Only one month into Josh Griffith and Jill Farren Phelps’ creative era at The Young and the Restless, it appears as if the show is on the right track. The characters are fresh, stories are engaging and for the first time in years, I’m genuinely excited to watch daily. It’s been a great beginning for the new creative team, but the true test happens six months to a year from now. Can the quality of writing be sustained going forward?
There’s a period of elation from fans and media after a change of writers and/or producers on soaps. It’s the time when many give a free pass to the new execs. The wrongs of the previous regime are righted – characters who’ve failed epically quickly exit stage left, awful stories are patched up with (usually) quick resolutions and new foundations are built to lay the groundwork for the vision the new team hopes to bring. It’s been a great beginning for the new creative team, but the true test happens six months to a year from now. Can the quality of writing be sustained going forward?
It’s easy to “fix” someone else’s work. Spotting what went wrong where is easy when it’s not your own material. The transition from old stories to new ones usually tends to go very well, raising expectations that the quality of writing can be sustained throughout. But how many times have new creative teams started off well only to fall into the oft repeated trap? The Young and the Restless is everything I could every want in a soap at the moment. The characters are fresh, stories are engaging and for the first time in years, I’m genuinely excited to watch daily. It’s a radical improvement from 4 months ago, when it felt like a chore to watch one episode a week, let alone five.
Y&R’s improvement can be credited to new CBS’ new Senior Vice President of Daytime, Angelica McDaniel, and the hiring of Daytime Emmy winners – head writer Josh Griffith and executive producer Jill Farren Phelps. She’s empowered her new creative team to make the changes necessary to improve Y&R creative and financial health.
McDaniel has shown she is committed to the success of Y&R, acknowledging the importance of the soap to CBS and to her, personally. “I am going to be really invested in the process. Y&R is something we care about and that I am very passionate about,” said McDaniel to Michael Fairman during an interview in August. “I will be working with Jill and Josh, Steve Kent (Senior Executive V.P Programming Sony), and Margot Wain (CBS Director of Daytime Programs). It’s all of us coming together and defining what the clear vision for Y&R is as group. We don’t always agree, but we are going to have respectful dialog.”
This collaborative process has resulted in eliminating some stars from the bloated roster, shaking up the canvas with new story directions and investing in the re-construction of characters like Sharon, ruined by plot-driven writing over the years. It wasn’t a radical concept – you know, focusing on the characters the audience wants to see and mixing in new faces to create an organic canvas. Re-investing in characters relegated to peripheral status like Avery (played by Jessica Collins), who is surprisingly more interesting now that we’re learning about who she is as a person after 2 years of just “she’s a lawyer, she’s Phyllis’ sister and she has a crush on Nick.” In just a few weeks, the character I forced myself to like because of my appreciation for Jessica Collins, is now one of my favorites.
The creation of Sharon’s breakdown after she set the Newman ranch on fire has led to some of the best scenes I’ve seen on all year. Sharon Case is a dynamic, powerhouse actress who’s endured a lot of really awful writing the last few years, but she’s always risen above it with her phenomenal talent and professional attitude. To see her given material that’s not only complimentary of her acting ability, but also really well written proves just how important it is for actors to be given writing worthy of their skills. Sharon’s erratic actions over the years finally have an explanation – she’s bipolar. Considering all of the emotional abuse she’s suffered over the years from Nick, Adam and Victor, it’s no surprise she’s finally hit rock bottom. This story is a prime example of what a little effort and forethought can do to salvage something positive from something awful.
Fresh off a failed romance and a lengthy vacation on the backburner, Griffith and Phelps have crafted a new story for Kristoff St. John’s Neil that has finally given him some power in Genoa City. With his new position as CEO of Jabot Cosmetics, Neil is positioned to not only drive story in the corporate landscape of the show, but through his family and romantically as well. Flanked by son-in-law Cane, children Lily and Devon, and the company’s new attorney Leslie Michaelson (played by the beautiful Angell Conwell), Neil is building a dynasty of his own. St. John’s been criminally underutilized over the years, saddled with chemistry bankrupt pairings, lackluster storylines and a victim of the show’s inability to feature any characters of color in prominence. It’s refreshing to see his work with Conwell. The chemistry between the two has been there, but for whatever reason was overlooked. Going forward, it should be interesting to see how Y&R finds a way to mix business with pleasure with these two.
Since the 80s’, Y&R has featured African-Americans and other people of color in major and supporting roles, but as the regimes changed in the 00s’, the importance of diversity became an afterthought. Two African-Americans and a Latino character will be debuting in the coming weeks. Having characters of color just for the sake of having diversity isn’t the solution. Like with any character, it’s important to effectively use them in the right stories, integrate them into the cast and give viewers a reason to care. Featuring them every other Wednesday and throughout the month of February isn’t the way to go.
It’s too soon to say the heart and soul of the show has returned, but it certainly feels like it’s on its way. That’s not adulation talking, it’s an acknowledgement of what the show is now, compared to where it was. It continues to be a work in progress, and will for the foreseeable future. Y&R’s creative black hole didn’t happen overnight; it was a gradual, systematic ruination of the legacy established by the late, great William J. Bell. Temporary people made permanent decisions that affected the creative health of the show in the long-term. The blame cannot and should not be attributed to one person, but rather to many who simply couldn’t be who we all wish they could have been – Bill Bell.
Griffith and Phelps have a tough road ahead of them, but it’s important that fans and those of us in the media give time to work out the kinks and make adjustments as needed. It’ll behoove fans to temper high expectations with a heavy dose of cautious optimism. Knowing that you won’t get everything you want, all of the time goes a long way toward creating a positive viewing experience. Instead of focusing on what you think they aren’t doing right, focus on what they are, and provide the criticism that supports your views. Take advantage of the @CBSDaytime Twitter account – tell them what you’re loving and what you think could use improvement. Continue to make your calls and send letters. The greatest power your have is your voice.
McDaniel says the best advice she’s received was, “To listen. People will always teach you something if you’re paying attention.” It’s up to us to make sure she hears.