailed scenario of a score of pages. Then three breakdown writers (kind of dialogists) write each one the final script, dialogued, of approximately eighty pages. Anne and Charles writing themselves the last two days of the week... Those who did not understand read all the paragraph again.

"I make Thursday, he makes Friday", explain the writer, by showing with her finger her young accomplice who occupies the joint office, on the second floor of studio 11. On the wall, an air sight of Santa Barbara, charming seaside resort at two hours of Hollywood by the free way. At the ground floor, carpark level, they shoot. Recorded on August 2, the show n░1031 will be aired on September 2. And so on. "Everyone hates us, laugh the two writers who speak with one voice, the one often finishing the jokes launched by the other. The producers, because we argue all the time. The owners of the network, because we are too expensive. And the actors who always believe to know their character better than us".

Actors ! "The worst that can happen to us, Anne explains, inexhaustible on the subject, is that an actor takes holidays; or still worse, gets married and has a child. We then have, at the last time, to justify his absence of the show, and to sometimes even shoot some small pieces of scenes to slip into the episodes already recorded to prepare his departure to come". By contract, A Martinez (detective Cruz Castillo on screen), can go away six weeks a year to shoot someting else. In general, a TV movie. The last time, he warned us one week before his departure. We had to improvise. And quickly. It also happens that the producers decide of fire a too bad actor. Or too greedy. Our two writers then take a malicious pleasure to make disappear his character. As in Tootsie, the film of Sydney Pollock with Dustin Hoffman disguised as a woman to find a role ? "Exactly, they both answer. It was a disguised parody of the famous General Hospital. We knew it very well. Moreover, the actress you saw a few moments ago discussing in this office between two scenes, does not know that in three weeks, bye bye. We have just written the scene".

In Santa Barbara, there are permanently twenty-five actors under contract. But the writers have the right to use only eleven characters per day and some extras for a score of scenes in eight sceneries maximum. Four new and four from the day before, the technical teams working all night long. "We would like to have twenty-five characters and more sceneries, but it is too expensive. We have to do with it". Only ostentatious moments : the four waves of sweeps, in February, May, July and November. Good ratings having no price, the producers authorize the best of the best : an outside shooting ! This summer, the main characters thus get married, Cruz finally married Eden, in Carmel, another seaside resort, a little more in the North, whose Clint Eastwood was the mayor. Kelly Capwell married Jeffrey Conrad. And Gina DeMott wedded Keith Timmons.

For those who did not follow, the production distributes the family tree of Santa Barbara, version 1988. An essential tool, considering the amplitude of the turn over of this show not completely like the others. From the original cast of Santa Barbara, four years ago, only four actors remains today. The others disappeared. Or they were replaced. Veteran of the American television, Jed Allan is thus the fifth actor to play the part of C.C. Capwell, patriarch of the tribe. He is the husband of Sophia, the ex of Pamela, the father of Mason, Eden, Kelly, Ted and Elena; as well as the adoptive father of Brandon and the grandfather of Samantha. Moreover he chairs the Capwell company. Prevented from these successive changes, the American public joyfully follows. The new actor introduces himself and takes the continuation of the role, quite simply. "In fact, we are a big repertory company", explains Anne, suddenly more serious. But the televiewers do not hesitate to express their dissatisfaction if the control of a character displease them. "We receive two or three letters by year that threaten us of death, acknowledge the writers smiling again. And many protests. The negative reactions are very good for the show". On General Hospital, a fired actor had paid a score of supporters to claim the return of his character in front of the doors of the studio. In Santa Barbara, Cruz and Eden's wedding took its time to happen for a long time. The mail testifies of the increasingly nervous impatience of the "fans".

Coarse words are prohibited, except in case of extreme need. A character can tell an oath by knocking his finger with a hammer; not while seeing a girl walking. It is the same for face nudity, which explains the sempiternal towel slipping along the kidneys, in an artistic fog. No violence either. A revolver should never be pointed on the head of an actor; but always on the chest, it hurts less. For the remainder, our two writers show a wild imagination. In spite of some momentary anguishes in front of the white page or the empty screen. "We wonder sometimes what could happen next, we think without stop of such or such character. And we speak to each other all the time". They devour the press, the novels, the new movies. And profit from the researches of three production assistants, especially for the technical details. "I write the scene of the rape, he makes the autopsy. We made make researches to the police and the medical examiners to know the precise terms used by the characters".

At the condition to stay in Santa Barbara, more or less around the Capwell family, it can occur everything. Anne and Charles do not hide to sometimes write episodes "at the manner of". For example, for Christmas, a It's a Wonderful Life, in a Capra way. In the same time homage, imitation and parody. Or a Miracle on 34th Street. There was a Fatal Attraction; gangs as in Colors... With six weeks of shift between the writing and the airing, Santa Barbara then looks like, slowy but surely, a society magazine, commenting at its manner the facts of the moment. Anne would like to enter upon the problem of the children of the war, from an American father and a Vietnamese mother. The subject is important for her. Why not ? She has a contract until 1990. "It is depressing, I make every day a cross on the wall !" The two writers earn each one between 200.000 and one million dollars per year (no way to know some more). Without counting the royalties on the sales abroad, at the origin of the strike they completely followed. They also know their limits. And will be able, at the proper time, to pass to another thing. On ABC, General Hospital lasts for years. With one hour of program per day, from 2 p.m. to 3 p.m., from Monday to Friday...

 

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