Being a daytime soap opera fan in 2016 was pretty much an exercise in self-flagellation. Years of recycling writers and producers from one soap to another left three of the four remaining daytime dramas almost identical in their uninspired, derivative storytelling choices. Tales of baby switches, evil twins, stolen embryos, brain tumors and countless other overused soap tropes were playing out on at least two soaps at a time all year long.
The only daytime soap opera seemingly immune to behind-the-scenes shake-ups — CBS Daytime's The Bold and the Beautiful — wasn't in much better shape, due to repetitive storylines featuring kiddie pool-shallow love triangles galore. Yet it is B&B's sister soap The Young and the Restless that has caused the bloggers and podcasters here at Daytime Confidential the most frustration over the years.
For much of Y&R's four-and-a-half decades, it was known as the crown jewel of daytime television. A lush, evocative, sexually-charged, character driven soap opera set in a fictionalized version of Genoa City, Wisconsin, Y&R shot to No. 1 in the late 80's and has remained at the top of the Nielsen ratings ever since. Unfortunately, Y&R stopped deserving its number one spot about a decade ago.
The last 10 years saw the kind of asinine, lazy storytelling Y&R creator Bill Bell eschewed become commonplace. Lynn-Marie Latham killed off series patriarch John Abbott (Jerry Douglas) and removed any hint of the luxury and excess that made poor housewives and little gay boys tune in to salivate.
Bell's own daughter-in-law, Marie Arena Bell had dueling doppelganger stories playing out at the same time and 80-year-olds flying crop dusters during rescue missions. MAB also made the destructive decisions to kill off fan favorites Brad (Don Diamont) and Colleen Carlton (Tammin Sursok).
Jill Farren Phelps replaced MAB as showrunner following a nasty coup. Her biggest contribution was killing off a beloved fictional grade schooler in a manner identical to what she'd done at another soap; that and forcing her best friend onto the canvas as the show's new leading man.
Others helped sink the quality of Y&R. Perhaps the most recycled writers working in daytime, Jean Passanante and Shelly Altman, completely rewrote the histories of stories fans watched play out on screen, creating hammy new villains in the process. Though they dealt with so much interference from JFP and the network, I have to cut them slack.
Since we're on the subject of the network, CBS Daytime boss Angelica McDaniel is a huge supporter of her lineup's two soaps — for this she should be commended. Seriously, I can't recall another soap suit so committed to seeing her shows thrive during my time covering the genre.
What McDaniel needs to cut out, however, is forcing random "hot guys" onto the canvas who simply add no value. Who cares if an actor comes from "primetime" if he can't act, or has zero charisma?
Soap fans do not just watch for hot guys. They watch for compelling storylines. Here's a bit of advice for Angie: let the actual storytellers do the storytelling and let the casting directors cast the shows. It worked back when Bill Bell was making CBS so much money that his soaps funded pilot seasons. It can work again. And for the love of the Suds Gods, enough with the cameos!
McDaniel cannot be blamed for the most destructive force to ever set foot on Television City. Charles "Chuck" Pratt's hiring happened over her head. JFP allegedly went straight to Nina Tassler to convince her to hire Pratt, in order to block Bill Bell protege Sally Sussman back in 2014. The man who destroyed All My Children managed to negotiate not only the head writer slot, but was named executive producer alongside JFP.
Pratt quickly brought in his trademark brand of soap operatic lunacy. Plane crashes! Snowstorms! Serial killers! Fires caused by computer viruses! Latin doppelgangers of white people! You name it, Pratt crammed it in.
I have no anger left for Pratt. In fact, I chuckle about Chuck. He is who he is and apparently he gets the job done since he keeps getting hired. Heck, I can't wait to see the Season 1 cliffhanger finale of Lee Daniels' Star (Pratt is serving as the upcoming soap's showrunner), where Queen Latifah's evil triplet sisters will no doubt drug and assault Lenny Kravitz set to music.
Now back to Y&R (Cue "Nadia's Theme"). After years of seemingly doing everything they could to keep from embracing the Bell legacy, Sony and CBS finally realized they had no choice but to turn to the people who studied and worked under the soap opera legend to save his show.
Sussman is finally head writer/co-executive producer and Kay Alden, who worked with Bell almost from day one at Y&R, is serving as creative consultant. Their material only began airing during the middle of last week and huge steps have already been taken on screen towards fixing what was once thought irrevocably broken.
The Abbott family is front and center, complete with their familiar breakfast-time dysfunction and corporate power plays (Thank God, for Beth Maitland). Victoria Newman (Amelia Heinle) realizes she's a powerful, independent woman who doesn't have to bed every vapid, waxed newcomer to the Midwest. Department store maven Lauren Fenmore (Tracey Bregman) has a hot new storyline. Long-ignored relationships are being fondly recalled (Victor and Ashley are exes! So are Nick and Phyllis! Michael and Phyllis are besties!) and the dialogue doesn't feel like it's written for second graders in danger of being held back.
Sussman and Alden's stories are meshing well with the creative vision of new executive producer Mal Young. So long as the British import goes easy on those handycams, we'll get along.
Even the really dumb stories Sussman inherited (GC Buzz, Chelsea 2.0) now feel Bell-esque, as rivalries (Hilary vs. Mariah, yo?!) are heating up amid the drama of fashion launches and local Wisconsin broadcasts being "watched by millions". For the first time in a long time, I have hope for the soap I've watched my entire life. Good job, Y&R. Now keep it up.