Created and written by Robert Cenedella, Somerset was envisioned by the NBC-TV network as a continuation of its enormously popular soap Another World. Ideally, the network would have preferred to expand AW to an hour, but the idea of a 60 minute soap was anathema in 1969. After much deliberation, P&G countered with a series closely identified with the highly rated AW but existing as a separate entity. The result was Another World-Somerset, which had much in common with the parent program: the same opening title, the same theme music, and the same announcer (Bill Woolf). Four characters (and three actors) from the "Another World-- Bay City" serial, airing one hour earlier, were on the newer program: Missy Matthews (Carol Roux), Ricky Matthews, Sam Lucas (Jordan Charney), and Lahoma Vane Lucas (Ann Wedgeworth). Located about fifty miles from AW's Bay City, Somerset's characters initially traveled quite freely between the two programs, allowing the sponsor and network to plug both shows. Unfortunately, the strategy didn't work. With no clear theme or identity of its own, Another World-Somerset's Nielsen ratings were abysmal, prompting NBC to make drastic changes in its format.
Less than a year after its premiere, Somerset severed ties with Another World. A new logo and theme music were commissioned, while the show's title was shortened to simply "Somerset". With the success of The Edge of Night in mind, Procter and Gamble hired Edge's headwriter Henry Slesar to completely revamp the program into a crime/mystery serial. In no time at all, Somerset began to resemble Edge's Monticello as murders, rapes, and other criminal activities infiltrated the small town of 25, 000. During his tenure with the series, Slesar penned several memorable storylines, including the Jasper Delaney murder and an infamous Gothic-toned mystery surrounding Andrea Moore's eccentric family. The tactic worked. Within months, Somerset's viewing audience rose from five to seven million viewers daily. For the next three years, the show's ratings remained healthy, but they weren't good enough for NBC who still had faith the series could become a monster hit.
In late 1973 the network decided to replace Henry Slesar with veteran soap creator Roy Winsor (Love of Life, The Secret Storm). Winsor ostensibly returned the show back to its traditional roots, though his first story smacked of Edge as villains Martin Nell and Stephanie Dillard hatched a diabolical plot to murder wealthy Hilda Benson and frame innocent Tony Cooper for the crime. Although he made some sound decisions, such as the introduction of rival villainesses sexy Kate Thornton and manipulative Victoria Paisley (easily the most fascinating characters since India Delaney), Winsor's writing failed to entice an audience, and the ratings began to slip.
Predictably, the network panicked, and Winsor was dismissed. During the next year, Somerset endured no less than three different writing regimes. Each successive set of writers managed to destroy the program's continuity as characters and stories wandered aimlessly. By the end of 1975, audience defections were legion. Affiliates dropped the show in droves, causing already weakened ratings to plummet farther.
Somerset's future appeared brighter when veteran writer Robert J. Shaw assumed headwriting duties in early 1976. Shaw managed to pull all the meandering stories together with a complex plot in which organized crime once again threatened to gain control of the town. Hoping to recapture some of its lost audience, NBC made the unprecedented move of telecasting the serial twice a day, in its regular timeslot and a special noon-time feed for affiliates who wanted to counter-program local newscasts. With an interesting story and a cast of future superstars (Sigourney Weaver, JoBeth Williams, Ted Danson), Somerset's ratings began to inch upward. Unfortunately, it was too little, too late. NBC cancelled the drama in the fall of 1976 to make room for Lovers and Friends, another P&G soap created by Another World's headwriter Harding Lemay. Ironically, Lovers and Friends performed far more poorly than Somerset and was cancelled after only four months on the air.