Popular soap opera 'The Young and the Restless' celebrates 35 years on the air

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Wednesday, March 26, 2008

The Young and the Restless logo

The popular American soap opera The Young and the Restless, currently the reigning Emmy Award-winner for best daytime drama, celebrated 35 years on the air Wednesday.

The 35th anniversary also comes after the series, known colloquially as Y&R, marked its 1,000th straight week as the highest-rated soap opera in a daytime slot. In addition to keeping the #1 spot every week since December 1988, Y&R has also been the top-rated soap in the African-American demographic since 1991.

A trend-setter since the beginning, Y&R relied on character-driven storytelling, accentuated with understated sexuality from its cast, which at that time was mostly young, in order to bring in teenage and twentysomething viewers who were ignored by soap producers and networks up to that time. These traits immediately set Y&R apart from other soap operas, and other soaps have since mimicked Y&R's formulaic approach to offering something for everyone, especially younger viewers.

Since premiering on March 26, 1973, Y&R has become a worldwide cultural institution in its own right, racking up an impressive 100 Emmy Awards between the writers, producers, cast and crew since 1974. The show has aired in over 100 countries, including Australia, New Zealand, France, Germany, Italy, and Turkey, and reaches a worldwide audience of ten million daily. So far-reaching was Y&R's appeal that Romanian gymnast Nadia Comaneci chose the serial's theme song as accompanying music to her floor exercises at the 1976 Summer Olympics. In Australia, where Y&R has aired since 1974, the show was canceled by the original network that aired it in 2007, prompting a widespread fan backlash in that country. It was quickly moved to a pay channel.

Over the past 35 years, countless characters, marriages, divorces, births, deaths, and every joy and trauma in between have visited the residents of Genoa City, where Y&R is set. To commemorate the milestone, Mike Halterman from Wikinews interviewed three actresses who have played long-running characters on Y&R, and asked them to share their memories. All three responded to questions about what being on Y&R means to them, what their favorite storylines were, what they perhaps would have wanted to do all over again, and what they'd love to tell their fans directly.

Below are portions of all three interviews.

Wikinews interviews Y&R cast members

Throughout March, Mike Halterman spoke to three Y&R actresses: Melody Thomas Scott, who has portrayed Nikki Newman since 1979; Michelle Stafford, who has portrayed Phyllis Summers Newman since 1994; and Tricia Cast, who portrayed Nina Webster from 1986 to 2001.

Questions asked to all three

Mike Halterman: How do you feel about the way the show has evolved from the day you started the show, to what it is now?

Melody Thomas Scott: Our show has always reflected the pertinent issues of the real world, so of course, that is constantly changing. Making the transition from a half hour to an hour was seamless, and that happened in 1980, my second year on the show. As long as we have riveting character-driven stories, excellent actors and someone at the helm to make sure the look of the show remains unique and mesmerizing, we continue to hold the tradition that Bill Bell created.
Michelle Stafford: Yeah, it's changed a lot but anything that goes on for a long time changes. Nothing stays the same. I liked it then and I like it now too.
Tricia Cast: Well, to be honest, I don't watch a lot of TV. To be really honest, I didn't watch it much when I was on it either, and oftentimes didn't know what was going on with the other characters. Is that bad?

Mike Halterman: What does being associated with Y&R mean to you? What's the one thing you feel has impacted your life for the better from your association with the show?

Melody Thomas Scott: Y&R changed my life in very significant ways. Probably more so than anyone else. It was through the show that I met my husband ([we] will be married for 23 years this October), had my children and given me the beautiful life that I live. God was and still is smiling down on me!
Michelle Stafford: I made money as an actress and that's always a good thing. I'm always a fan of making money.
Tricia Cast: Aside from being honored to be part of the best show on daytime, I learned so much in the time I was there. I'm a better technician for having worked there.

Mike Halterman: In terms of writing and depth of character, do you think your character is stronger now than she was, say, a decade ago?

Melody Thomas Scott: Hopefully she has learned more about life, which always makes a person smarter and therefore stronger. However, there are parts of her makeup that never change. For example, thinking with her heart and not her head. She will forever be vulnerable in the romance department and perhaps in the business world as well. I think she probably feels she is smarter than she actually is! But that's one of the things we love her for, isn't it?
Michelle Stafford: You know what, some people would disagree with me but I think she is stronger now. She's not whacking out every second of the day.

Mike Halterman: Out of all the storylines you've been involved in, which one was your favorite?

