CBS Wisely Puts a Spotlight on Y&R’s 50th Anniversary

Fifty years ago (March 26, 1973), I was a college newspaper editor at a prestigious state university. At lunchtime, I stopped what I was doing and ran back to my dorm for lunch. I prepared a sandwich and sat down to watch the premiere of the CBS soap The Young and the Restless. (Yes, my classmates thought I was weird for watching soaps. Even then.)

What a historic and pleasurable first hour! A striking musical theme introduced the new soap. (It was written as background music for the 1971 movie Bless the Beasts and the Children, and it later became known as “Nadia’s Theme” when it was used in montages of the standout 1976 Olympic gymnast Nadia Comaneci.) The new show was all art, music, and a cast full of absolutely gorgeous actors and actors.

William J. Bell, who had learned to write soaps under the great Irna Phillips (as a dialogue writer on Guiding Light and As the World Turns, and as the co-creator of Another World), co-created Y&R with his wife, Lee Phillip, a biggie in Chicago television.

I was so keen to check out the new show because Bill Bell had just finished up a long stint writing Days of Our Lives. I had avidly followed his great Bill-Laura-Mickey love triangle, which kept viewers spellbound for a record eight years. Mr. Bell really knew how to sustain an entertaining soap story.

The new Y&R did not disappoint. Indeed, it was a huge hit, and it quickly went to the number one spot in a highly competitive field.

With Young and the Restless, the Bells invented a soap that was quite revolutionary. It was located in a small city in upper mid-America, namely Genoa City, Wisconsin.

The main families were the rich Brooks family, which ran the town newspaper, and the struggling Foster family.

Stuart Brooks (played by Robert Colbert) and his wife Jennifer (played by Dorothy Green) lived in a beautiful mansion with their four lovely daughters: concert pianist Leslie (played by Janice Lynde), novelist Laurie (played by Jaime Lyn Bauer), reporter Chris (played by Trish Stewart) and student Peggy (played by Pamela Peters).

Liz Foster Brooks (played by Julianna McCarthy), the matriarch of the poor Foster family, had an unusually named son, Dr. Snapper, (played by an incredibly handsome actor named William Grey Espy and later played by David Hasselhoff). Young Jill Foster (played by Brenda Dickson) was a total sexpot with a hunger for money and men. She had a thing for the very married Phillip Chancellor (played by John Considine, 1973-74, and Donnelly Rhodes, 1975-75). Phillip Chancellor had an alcoholic wife named Katherine, or Kay (played by the unforgettable Jeanne Cooper).

The whole show looked and sounded seductive. Before I go on, can I tell you this? There was a striking, sexy new character named Jed Andrews (played by Tom Selleck). Oh, mama! Of course, Selleck went on to prime-time stardom in shows like the original Magnum P.I. and the current Blue Bloods. (Marlena asks: Will Selleck publicly admit, even now, that he was once on a soap opera?)

Over the years Y&R never left its fantasy/glamour base, but it had great socially relevant stories, too. It also had wonderful young characters like teenager Cricket (played by the Bells’ real-life daughter, Lauralee), and her boyfriend, Danny Romalotti (played by Michael Damian). Paul Williams (played by Doug Davidson) was in the police department. John Abbott (played by Jerry Douglas) headed up a family that owned a cosmetics company, Jabot. Jack Abbott, his son, was initially played by the late, great Terry Lester, who died young. Lester’s place was taken by Peter Bergman. The Abbott sisters, Ashley (played by Eileen Davidson) and Traci (played by Beth Maitland) were good solid young heroines.

Bell was king of the love triangle. My favorite Y&R character ever, Kay Chancellor, was agitated that young Jill had stolen her husband Phillip. Kay was an alcoholic, super strength, who took as a best friend/foster daughter another alchie, a stripper named Nikki Reed (played by Melody Thomas Scott). The two were seen together from time to time at AA meetings. Nikki got lucky when she met and married a rich German immigrant industrialist, Victor Newman (played by Eric Braeden.)

And so the years went on. Y&R went from a half hour to an hour in 1980. In 1988-89, it became the undisputed number one soap, and it has stayed there to this day. Mr. Bell was so successful that CBS let him do whatever he wanted. No other soap executive producer has been accorded that honor.

