A sneak preview of NBC's newcomer : Santa Barbara

 By Susan Wilson, Soap Opera Digest, 1984

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On July 30, NBC premiered a new serial drama, Santa Barbara, its first since Texas three years ago. The network hasn't had a successful new soap entry since Days of Our Lives hit the airwaves almost 20 years ago, and right now, the pressing question is why should we watch Santa Barbara ? Bridget Dobson, one-half of the writing and producing team who created Santa Barbara is ready with an answer. "The show will arouse viewers' sensibilities, but not by being more graphic." she says. "Of course you'll catch the days where things are pretty spicy, but tune in tomorrow, and it all works out on the moral up-and-up." She also promises liberal dashes of humor mixed in with the drama and romance that are the staples of any soap opera. Let's investigate this latest afternoon delight, and discover what Santa Barbara has in store for us.

The setting

Santa Barbara joins Ryan's Hope by taking in a specific community with unalterable attributes. California coastal city located about 100 miles north of Los Angeles, Santa Barbara, is where old money clashes with new ideas. The foundation of the town is conservative and Republican, in direct contrast you its more visible students artists and musicians, beach freaks, gays, "higher consciousness" types, environmental activists, and hard-working Mexican families. This is city that prides itself on its well kept old-world mansions, yet which allows three nude beaches to operate within the immediate area. More than anything else, Santa Barbara is a study in contrasts, and they are expected to provide much of the story's structure. To the south is the small suburb of Montecito, often called "Hollywood's Riviera." The movie colony's most reclusive stars live unmolested here among Santa Barbara's wealthiest citizens, and a considerable part of the soap's action will take place in these rarefied climes.

Who's who in Santa Barbara

One of the most sought after jobs in television in a contract role on a daytime serial. This cast is a clever mix of old hands and new faces. It's hard to imagine Pine Valley without vicious Liza Colby, but for Marcy Walker, the move to Santa Barbara was an easy one. With her ABC contract expiring just before the Olympic, she had little trouble deciding to accept the role of 20-year-old spirited college student Eden Capwell. While everybody at All my Children was sorry to see her go, "I just couldn't turn the offer down," Walker admits. "The Dobsons said Eden Capwell will be ten times more interesting than Liza. How could I say no?"

"I'm not going to sit around and rot away," declares octogenarian Dame Judith Anderson, "so I'm glad this opportunity has come my way." A longtime Santa Barbara resident, the famed classical actress is much like her role of the grande dame of Santa Barbara, Minx Lockridge. "I'm pulling characteristics out of myself and passing them to the writers for their consideration. Minx is eccentric, wilful, funny, naughty, all the goodies for a great character." Her longtime fascination with soaps (she's watched General Hospital since its premiere) makes her intolerant of those who see it as a lesser form of acting. "I hate that word," she says emphatically. "You wash with soap, you watch serial."

For Margarita Cordova, the opportunity to play the religious Rosa Andradre is a long-awaited challenge. Though she's worked steadily in the theater and television, including General Hospital's fortune-teller Mira Tabori, Cordova's trim figure has lost her the "Latin Mama" role on more than one occasion. The actress is thrilled to have a chance to break the stereotype of the Chicana who rolls tortillas and prays all day. "One door opening for me will open many other doors for Spanish actors," she asserts.

After twelve years as a practicing architect in San Francisco, Steve Meadows sold his prized Porsche to finance the move to Hollywood and a stab at an acting career. Meadows' first audition brought him a national commercial and a Screen Actor Guild card, and he was on his way. Is the athletic former UC Berkeley Instructor anything like the manipulative schoolteacher Peter Flint ? "We're both v-e-r-y ambitions" he admits, but there the similarities end.

Newest of the new faces of Santa Barbara is Todd McKee, cast as rebellions 17-year old Ted Capwell. Todd had been working as a busboy to pay his tuition at the University of Southern California, and Santa Barbara is his first shoot at nationwide exposure. Does his daytime debut make him nervous ? "Uh-uh. Nervous is spilling ice water in someone's lap. But this ? This is fun !" he chortled, clambering down from what's being used as Laken Lockridge's balcony. If the Dobsons want a young hero full of humor, energy, and passion, they've found their man.

Nicolas Coster has thrilled soap fans in seven soaps on all three networks, among them Anthony Makana on One Life To live and Another World's Robert Delaney. But the role of profligate Lionel Lockridge, the lazy eldest son of Minx Lockridge, who is fighting his mother for control of their family's fading fortune, could garner him the most attention of his long career.

Although Lloyd Bochner has made many television and film appearances during his career, it was the role of Dynasty's Cecil Colby, the wealthy businessman who suffered a post-nuptial heart attack between the sheets with Alexis, which brought him to the attention of serial followers. Bochner's role of charismatic, wealthy C.C. Capwell makes him an integral part of the Santa Barbara community.

Gorgeous Dallas-born Robin Wright was modelling in Hawaii when the call-back came for her part as rich and beautiful Kelly Capwell, whose engagement to Joe Perkins abruptly ended five years ago when he was wrongfully sent to prison for the murder of her brother, Channing. She opted to quit her job and fly back to Los Angeles to test again, and her gamble paid off. Wright got the plum role.

Let's hope the same luck gives a strong storyline to John Allen Nelson, who climbs aboard Santa Barbara as callous 24-year-old lifeguard Warren Lockridge, direct from a reccuring role as Jack Boyd on Edge of Night. He even sacrificed an envied place in Joanne Woodward's acting workshop to relocate for the part.