Melody Thomas Scott: I really enjoyed the alcoholism storyline. It was very realistic and showed how easily one can get drawn into addiction. (She was also mixing her alcohol intake with pain pills!) Perhaps the story was ahead of its time. The only thing that flawed it for me was not showing the viewers how she recovered. I was really hoping that we could follow her through rehab, counseling, therapy, etc. It would have been a riveting glimpse of what she had to go through to get sober but we never saw any of that. She simply woke up one morning, sober. To this day, I'm always hoping for her to relapse so that we could finally end that story realistically.
Michelle Stafford: The blackmailing of Dr. Reid. That was so creepy and fun and wrong, but it ended up being very funny, [and] the Nick/Phyllis affair. It was a very real story. I like the way it was told. It was real. It's also fun to play a secret.
Tricia Cast: "Trying to make a lady out of Nina" was fun. I love comedy.

Mike Halterman: ...which one was your least favorite?

Melody Thomas Scott: Although the stripping will forever be imprinted in the viewers' minds (especially the men!), I was nervous as a cat each time Nikki performed on stage. I am not a good dancer, so I felt very awkward pretending to know what I was doing! Even though the show hired amazing choreographers to work with me, I always felt like a fraud!
Michelle Stafford: I didn't have a least favorite. That's my job to make whatever I'm given good. If it comes off – the jury's out on that – that's up to the audience.
Tricia Cast: The "poor Nina" stuff tended to depress me.

Mike Halterman: If you had the power to bring one past character back to the show, who would you bring back and why?

Melody Thomas Scott: Selfishly speaking, I would love to have John Enos [who played Bobby Marsino] return. We had a lot of chemistry on camera and it was a pleasure working with him. His character's not dead, so anything is possible!
Michelle Stafford: I think I would like to bring Diane Jenkins back because we don't seem to have anyone evil on the show and I think it's important to have some villains in this medium. And Susan [Walters, who played Diane] was a great actress.

Mike Halterman: How do you feel about the rise of unscripted shows which indirectly breed dramatic situations, like Big Brother and Starting Over? Do you think the rise of reality programming is "bad for business" as far as the daytime dramas go?

Melody Thomas Scott: Like it or not, reality television is enjoying its trend right now. It's in a category of its own and can't really be compared to our show or any other daytime drama. I love my Survivor and real-life crime shows as much as the next guy, but I don't see it as a conflict of viewer choices. The only event I can think of that had a huge impact in the ratings was the O.J. Simpson trial. Everyone was glued to their televisions to watch that circus. Unfortunately, all of daytime programming took a huge hit, with some viewers never returning to their soaps. But that was across the board and affected all of the programming at that time.
Michelle Stafford: I don't think it's bad for business because we are still employed, and it doesn't seem to be affecting us. I don't watch those shows so I can't have too much of an opinion on them.
Tricia Cast: Yes, I said it 20 years ago on the Donahue show. We're lucky to have jobs because reality programming is a threat to scripted shows everywhere.

Mike Halterman: What do you feel is the one major reason for the show staying at the top of the ratings for 19 years? Do you feel you contributed to the show's ratings strength in some fashion?

Melody Thomas Scott: Ed Scott. Now I can finally say it! [editor's note: Ed Scott is the former producer of Y&R, and Melody Thomas Scott's husband] Of course without the individual excellence of our writing staff, performers, and every other area such as set decoration, lighting, camera work, etc., it wouldn't get the viewers' attention. The contributions of all the talented people we are lucky enough to have makes our show the unique piece of art that it is. Synergy!
Michelle Stafford: Oh God, yes, of course! [laughs] No. It's a group thing. It's a group endeavor for a show like this. One person doesn't carry it. I think not a lot people leave the show. The production value is really great. There are extremely talented people who work on our show and I'm not just talking about actors, I'm talking about the crew [as well].
Tricia Cast: As a whole the show sparkles. The Young and the Restless is the best show on daytime. It's been number one with and without me.

Mike Halterman: Do you feel Y&R, through its longevity and popularity, has influenced other shows?

Melody Thomas Scott: One would think so, but I have not yet seen another show equal to our production values. I think they have tried, but have not succeeded. Maybe they just don't know how!
Michelle Stafford: I'd like to think so. Sure, that would be a huge compliment.
Tricia Cast: I would hope other shows recognize the excellence of Y&R and strive to compete.

Questions asked to Melody Thomas Scott

Melody Thomas Scott describing her character's initial stories: "Nikki went through a lot even before the stripper storyline. In the first few months after I started, she killed her father in self-defense (he had rape on his mind), joined a cult, and was a model for an agency that turned out to be a front for prostitution. Beyond wayward!"
(Photo credit: JPI Studios)

Mike Halterman: Twenty-nine years in any job is a long time. What made you stick with it as long as you have?

