The serial was produced by Dobson Productions and New World Television, which also served as distributor for the show in international markets. Santa Barbara was New World Television's first series. Due to the buyout of New World by the original News Corporation in 1997, current rights to the series reside with the old News Corp's successor, 21st Century Fox, and its syndication arm, 20th Century Fox Television.
Santa Barbara aired in the United States at 3:00 PM Eastern (2:00 PM Central) on NBC in the same time slot as General Hospital on ABC and Guiding Light on CBS and right after Another World. Santa Barbara aired in over 40 countries around the world. It became the longest-running television series in Russia, being aired there from 1992 to 2002. Santa Barbara won 24 Daytime Emmy Awards and was nominated 30 times for the same award. The show also won 18 Soap Opera Digest Awards, and won various other awards.
Santa Barbara is notable for having a central plot around which many of the others revolve: the murder of Channing Capwell, Jr. This killing takes place five years before the series actually begins, at which point Joe Perkins, jailed for the murder, is paroled and returns to Santa Barbara determined to prove his innocence and renew his relationship with Kelly Capwell, sister of the victim. Over the course of the soap, almost every major character would be accused of the murder of Channing Capwell, Jr. or find his or her life involved in the incident in one way or another: from his illegitimate son to his mysterious, presumed-dead mother.
As for whether Santa Barbara really is worse than the soaps that are doing well in the ratings, that's a tough call. On the surface it doesn't appear to be inferior to all those other daytime offerings designed for people with too much time to kill.
Santa Barbara began on an uneven footing, with one reviewer deeming the series "the worst program on television... maybe ever." Mark Dawidziak claimed in August 1984 that Santa Barbara was "a serial full of hammy acting, predictable story lines and atrocious dialogue." However, creators and executive producers Bridget and Jerome Dobson tightened the show's cast among a handful of popular characters and proceeded to kill off or write out weaker links and supporting characters via a natural disaster and the "Carnation Killer" serial killer storyline. The original plotline surrounded conflicts between the wealthy Capwell and Lockridge families. Stage legend and Oscar nominee Dame Judith Anderson received a great deal of publicity for headlining the cast as Lockridge matriarch, Minx, but other than a few attempts to give her a major storyline, she was rarely seen. When the Lockridges staged a comeback in the early 1990s, the much younger Broadway and movie veteran Janis Paige assumed the part. The soap showed promise with an early Alexis Carrington-style villainess, Augusta Lockridge (Louise Sorel), but even though critics praised her performance, her storyline was suddenly dropped and Sorel left the show. She would return later on a recurring basis and signed a contract when the Lockridges were written back in as regular characters.