On-Air On-Soaps caught up with Maria Arena Bell, the executive producer and head writer of the top daytime drama, The Young and the Restless at different times during Emmy week. We had the opportunity to pose some burning questions that fans and soap pundits have pondered.
Since soap icon, Genie Francis had appeared on Y&R as her new character of Genevieve, many have loved her every moment, and others give a mixed reviews saying she may be channeling her inner Helena Cassadine. Daniel Goddard, got a fantastic opportunity to come back from the dead playing two roles, or so we thought as Caleb and Cane, and meanwhile Tristan Rogers and Jess Walton are taking off as the soaps veteran “it” couple. So how does the mastermind behind Genoa City see it all? And, after her great Emmy victory for head writing along with her team, during the most difficult times the soap world has ever faced, what does she have to say about the relevancy of the genre? Find out as we talk to the busiest executive and creative force in daytime, Maria Arena Bell!
Let’s talk first about your brainchild to bring Genie Francis (Genevieve) on to the canvas and to Y&R. Now that you have and seen her on the airshows, is what you had envisioned or imagined with her becoming a reality?
MARIA: Genie is amazing and a real pro. I put pen to paper and she ran with it. She is really a brave, courageous actress. She will go there, and I think it speaks to her frustration in playing one role for so long that she felt limited in it. It was a beloved soap character, and I loved Laura of GH, too. I mean, who doesn’t love Laura! But I think Genie was itching to play a smart, aggressive person who makes things happen. I think she is stupendous and really sold the story, as has everyone in that storyline. It really has been fantastic to watch, and I think she is terrific.
People always said, “How are they going to get out of the Daniel Goddard situation?” And then, “How was Maria going to do it?” Was there ever hesitancy in you to do another evil twin twist?
MARIA: It was a situation where we needed to make a turn in the storyline, and obviously it’s a storyline as old as the hills. But in this case, I thought we could mine it, and I wanted to give Daniel the opportunity to play a darker character. I like seeing him go to that darker place and it’s also a challenge for him. And in a way, when we talk about acting challenges, most of the time Daniel played Cane as a super nice guy, but every once in awhile Daniel brought an edge to Cane. I was super impressed with him. So I was like, this is great to give him this tour de force opportunity. I think it worked out for him as an actor.
I think Tristan Rogers (Colin) and Jess Walton (Jill) really work well. Did you know instinctively going in, that they would have such on-screen chemistry?
MARIA: When we brought Tristan on to the show, Jess Walton was the person I wanted to pair him with. Jess is the most amazing actress, and so I knew if you put her with someone that can work at her level, then she can be phenomenal in a love story, especially one with a twist. I think she is fantastic, and the two of them are fun to watch. I think Genie enjoys working with them, too. It’s a great group of people.
We hear you just got back from your first trip in forever, something that is terribly hard to plan when you are both the executive producer and head writer of a soap! Where did you go?
MARIA: I went to Africa! I am the oldest of five girls and my dad thought it would be great to take a bunch of teenage girls on safari. I loved that trip so much and it stuck with all of us all these years. So I always had said to my husband, and after we had been together for 25 years that I have this idea of going to Africa with him sometime, but he never really wanted to go. So I convinced him to go. We even got all the shots to prepare to go and then I said, “I am so busy at Y&R, I don’t know if I can go!” And he said, “Are you kidding me? I just got all those shots! We’re going!” And in the end, we went and it was incredible. And since I started back writing for the show several years ago, I never took anytime off, and this was my first week off. I was worried how the communications would be…. so much that it could be troubling. But, you could be in the Serengeti and get cell reception!
How do you feel about the state of the daytime soap landscape in the U.S. and internationally, especially with the cancellations of AMC and OLTL?
MARIA: I started out as an All My Children fan in college. This is a very funny year, where we all felt a lot of heartbreak, in all honesty. I am thrilled that Y&R won the Emmy for Writing and Directing, but it was great to just be at the Emmys and show the world that there are fans for this genre. There are millions of people in the world that watch Y&R. When I landed in Tanzania, I go through passport control and this woman says, “Are you Maria Bell from The Young and the Restless?” And I said, “Yes”, and she said, “I watch the show on the Internet. I am from a small village and we manage to get the show.” And she goes, “Is Tucker going to die?” This was the most profound thing. These things are valuable assets about the soaps and people need to appreciate it. I am schmaltzy, but we cannot let the soap operas go away! Certainly on Y&R, there are people watching here in the U.S. and all over the world. There is a reason for it to still exist, but this was a rough year.
Tell me how it was to win your first Daytime Emmy for Writing? And also, if you were to tell fans what is it like on a daily basis to be a head writer of a number one soap with 30 plus characters to navigate what would you tell them?
MARIA: First, it is a huge honor to win an Emmy and my first for writing. I am first a writer, and this was just so special. And being a head writer is a lot, because you feel like you are carrying the weight of the show on your shoulders and driving the storytelling. I make those ultimate big decisions for the larger picture. So it is challenging, tiring, sometimes difficult… and the most fun to be able to tell the stories you want to tell. It really is the biggest honor, and I love it!