Not That Young. But Still Quite Restless.

This is a pretty historic week for daytime TV geeks.  If Labor Day, 1972 was the day that most fans cite as the most seminal one in history, that being the day CBS reintroduced THE PRICE IS RIGHT as part of a three-pronged morning game show lineup that took it out of the rerun business , then March 26, 1973 was the the second-most significant one.  Because on that day the network introduced two new daytime series that did not have their roots in 1950s television (or even farther back) and, moreover, targeted an audience that was likely not watching those shows then, as they were either in school or yet to be conceived.

And while one of those debuts didn’t quite pan out for CBS (but eventually did for a competitor; we’ll get to that tomorrow, pinky promise), a new soap opera introduced to kick off a rejuvenated afternoon lineup not only worked then, it still is.   And as THE YOUNG AND THE RESTLESS celebrates its golden anniversary, it is still riding a winning streak that is unparalleled anywhere else in television, and likely will never be eclipsed.

For nearly 1700 weeks, since 1988, it has reigned supreme as TV’s most-viewed daytime soap opera. for all but one of them. (and that was when the pandemic was disrupting both the regular viewing and measurement of daytime TV, so put an asterisk next to that).   At the outset of that streak, there were as many as a dozen other shows that ranked below it, all but two now part of broadcast TV history.  And one of the key reasons, as I learned when I got to participate in a few series maintenance studies for Sony, the studio that owns Y&R, it’s largely because it’s a show that focuses on relatable families, that was created by and is still shepherded by a family.

Bill Bell was a writer for older CBS soaps such as THE GUIDING LIGHT and AS THE WORLD TURNS, and his wife Lee hosted a midday talk show on CBS owned-and-operated station WBBM in Chicago, long before a newswoman from Baltimore moved to the market and outdistanced her ratings-wise.  Bill answered CBS’ bell (ducking) when they sought a more contemporary daytime entry to better compete with a younger-skewing ABC lineup that owned the afternoon during the era.  As Bill explained via Wikipedia:

The Young and the Restless (was created) in 1972 for the network under the working title, The Innocent Years![16][17] “We were confronted with the very disturbing reality that young America had lost much of its innocence,” Bell said. “Innocence as we had known and lived it all our lives had, in so many respects, ceased to exist.”[18] They changed the title of the series to The Young and the Restless because they felt it “reflected the youth and mood of the early seventies.”[18] The Bells named the fictional setting for the show after the real Genoa City, Wisconsin, a community on U.S. Route 12 in Wisconsin along the Illinois-Wisconsin state line located between their then-home in Chicago and their annual summer vacation spot in Lake Geneva.[2].

Their stunning daughter Lauralee was later cast as one of the show’s femme fatales, Christine “Cricket” Blair, and continues as one of the show’s more enduring stars, having been on the show for nearly 40 years.  Other cast members, including Melody Thomas Scott and Eric Braeden, have been around even longer.  The show continually broke new ground for storylines, particularly for CBS.  It had plot lines that involved live facelifts and lesbian affairs.  It introduced a number of black actors to the cast, thus developing a unique popularity with viewers of color who would often seek out other daytime options beside CBS.  And as Lauralee recently told the Associated Press, she believes that sort of evolution and endurance was central to her dad’s vision, and he would not be surprised at the milestone it is celebrating this weekend, with no end in sight.

He said if you have two families that come from different backgrounds and good, solid characters, it’s endless material.”  My dad was not afraid of of being first. All the social issues he dealt with — date rape, AIDS, alcoholism, all of that. He really felt that if our audience bonded with these characters that they would learn   If we could even help one person, it was worth it.”

And the Bells continue to be involved both in front of and behind the camera.  AP details that The Bell family has continued to be part of the DNA of modern soaps, with Lauralee acting, her brother Brad serving as executive producer and head writer for sister soap “The Bold and the Beautiful” and brother Bill Jr. as president of the family production companies who made a deal for “The Young and the Restless” to be seen overseas, with versions in Israel, Canada, Turkey and France, among others.  Off a legacy that spawned the careers of such prime time icons as David Hasselhoff, Tom Selleck, Shemar Moore and Eva Longoria, not to mention the late FAST AND FURIOUS co-star Paul Walker, Y&R makes a LOT of money.  And thanks to its haunting piano etude theme being the soundtrack for Nadia Comenici’s perfect 10 performance at the 1976 Olympics, vaulting the tune to number one chart status, nary a gynmastics competition occurs without hearing NADIA’S THEME used as background music.

All of this means even as the show enters its second century, it still makes a LOT of money for Sony, CBS and the Bell family.  It’s officially renewed through next year, and since CBS actually still puts together an actual lineup of daytime TV shows to maintain its own winning streak as the most -watched network that also dates back to the ’80s, odds are quite strong Y&R will eventually eclipse the 54 years that AS THE WORLD TURNS aired, and perhaps even the 72 (including radio) that THE GUIDING LIGHT ran.  If THE PRICE IS RIGHT was the comfort food that sick kids sought while they laid in bed missing school, THE YOUNG AND THE RESTLESS was what Mom watched on the kitchen TV while taking a needed lunch break from making soup for their sick kid.  And apparentl that’s still the case.

There will be a prime time special on Monday night, appropriately leading into CBS’ longest-running scripted drama, NCIS, a mere 20 years old but still venerable. And Y&R still cranks out 250 original episodes of scripted dramas per year, more than ten times the volume of any primetime original.  About the only major change expected in the next few months will be a relocation from the remodeling Television City which has housed it since its beginnings.  The special promises some surprise appearances and reunions, and will catch yyou up on the key storyines and trends, just in case youve been distracted at any point in the last four decades.

These days, particularly for broadcast daytime TV, Young is an aspirational adjective at best.  But Restless?  Absolutely.

Until next time…

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