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4,500 Words of Dialogue, 250 Times a Year: The Making of ‘The Young and the Restless’


On a recent afternoon, Josh Griffith and Amanda Beall were meeting in an office at CBS Television City, brainstorming a way for two characters from “The Young and the Restless” to go on a brief adventure.

Beall, the show’s co-lead author, had an idea. “Sex in the bunker,” he said. “It’s tried and true.”

Griffith, the head writer and executive producer, nodded in agreement. “It has to be something where they both realize it has no future.”

The discussion turned to the pressing issue of what settings would they need to tell this story: in other words, where in the bunker would this sex take place? At any given time, “Y&R” has around 10 active stages, and only a few have bedrooms, so the show’s characters are unusually prone to copulating at office desks and living rooms.

“We have couches that fans want to burn down because so many people have had sex on them,” Beall said.

Since “Y&R” debuted on CBS on March 26, 1973, 50 years ago Sunday, its writers have spent countless hours coming up with wild quotes and wacky plot twists to fuel the insatiable narrative beast that is a daily soap opera.

Created by soap opera visionary William J. Bell and his wife, Lee Philip Bell, as a visually lush, sexually candid, and socially relevant drama that tapped into the youthful energy of the early ’70s, “The Young and the Restless” has reigned supreme. as the most daytime drama -I watched dramas for 35 years and now it stands as one of the last remaining titans of the genre.

While other once-iconic soap operas have been canceled or sent to broadcast networks, “Y&R” has endured, drawing an average of 3.67 million viewers to CBS each day, an audience larger than many prime-time series. maximum audience. Known for his evocative theme song, “Y&R” follows the residents of Genoa City, a fictional Midwestern metropolis. Many of the show’s signature rivalries and romances date back to the 1980s. The most famous is ruthless businessman Victor Newman (Eric Braedan), who has spent 40 years marrying, divorcing and remarrying former stripper Nikki Newman ( Melody Scott Thomas, the show’s longest-serving cast member) and clashing with cosmetics magnate Jack Abbott (Peter Bergmann).

Particularly in an era of bespoke television shows with eight or 10 episodes a season, producing more than 250 episodes of “Y&R” each year is a grueling feat of mass production, something that would be impossible without a team of writers well-versed in The mechanics of serial storytelling.

Janice Ferri Esser is the longest-serving writer on “Y&R,” having written more than 1,600 episodes since joining the show in 1989. “That’s the equivalent of writing 800 feature films, producing them and airing them,” she said in a video. . chat from her house in the Midwest. (“Less than an hour from the real city of Genoa,” she said.)

A dedicated soap opera fan since childhood, Esser fondly remembers racing home after school to watch the last five minutes of “Dark Shadows.” Then, she got sucked into “Y&R” as a college student in the late ’70s. While working as a copywriter in Chicago, she sent a spec script to “Y&R,” even sending a uniformed Western Union courier to the office of Bill Bell to get your attention. The trick worked and she was eventually asked to join the writing team.

As a writer, Esser is responsible for taking episode outlines and bringing them to life with dialogue. “That’s where the glitter comes in,” he said. Since maintaining each character’s unique voice is crucial, he often enacts scenes for his cat. “Sometimes I make myself cry. That’s how I know it’s good.”

Despite drastic changes in the television industry, the assembly-line process for writing soap operas, including “Y&R,” has remained largely the same for decades. The head writer lays out the major arcs the show will follow over the course of several months, then breaks those arcs down into weekly plot summaries, or “thrusts.” Using these prompts, a team known as breakdown writers create detailed episode outlines, including act breaks and scene descriptions. Ultimately, these outlines go to the writers, who write the dialogue and submit their drafts for editing and approval. Within weeks, the episodes are in production.

William J. Bell, left, and Lee Phillip Bell, the creators, producers and writers of “The Young and the Restless,” in the 1990s.

(CBS/Courtesy Everett Collection)

Like many daytime writers, Esser has always worked remotely, submitting scripts via Fedex, fax, and eventually email. “The voice of ‘The Young and the Restless’ is very much the voice of everyday people in the Midwest and I didn’t want to come to Hollywood and lose that on myself,” she said.

As technology has advanced, the pace of work has quickened. These days, she has about a week to deliver a script that consists of a two-part prologue, six acts, and some 4,500 words of dialogue. Then move on to the next.

Esser has helped shape some of the socially conscious narratives “Y&R” is known for, including stories about AIDS and domestic violence. She also wrote what turned out to be the last scene Jeanne Cooper filmed before her deatha poignant moment as her character, the formidable Katherine Chancellor, says goodnight to her longtime rival, Jill Abbott, and heads upstairs.

But as someone who still considers herself a “Y&R” fangirl, Esser also knows she’s there to serve a bigger vision, and she’s happy to do so. “This is not the business to be in if you want to be a novelist,” said Esser, who has also written for “Y&R’s” sister series “The Bold and the Beautiful.” “You have to sublimate your own ego to a certain degree.”

It’s essential to “surround yourself with the strongest, fastest writers you can,” said Griffith, who was named head writer for “Y&R” in late 2018. “It’s not just creativity, it’s stamina you need. Over the years, we’ve had movie people and prime-time TV people. And they’re brilliant writers, but they don’t have that muscle.”

Griffith isn’t afraid to lean into standard melodrama, long-lost twins, and characters coming back from the dead, because, he said, “if you’re true to the characters and really play the emotional levels of what it means to them , so it transcends soap tropes.” The “Y&R” writers are sensitive to how viewers respond to stories, and social media has accelerated the feedback loop between soap opera fans and the people who create them.” You used to wait weeks before people wrote their letters telling you how much they hate what you’re doing,” