The Young and the Restless’ Record-Breaking Stunt

By Marlena De Lacroix a.k.a. Connie Passalacqua Hayman     

Yet again … is it right or wrong for a soap to kill off a child?  I led a column with this perennial question several weeks ago when Delia Abbott was killed on The Young and the Restless, reiterating my longstanding opposition to what I regard as a creepy plot device that exploits the worst nightmare of mothers everywhere, many of whom historically form the backbone of soap viewership.

Billy Miller: His Billy carries a crushing burden of guilt

But that’s just me, and as it turns out lots of viewers disagree. There was a tremendous response to the column:  a spike of several thousand hits above the norm here at Marlena De Lacroix:  Soaps for the Thinking Fan, plus almost a hundred letters, breaking at about half pro and half con.  Y&R earned the biggest prize of all: close to a record five million viewers for this most controversial storyline of the year.

It’s hard to argue with such success, so I’ll concede this much: if Y&R had to do this story, at least they did a fine job of it. The writing, acting and production all were first rate. The death of Delia touched almost every character on the canvas. As the grieving mother Chloe, Elizabeth Hendrickson brought tears to the eyes. The grief of the father, Billy (Billy Miller) was made worse by his knowledge that, just prior to the accident,  he had left the child in the car when he went into a store to get some ice cream.  Any parent could relate to his crushing feelings of guilt, expressed so movingly in his later scenes with his hysterical mother Jill (Jess Walton).

The death of Delia brought the leading Abbott family together. Jack and his sisters Ashley (Eileen Davidson) and Tracy (Beth Maitland) came to town. Ashley brought muffins for a scene Y&R watchers have grown to love as tradition:  the Abbott family breakfast.  Jack (Peter Berman) was shown to be the new head of the family, a fact that was remarked upon by Jack’s dead father John (Jerry Douglas), who appeared only to Jack.  The warmth of the family gathering went a long way to assuage the pain of Delia’s death, although the pain will never go away.

And there’s more. Also shown in a great deal of pain was Adam Newman (Michael Muhney), the man who apparently (and up until now secretly) ran over Delia.  He kept this knowledge to himself, even after parts of Delia’s eyes were successfully transplanted to Adam’s newborn, almost blind son, per Chloe and Billy’s permission. Adam hasn’t even been able to enjoy the success of this operation.  All along he has been debating confessing his guilt. This week he may even do so.

Will Adam Newman ever be happy?   Here’s a question that has haunted the character ever since he came to town as the son of Victor and the blind and deceased Hope several years ago.   First he loved and lost Sharon (Sharon Case). Then he loved and lost his wife Chelsea (Melissa Claire Egan).   Now he may go to jail for a decade and miss his son’s growing up years. Adam Newman’s life is perpetually a tragedy. Not as great as the death of Delia, but certainly a story that is ongoing for the recent run of Y&R.  The soulful Michael Muhney has his work cut out for him. Happily for the viewers, he seems to be up to the challenge.    

Comments

  1. Chris says:

    Marlena, what did you think of Ilene Kristen reprising the role of Delia from “Ryan’s Hope” on GH this past week, along with the show’s Halloween episodes?

  2. James says:

    Chere Marlena,

    Y&R has been must see TV in recent weeks. Riveting on all counts. Writing, acting and production have all been stellar. Kudos for making such great TV. I’m sure many of the stars will use those episodes for their Emmy reels.

    That said, I’m concerned about the long term implications of Deliah’s death. JFP seems to use death of legacy characters too freely as a way to goose the ratings while not considering the overall structure of the show. Maureen Bauer’s death on GL was riveting as well, but the show never recovered from loosing its matriarch character. Little Jake’s death on GH was great TV, but ultimately hurt the credibility of the Luke Spencer. Drew Buchanan’s death on OLTL was essentially just a plot point that led to Nora sleeping with Sam Rappapport in order to get pregnant.

    Killing off a legacy character should be done carefully, with great thought to the implications to the story canvas rather that a ratings grab. For example, Alan Quartermaine death on GH was just a plot point. Ditto Emily Quartermaine’s death. When Bryant Montgomery on ATWT was killed off in a car wreck, it had no long term effect on the show or his father Craig. And the less said about Dixie’s death by poison pancakes on AMC, the better.

    Killing off child characters needs especially to be done with great caution. And originality. Deliah’s death was neither. After we saw Claire Labine’s sublime Maxie gets BJ’s heart storyline on GH, all other child death plots now seem like nothing more than a rip-off. How convenient that the only organ Leukemia-survivor Deliah could donate was her corneas and that another character on the show needed those corneas.

    Sorry if I’m being cynical. Again, it was quite good TV. But will we look back on this fondly like we do BJ’s death on GH or Cassie’s death on Y&R? Will this death be felt for years and years to come? I sincerely doubt it.

    • redontop4 says:

      I don’t think Delia was a “legacy character.” That designation is given, I believe, to characters with long, deep histories with the show. Jack Abbott is a legacy character; I’m not sure Billy is (yet). Delia certainly was not as she had appeared only in, what

      • redontop4 says:

        [Sorry, got cut off . . .)

        30-40 episodes EVER?

        Also, while I agree that all child-death stories feel like ripoffs of the Labines' BJ story, in fairness, that story was an almost beat-by-beat ripoff of a transplant story done expertly (and originally, I'll venture) by "St. Elsewhere" circa 1984. That story involved adults but was otherwise practically identical, right down to the grieving husband/parent putting his ear to the transplant recipient's chest to hear his wife/daughter's heart beat one more time. The Labines' work was excellent, but really all they did was copy and paste a well-told, sad story onto GH's under-10 set.

  3. Kevin says:

    Just don’t get it: Millions of online fans from all over the planet have been protesting that they will turn off the show and never turn back on (I turned off!)

    And yet the ratings are the highest they have had in two years. What’s up with that? Obviously, those Nielsen households reflect a different walk of people. Obviously the type that are riveted by parents grieving over the death of a six year old girl.

    To each his own, I guess.

  4. DS0816 says:

    Connie/Marlena,

    I’ve been avoiding much of “The Young and the Restless.”

    With the death of Emmy-winning veteran actress Jeanne Cooper this past May, and that [Katherine's death] had to be incorporated into story, I was not in any mood for a fictional character’s death. And I certainly wasn’t in the mood for it to be a child’s death. Perhaps “Y&R” could have held off at least for a year [following Jeanne Cooper's death].

    I’m very annoyed by this.

  5. David C says:

    When I heard about this, I couldn’t help but think about Mary Stuart. She wrote in her autobiography- Both Of Me-about a similar story from Search For Tomorrow in the early 1960s. She protested it vehemently. Jo’s infant son was killed in a car accident so in anger and outrage, she played those scenes so raw that many in the cast couldn’t even bear to watch them off camera during the live broadcast.. She had made her views loudly to the head writers at the time who simply said, it would pump up the ratings which it did. But Stuart goes on to say that within weeks, the ratings returned to their old patterns and now her core family was robbed of a future young male hero which of course plagued the show for decades to come. Mary Stuart was a smart cookie and maybe her thoughts will play out on Y&R. Time will tell.

  6. Aaron says:

    Hi Marlena. I think the acting has been great with this story….but Katherine just passed and it just seems too much. Couldn’t the writers come up with a story for these characters that could create drama and conflict that did not have to be a death? At one point, I thought the show was going in a Chloe/Billy/Victoria triangle direction. Also while I am being a bit nit picky, I felt like I hardly even knew Delia – most of the stories she were in were more about the adults (who’s the father, how everyone reacts to her cancer, etc)….it would have been nice to see her age on the show and get her own stories.

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