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Soap opera shoots in Somerset County

Home News Tribune Online 08/3/07



PEAPACK-GLADSTONE — One of Somerset County's oldest estates met the longest running TV soap opera on Thursday.

"The Guiding Light," which has appeared on CBS since 1952, was filming a flashback sequence set in south France at the Elm Cottage on the county-owned Natirar estate.

"We needed a place that was beautiful, accessible and had multiple areas that we could shoot in," said "Guiding Light" Producer Alex Johnson.

Natirar is a 490-acre property that sits in Peapack, Bedminster and Far Hills. It was once owned by King Hassan II of Morocco and features extensive lawns and wooded areas and several structures built during the Victorian era.

Somerset County purchased the estate in 2003 for $22 million and has opened part of it to the public.

In 2003, the county agreed to lease 80 acres, including the existing mansion, to the Virgin conglomerate owned by British billionaire Sir Richard Branson for the development of a luxury spa. The remaining acreage will remain under county jurisdiction.

The 47-room Tudor-style mansion will be renovated and expanded into a 61-room hotel. In addition, there will be a 30,000- to 35,000-square-foot spa facility with 25 treatment rooms.

"The Guiding Light" is normally shot at CBS's studios in New York City.

Ken Cowles, the soap's production coordinator in New Jersey, set up the shoot with the Somerset County Park Commission.

"We get a vision, and then we go look for it," he said. "We come on site and do a walk through and then we go back to the property managers — and then we write to them explaining what we plan to do. It's reviewed, and then we finalize it."

Karren Newman, the commission's recreation manager, said the "Guiding Light" team applied for a permit for the half-day shoot, just like any other organization seeking to hold an event on county land.

"We have a commercial billing permit and fee schedule, and it's $500 for a half day, and we did some work for them in terms of getting the property ready so they're paying $800 to be here today," she said. "They had to fill out an application and provide an insurance certificate, just like anything else we do."

Newman added that to her knowledge this was the first time any filming had taken place at Natirar. The county does not plan on marketing the location as a TV and movie production site, she said.

According to producers, the episode of the soap opera will take fans five years into the past of character Cyrus Foley, played by Murray Bartlett. It will explore his history with character Dinah Marler, played by Gina Tognoni.

"We're getting to know a relatively new character in the show," said "Guiding Light" Story Producer Jill Hurs. "This episode is supposed to give us a little bit of a window into where he comes from and what he ultimately wants in his life."

Producers said Foley, who is known as a worldly unflappable figure on the show, will surprise viewers.

"You'll see that what he says he wants in life is not necessarily what he really wants," Johnson said. "It turns out there's really more to him than meets the eye."

The episode will air 10 a.m. Sept. 5 on CBS.

ETA: More info on the episode: http://www.nj.com/news/ledger/somerset/ind....xml&coll=1

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