The Fall of The Young and the Restless

We’re stuck with the memories that our minds illuminate from our past, for better or worse. I’d be curious to know what triggers our formative mentalities to savor a piece of seemingly useless data as a formation memory, but until I figure that out, I will accept my mind’s autobiography at face value. Unfortunately, to do this means to come out of the closet as a bona fide fan of soap opera. It has been far easier to accept being gay and prematurely balding than it has to admit to myself a fascination with characters who wore evening gowns to a corporate takeover in 1988.
I remember sitting in front of my Nana’s television playing with my toys as Katherine Chancellor and her husband, Phillip were wheeled into Genoa City’s ER on The Young and the Restless. The alarming thing, for me, is that this happened sometime in 1974. I would have been 3 or 4, at the time. Katherine had driven her husband over a cliff in an effort to keep him from her nemesis, Jill Foster. You know, as people are inclined to do. Interestingly enough, this memory served me well. The ramifications of that particular plot point began one of the longest running feuds in daytime television, not to mention my favorite: The rivalry of Katherine Chancellor and Jill Foster Reynolds Chancellor Thurston Brooks Abbott Sterling Atkinson. Admittedly, Jill has had some commitment issues over the years. Oddly, until her death, my Nana would only refer to Katherine as “Mrs. Chancellor”, never Katherine or Kaye.
As I grew, I would catch glimpses of the show my mother and her mother would take a break from their daily grind to watch together. Growing into a teenager, and developing an interest in writing myself, I found myself oddly drawn to this show, these characters, and how they developed through the years. But around 1986 or so, I claimed it as my own with the exploration of Jill and Phillip’s bastard offspring’s teenage years. Phillip and his friends, particularly the sassy Nina Webster, drew me to the screen in a way I don’t recall happening before.
Of course, my mother found it ridiculous that a teenage boy would be in the house during summer vacation watching a soap, so I would catch what I could when I could. The televised memories from this time are, strangely enough, some very happy ones for a lonely kid looking for an outlet to mirror his own creativity.
Anyway, college came, and I was able to become a bigger, more open fan of this show. Watching the war between Jill and Katherine become more and more personal as they battled for the love of young Phillip, deepened these characters for me; and when he was killed off, the resulting war between them and young Nina for his money actually made me first realize how much I really wanted to write.
William J. Bell created this show in 1973, and in an unprecedented situation, served as head writer of his creation for over 20 years. Bell was one daytime drama’s greats. The consistency that his creativity and personal control allowed for made The Young and the Restless the gold standard for continuing drama. He knew how to create a character, and let them follow their own path. His characters never acted like anyone else but themselves. Sure, he would have the occasional deranged nurse stealing someone’s baby, but he would play those stories sparingly, employ great actors, and weave more realistic tales around that. Sheila Carter nearly burned her own mother to death and stole a baby, but the juxtaposition of this with Nina’s fight for respect in a world of the rich and famous added depth to a story that could have been more ludicrously played out than it actually was. He told a story. He mapped it out. And he made you wait.
I think what draws me to this type of storytelling is the idea of following a character through. When one story ends, another begins. The massive amount of time required to fill in a show that runs five days a week allows for intimate conversations that reveal motivation and character traits not otherwise seen. As a voracious reader who also had a deep interest in God’s plan for us, I always saw a soap writer as having a job that most closely resembled God’s design. The writer would create a character. A good one would create a character, and follow and nudge that character along to his/her natural conclusion. He would illuminate this character through his/her intimate relationships. This is what Bell did for me. And that’s what I saw God doing for me.
When Bell retired, his handpicked successors were ousted, and a new writer was brought in. Lynne Marie Latham was reviled for dismantling a lot of Bell’s work. Having people suddenly become related, introducing strange back stories, and quickening the pace of the storytelling helped the show end up in a situation where fans were calling for a change. They got what they asked for when Bell’s own daughter in law, Maria Arena Bell, took over the reigns. God help us.
What Maria Arena Bell did to the show in her five or so years was take it from bad to worse. While extolling her own virtue as the legitimate heir to Bill Bell’s legacy, she did things to the show that destroyed much of her father in law’s creation. Bill Bell would occasionally, over the years, employ stereotypical soap stories such as the “evil look-a-like”, but only to enhance a story. Maria decided to tell two of these doppelganger tales at once, making for one of the most insulting stories in the history of daytime television.
Jill Foster, the only original character since 1973 has had her history rewritten so many times by this woman, she became a joke. She deserted the Katherine/Jill rivalry by creating new characters that made no sense, and inserted Katherine and Jill into their stories; plot driven messes involving characters that had no history with the show. I could go on, but won’t.
The point of this article, now that Maria has been fired by Sony Television, is to illustrate how bad this genre has become. Low ratings and less mass appeal have driven networks to continue to hire the same old hacks to write for shows the executives don’t care about, then blaming the viewer when we stop watching what have become exercises in hackery.
I applaud Sony for stepping in, wish they had done it sooner, and am cautiously optimistic that the show can regain some ground under its new regime. Sadly, the damage has already been done in similar circumstances to other shows. As the World Turns, Guiding Light, All My Children, One Life to Live are multi-generational shows that have left the airwaves in the last five years. The Young and the Restless was the cream of the crop. Hopefully, as this industry dies, it can, at the very least, reclaim that mantle. It would be nice if that early childhood memory ended happily.


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One response to “The Fall of The Young and the Restless

  1. So many memories of our lunchtime Y&R viewings: Shiela vs. Lauren, Victor’s not dead, he’s with Hope, Nikki & Cole & Victoria, Nicholas going off to a Swiss boarding school that ages you 10 years in 5 months, the crossovers to B&B, Cricket & Danny, Victoria and Ryan, etc.

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