Melody Thomas Scott: Whenever an actor gets a job on a soap, they never know how long it will last. Even though you may be given a three or five year contract, the show has the right to not pick up your option every 13 weeks. So one tends to think of their job in 13 week increments. First, you are nervous that you may be written off after the first several options, so one never feels absolutely confident that it could be a permanent job. Three years go by, then another three or another five, and if you are lucky, you eventually find yourself in double digits! I've been very fortunate to play Nikki all these years as she can get involved in so many variations of stories that it seems like playing many different characters under the guise of one. No opportunity to ever get bored!

Mike Halterman: You remarked in Soap Opera Digest last year that you get disappointed when your character doesn't get featured regularly in her own story. With that said, did you ever want to just end your involvement with Y&R and do other things?

Melody Thomas Scott: I don't recall ever saying that. If it was printed, it had to have been taken out of context because I don't feel that way. Never have. The truth of the matter is that we are an ensemble cast. We all expect to have light storylines as well as heavy. That's the nature of daytime television. Whenever I do have a few light months I take advantage of that by focusing on the everyday things that get lost during heavy storylines.

Mike Halterman: Nikki and Victor have spent many happy years together, but 2008 has seen the couple divorce for a fourth time. Why so much volatility?

Melody Thomas Scott: Actually, this is only their third divorce. (With nine marriages under her belt, it is hard to keep it all straight!) Nikki and Victor are both very passionate people, whether they're madly in love or hating each other with a vengeance.

Mike Halterman: Do you feel there should be a happy ending for Nikki and Victor?

Melody Thomas Scott: No, no, no to the happy ending! If we languished in happiness for too long, it would be beyond boring. Tension and conflict is the only way to keep characters interesting. You may think you want them to be happy, but after a short time, the audience would want to see some fireworks again.

Mike Halterman: Your character went from stripper to socialite. How do you feel this change deepened the facets of your character's personality?

Melody Thomas Scott: Nikki went through a lot even before the stripper storyline. In the first few months after I started, she killed her father in self-defense (he had rape on his mind), joined a cult, and was a model for an agency that turned out to be a front for prostitution. Beyond wayward! Being a "socialite" never entered her mind, as she believed Victor was the butler when she fell in love with him. The socialite aspect happened very slowly, but finding herself as the wife of Victor Newman, she had to learn how to present herself properly in this world that was 180 degrees from where she came from. I think deep down she still feels unworthy of her position in life.

Mike Halterman: How do you feel about being recognized not only in the U.S., but abroad as well?

Melody Thomas Scott: It's amazing. One of the perks of being on such an internationally successful show has been traveling to other countries (we are [currently] broadcast in 55 countries) on the show's behalf. I'll never forget the mind-boggling reception we received in Istanbul. Journalists and film crews were actually on the tarmac as we disembarked the plane. We kept looking behind us to see who they were waiting for. Was Princess Diana on the plane with us? No, they were there for us. We have enjoyed similar receptions in Italy, Belgium, France, Monte Carlo, Canada, the Caribbean, and Australia, to name a few. It's given us very treasured memories.

Mike Halterman: Some of your fans are new to the show, and others have watched since you first appeared in 1979. What would you like to say as an end note to all of your fans?

Melody Thomas Scott: Thank you for your support! Keep it up! You are the only reason that we are thriving. Thanks for having such good taste!

Questions asked to Michelle Stafford

Michelle Stafford on who really got Phyllis' goat: "Christine by far. She really really really gets under Phyllis' skin. [Drucilla and Diane] are bad themselves, so they don't get under her skin."
(Photo credit: CBS/Monty Brinton)

Mike Halterman: You've been working at Y&R eleven years across two separate stints. That kind of tenure in any job is a long time. What made you stick with it as long as you have?

Michelle Stafford: Because it's fun!

Mike Halterman: Do you think Phyllis and Nicholas have a fighting chance, or will Phyllis be doomed to losing the men she loves, like with Danny and Jack?

Michelle Stafford: I think that it's a soap opera and nobody ever stays happy for a long long time.

Mike Halterman: Phyllis had a lot of foils and enemies in the series, like Christine, Drucilla, and Diane. Which one of those women do you think is Phyllis's epic foil?

Michelle Stafford: Christine by far. She really really really gets under Phyllis' skin. The other two women are bad themselves, so they don't get under her skin.

Mike Halterman: You've won two Emmy Awards, both from separate and distinct parts in your story. Out of the work which got you both Emmy Awards, which do you feel was your strongest body of work, the one you received on your first stint, or the one you got for your current stint?

