Lawsuits and court cases are a staple of soap opera storytelling. But every once in a while, legal matters such as these can ensnare your favorite daytime performers and the writers who delicately craft your favorite afternoon programs. Even Jerome and Bridget Dobson, the creators of Santa Barbara, have found themselves involved in some serious litigation.
The Case: The Dobsons vs. New World Television and NBC.
The Plaintiff(s): Jerome and Bridget Dobson
The Defendant(s): New World Television and NBC Studios
The Brief: Having satiated their desire to create a new kind of daytime drama (one that emphasized comedy and featured characters far more psychologically delineated than their afternoon brethren) Jerome and Bridget Dobson, the progenitors of SB, sold their creation to New World Television, the company who had been producing the series since its debut.
The Drama Offscreen On Santa Barbara
The contracts were signed on the proviso that the Dobsons would maintain creative control of the program under the auspice of the NBC network. The arrangement worked well for all parties until the appointment of Anne Howard Bailey to the position of co-head writer in December of 1986.
The Dobsons (and in particular Bridget) objected to the material that Bailey produced, considering it too dark and violent, and they argued that too much of the show rested on the shoulders of romantic duo Cruz and Eden at the expense of other popular characters including Mason Capwell, whom the couple believed Bailey had “neutered.”
The final bone of contention was the casting of Pamela Capwell, a figure which the Dobsons themselves had helped construct. They wanted soap veteran Marj Dusay while Bailey and associate Chuck Pratt Jr. lobbied for Shirley Anne Field.
The writers emerged victoriously but Field proved an utter disappointment and was dismissed after three months. And who should arrive as her replacement? Marj Dusay. However, the character was written out under the strenuous objection of the Dobsons a few weeks after her first appearance.
Finally tired of the constant battling, Bridget attempted to fire Bailey but learned, to her horror, that the veteran soap scribe’s contract contained a clause that stated she could not be discharged by any party except the NBC network.
Despite the hurtle, Bridget still tried to exercise her influence and have Bailey terminated but neither New World nor NBC would acquiesce. They positioned that Bailey’s employment was a “financial” decision rather than a “creative” one so the Dobsons had no say in the matter.
When the objections continued, and the Dobsons declared the earlier buyout from the production company null and void, New World physically barred Bridget from entering her office or the studio lot in which Santa Barbara was taped. They also slapped the couple with a $25 million lawsuit alleging breach of contract and a willful desire to jeopardize the success of the serial.
The Dobsons, in turn, launched a countersuit against New World for $120 million and NBC for $53 million.
The battle between the Dobsons and New World was settled out of court in December 1988 with the plaintiffs receiving a generous (but undisclosed) financial settlement and the agreement that they could return as head-writers of SB as long as NBC agreed.
However, the lawsuit against the network would drag out for another year although the outcome was exactly the same as earlier (a generous influx of cash for the Dobsons). In 1990, the couple returned to steer their metaphorical ship but after their year-long contract expired, they stepped down.
In a bit of irony, Santa Barbara won its very first Daytime Emmy Award as Outstanding Drama Series for material penned by Bailey in 1987. And while it was Bailey’s work that ensured the soap’s victory, it was Bridget Dobson who accepted the award and gave the speech.