When Lane Davies was Dr. Evan Whyland in Days of Our Lives, it never seemed like the producers and writers knew what to do with him. He signed on here, "because I like the dignity of going to work every day," and because the Dobsons indicate a clear-cut direction for his character, conniving, ambitious district attorney Mason Capwell.

A Martinez has accumulated an impressive list of credits in theater, film and television, but it's the role of heroic oil-rigger Cal Castillo that will give him the chance to do what he's always wanted to do in front of the camera - get the girl. While Martinez says he's fortunate to have played a wide variety of roles, including lots of doctors and policemen, he's never before been cast as a romantic lead.

Ava Lazar comes straight from a string of movies hits : Rocky III, Night Shift and Fast Times at Ridgemont High. The stunning brunette will supply piquant charm as Santana Andrade, a beautiful but poor strong-willed interior decorator whose search for the baby she gave up for adoption years ago will be one of the soap's first central storylines.

Other cast members include Ismael Carlo as Ruben Andrade, Rupert Ravens as his son Danny Andrade, Robert Alan Browne as John Perkins, whose family comprises his wife Marisa, played by Valorie Armstrong, son Joe, played by Dane Witherspoon, and daughter Jade, played by Missy Brennan. Julie Ronnie will portray Laken Lockridge, Warren's sister, and Louise Sorel, her mother, Augusta Lockridge.

On location

Got $ 15.000.000 ? That's the asking price for "Park Lane", the fabulous Montecito mansion shown at Kelly Capwell's engagement party. Set amidst a fragrant bower of eucalyptus trees, the elegant hacienda hosted an army of technicians, producers, actors, and a director. Gowned and tuxedoed extras alighted from Porsches, BMWS, customized Mercedes Benzes, and Ferraris, all rented for the occasion. A mini San Simeon, "Park Lane" contains over 17,000 square feet and 40 rooms, including a living room larger than many entire homes. And it's for sale. Any takers ?

Just before this, shooting had taken place down the road at the Abercrombie estate (of the Abercrombie and Fitch fortune), a mansion dwarfed by "Park Lane” but still big enough to inspire gawks. Surrounded by lush gardens and a glistening pond that was home to a dozen swans, it's designed in Dutch Colonial style, highly peculiar in Spanish-accented Santa Barbara. A hushed crowd watched Jeff Hayden direct Louise Sorel (the beautiful but aging Augusta Lockridge) and Dane Witherspoon (Joe Perkins) through a scene riveting in its intimate sensuality.

The next morning found NBC trucks and technicians several miles north of town at Henry's Beach, where they were taping hang-gliding (yikes !) off the misty buffs just above the gleaming Pacific. One couldn't help but notice how alien the filters, lights and cameras seemed on that idyllic beach. Surfers, beach boys and bikini-clad blondes all went about their hedonistic pleasures, oblivious to the technicians and equipment around them. Santa Barbara the city and Santa Barbara the soap are two very different things. One is real, with real people, real problems, real achievements, and so forth, and one is the product of a writer's fertile imagination. It's intended to entertain, amuse and instruct us - but it's just fiction. How lucky though, that this particular fiction is set in such a jewel of a city.

A look to the future

How will we feel about Santa Barbara in six months' time ? Since all storyline details are now "shrouded in secrecy" as is the wont in Hollywood, it's hard to say. But as of its debut, the new serial has plenty to recommend it. Chief among its virtues will be a clean and glossy look, provided by the technical expertise of producer Steve Kent and executive assistant Gary Kanofsky. As associate producer of Capitol, Kent contributed greatly to that show's preeminence in the field of daytime production values. He's expecting to bring the same know-how to Santa Barbara. So look for imaginative and state-of-the-art use of videotape to give this show a richly detailed complexion rarely seen in daytime.

Against this backdrop, picture a cast made up of seasoned serial veterans, appealing newcomers, and experienced film, TV and stage stars. Drawing stellar performances from these thespians will be Jeff Hayden, co-executive producer and director. Recently a director of Capitol, this well-known and widely respected gentleman has helmed television and theater productions for over 25 years.

Now couple the top-notch acting and directing to storylines which promise to be unrivaled in the daytime arena. What other serial can boast a character mix of millionaires from worthy to wastrel, ambitions middle-class families both white and Mexican, and captivating youngsters from all socio-economic brackets, with an eccentric octogenarian thrown in for good measure ?

Exactly how the Dobsons choose to have these diverse characters interact with each other will determinate how quickly audiences become hooked on Santa Barbara. But even compelling storyline and an irresistible cast may not be enough to ensure longevity to this promising new entry. Though NBC has made a form six month commitment to the soap and has built an 11-million-dollars studio expressly for it, Santa Barbara still faces an afternoon dilemma. How will it be able to draw viewers from the very successful General Hospital and Guiding Light when it is preceded by NBC's Another World now daytime's lowest rated hour-long drama ?

It looks like a tough uphill battle for the Dobsons and their creation. But as a longtime fan of Another World and the peacock's other soaps, I wish it all the best - and more. If Santa Barbara continues to get the network support it needs, and if the Dobsons can delve deeply into the idiosyncratic world they've fashioned, replete with off-center characters and unusual storylines, then in a few years, this show could be the one to watch.