The Young and the Restless, executive producer and head writer, Maria Arena Bell spoke with On-Air On-Soaps shortly after the official on set cake cutting ceremony celebrating the tremendous achievement of the series landmark 38-year anniversary on their soundstage at CBS. Maria shared her thoughts on the state of the number one rated soap, addressed concerns from the viewers as to why certain decisions were made involving characters and storylines, reveals why the decision to let Emily O’Brien (Jana) go, and gives us a small preview of what’s ahead in the coming months. Here’s our “quickie” conversation with Maria!
Many fans are concerned about the state of Y&R. While the show is still number one in the ratings, there are weeks where the show is losing viewers, and there is concern about the loss of certain characters. Are you in the midst of a refocusing of the show and the characters that inhabit Genoa City?
MARIA: For me, the core characters are those classic Y&R characters that I love to drive story with. But it’s an every changing canvas of many, many people and many characters. You know story arcs come and go, and the life of a character can end and be very profound, and really powerful in storytelling. For me, my goal has always been to utilize the classic Y&R style with a modern twist. I live in the modern world. I think that for instance, in pacing and the way that storytelling is now, for me the show feels right. There is something engaging to tune-in to every day, and every day needs to be like a Friday. And, that is what we need to be to keep the viewers engaged and to get them to watch every day.
Are there cost cutting measures going on?
MARIA: There are always cost-cutting measures, and also some of it is to move more quickly in the studio and things like that. My main focus is to preserve what is so good about Y&R, and what the fans and viewers should not perceive as cost-cutting measures. It should be in things that don’t impact them. The things that they really want to see are the great storytelling with this great cast, and their favorite characters. And, that is what is worth fighting to preserve on this show. When you sort of look at a lot of the other shows that have sort of lost their way, they also have lost some of their core characters, and lost some of what makes those shows what they are. I think Y&R is still quintessentially Y&R. We have those moments still. Just in the last arc of shows surrounding Eric Braeden’s (Victor) performance around the company and having the children cause him to do what he never wanted to do and his anguish, to me, that is classic Y&R storytelling. It has the boardroom, the bedroom, and everything in between, and that is what we are known for. So, I feel like we are giving the audience classic Y&R.
Was it hard to decide to have Emily O’Brien (Jana) leave the show?
MARIA: I love Emily as an actress! She is one of the great young actresses on the show, and it’s much more about a character arc and a story point, and has absolutely nothing to do with her as a performer. She has always delivered and was always terrific. I am going to miss her very, very much. But again, it’s about the storytelling and storytelling has to keep moving forward.
And for Spring, what can you preview is ahead in Genoa City?
MARIA: A lot of romance…some really shocking twists… and we are going to be seeing some fun new characters hitting the scene. And you see, that is how it works in the soaps.
Of the 38 years Y&R has been on-air, and of the time you have taken over the reins of the show, what in your mind resonates as one of the best Y&R moments of all-time?
MARIA: That is so hard. You know, we just flashed to some air shows about three weeks ago of Jack throwing the chair out the window with Victor, and those two great titans having a showdown. And then the great, great moments we have had with Jeanne Cooper, under my tenure, just thinking of her playing Marge and playing Katherine and doing that funeral episode where she narrated. Just that moment of her, and seeing her humor, which we rarely get to see is so memorable. She is so funny. So that was fantastic. We had a great moment just a few weeks ago when you saw that it was Victor’s birthday and he had just lost the arbitration case, and in comes Nikki. You see that core relationship of the show of that love story that just keeps going on. And, Victor couldn’t say anything, and she couldn’t say anything, but they needed each other. Those are those moments. It’s hard to pick just one!