Michelle Stafford: Because the Emmys are judged by submitting two shows, I can't honestly answer that question. The way Emmys are judged are on two shows from that year. And you win if you have two strong shows, which is really luck. A lot of luck, some talent, but a lot of luck. You hope those two shows mix well together. That's luck too. I had other years where I had more of a storyline written for me and didn't win. So it's really based on if you're lucky enough to get two shows that really stand out.

Mike Halterman: Do you think Y&R should make more use of umbrella storylines, like the recent "Out of the Ashes" event?

Michelle Stafford: I'm a big fan of character driven storylines. That's why I was a big fan of the Nick/Phyllis affair; that was very much a character driven storyline and ratings really peaked at that time because everyone was interested in seeing the fallout. I think that any actor on daytime is going to answer that question the same way.

Mike Halterman: Some of your fans are new to the show, and others have watched since you first appeared in 1994, and others have watched since the show first started. What would you like to say as an end note to all of your fans?

Michelle Stafford: Thank you for watching! I hope we've entertained you all. When I watched the daytime shows when I was younger I used to be highly entertained. I hope you're as entertained as I was.

Questions asked to Tricia Cast

Tricia Cast on her character's reputation as the "beleaguered heroine": "I think that's fair. No one wants every character to be 'together'."

Mike Halterman: In terms of writing and depth of character, where do you think Nina was at her strongest throughout her time in Genoa City? And what was her weakest point?

Tricia Cast: Her strongest point was just before she moved away. She had evolved into a talented and independent woman. Weakest? Perhaps when she temporarily lost control of her faculties. [editor's note: reference to Nina's suicide attempt in 1997.]

Mike Halterman: Nina's best friend on the show was Christine, and in many respects, Christine's personality served as a contrast to Nina's. Why do you think those two kept a strong friendship as long as they did?

Tricia Cast: Who else but the kind, responsible Cricket was going to haul Nina out of the messes she got herself into?

Mike Halterman: Over the last couple of years, history was rewritten so that Philip, Nina's first husband, wasn't really Jill's son at all. What does that say to you as far as Nina ever coming back to the show? Do you find it disheartening that the show's history was rewritten to that degree?

Tricia Cast: What? What did you say? Who told you that? Jill? Why that...

Mike Halterman: You won one Emmy Award, for the bulk of your storyline involving David Kimble. What were some pros and cons in acting that emotional story?

Tricia Cast: Con: All that crying. Pro: I got to shoot him.

Mike Halterman: Many fans would deem the character of Nina as the "beleaguered heroine." Do you think that assessment is on the mark, or were there other facets to her character that you feel were integral to your portrayal of her that deserve note?

Tricia Cast: I think that's fair. No one wants every character to be "together."

Mike Halterman: For a time while you were on the show, you (and Nina) gained some weight. In the storyline, Ryan had left Nina for Tricia [Dennison, played by Sabryn Genet], and she became convinced she was unattractive and unloved. Was that a difficult storyline to act out? Also, what kind of fan reaction did you receive while playing that sort of storyline, as it related to female viewers and their own self-image concerns?

Tricia Cast: It was tough because it was so close to home. I struggled with my weight off camera and that wasn't fun. I got both supportive reaction and a measure of cruelty come my way over it. Some people love you no matter what and some people just don't like their TV personalities to be less than perfect.

Mike Halterman: With the advent of the Internet, soap fans have mobilized and fought to make their voices heard like never before. Do you feel fans may be more rigid to change and evolution in their soap operas more so network and company heads, who are sometimes accused of being out of touch?

Tricia Cast: I guess if I had a show, I'd pay attention to the wishes of the viewers, but I hope I would have faith in my talents as a writer regardless.

Mike Halterman: Out of all of your former colleagues, who do you still keep in touch with?

Tricia Cast: Lauralee [Bell, who played Christine] and I keep in close touch and I talk to Kristoff [St. John, who plays Neil] and Christian [LeBlanc, who plays Michael] now and then. I have friends there who will always be friends, whether or not we talk every day.

Mike Halterman: If you were asked tomorrow to reprise your role on Y&R, would you do it?

Tricia Cast: Maybe. I haven't shot anyone in a while.

Mike Halterman: Now that you're no longer with Y&R, many of your fans don't know what you've been up to. Can you bring us up to speed as to what you've been doing since leaving the show?

Tricia Cast: As an actor, I do theater. I've also done a couple of indies due out sometime this year. I also quilt and grow vegetables and take out the trash. I do a lot of goofing off.

Mike Halterman: Is there any special message you'd like to say as an end note to all of your fans?

Tricia Cast: Thanks for watching. I can play to the lights, but it's more fun with an audience.


Sources

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