Another person who contributed mightily to Y&R’s success was producer John Conboy, who later created and produced Capitol. Conboy had impeccable taste in costumes, scenery, and anything beautiful.

Mr. Bell died in 2005, and Mrs. Bell died in 2020. A string of writers and producers has followed Mr. Bell — some good, some not. The current executive producer/headwriter is Josh Griffith, who is working in association with a writer named Amanda L. Beall. Since they took over, as I have written over the last year, the show has been disappointing, ranging from tiresome to just plain boring. Bill Bell’s legacy deserves much, much better.

What a welcome surprise, then, when a savvy miracle happened: CBS decided not to just observe the 50th anniversary of Y&R at the end of March, but to celebrate the hell out of it. Who knew? Someone at CBS realized that the network had a jewel in its possession and created a hoopla of events to strengthen Y&R’s number one stature.

First, Y&R staged a good old-fashioned soap gala celebrating the 200th anniversary of Genoa City, presided over by its leading citizens, Nikki and Victor Newman. During the festival, Y&R brought back a slew of old characters who had not been seen in ages.

One was the Abbotts’ former maid (played by Veronica Redd), who in one hilarious scene snubbed la Phyllis (played by Michelle Stafford). Also returning was journalist Leanna Love (played by Barbara Crampton), who tried to butt into everyone’s business.

The party also commemorated two key deceased Y&R” actors: Jeanne Cooper (who played Mrs. C) and Kristoff St. John (who played Neil Winters), with reminiscences by characters related to their characters.

It was one great party, spreading over a couple of episodes. For us true Y&R fans, it was sublime to see so many memorable flashbacks.  How hard did we cry when a dying Mrs. Chancellor said good night to longtime nemesis Jill and marched up her mansion’s steps to die? Lily Winters (played by Christel Khalil) and her brother Devon (played by Bryton James) reminisced about their dead father Neil (played by Kristoff St. John, who died way too young at age 53).

On a more cheerful note, what would a soap special occasion be without a catfight?  Yessiree, Diane (played by Susan Walters)and Phyllis had a great big one during the party. Michelle Stafford was so fierce, it was frightening. (Longtime Marlena readers may remember that feminist moi has always argued that catfights are an anti-woman device. What does this do to their dignity?) Phyllis had a heart attack and was sent to a hospital that mysteriously was not named. And Jeremy Stark (played by James Hyde) made a surprise announcement that two weeks earlier he and Phyllis had been wed.

The cat fight aside, the anniversary gala was all class and more entertaining than the show has been in a long time.

But CBS didn’t stop there. The network turned on its own publicity machine by including an entertaining segment on Y&R’s 50th anniversary on CBS Sunday Morning, which was presented by the ever sage and humorous Mo Rocca. In my long memory, which goes back decades, it is rare indeed for such a prestigious news show to do something on a soap opera. The Talk talk show following Y&R featured a week of guests from Y&R and scored their highest rating ever.

But wait, there’s more. As the coup de grace of the 50th anniversary, Entertainment Tonight, which is distributed by CBS Media Ventures, devoted an entire prime-time hour to the occasion. All of the show’s main players were showcased. Peter Bergman (who plays Jack Abbott) recalled 34 happy years playing the part. All of the actors talked about how fulfilling it has been to play their roles over the years, and their reminiscences were accompanied by lots of sentimental old clips.

What an exciting occasion CBS Daytime made of the 50th anniversary of Y&R. It reached the high standards Bill Bell set for his show all those years ago. I hope it’s a sign that the show’s current executive producer and headwriter, Josh Griffith (and his associate Amanda Beall), will be able to continue the quality work they did for the celebration. As for me, I can’t believe I’ve been watching a soap opera for 50 years. How fortunate for all of us that we’ve had a show as addictive and well-produced as Y&R.

At a time when we are down to three network soaps and one on Peacock (Days of Our Lives), do we, both the providers and the consumers, still take our soaps seriously? The message from this celebration is, Yes, we do! Someone at the network level was smart enough to say, in effect, we’re not done yet.


  1. That was a lovely tribute to your beloved show! Brava!

    • Marlena De Lacroix a.k.a Connie Passalacqua Hayman says:

      Esther–thank you as always for your very high compliment. With love as always from Ed, Nigel and me.

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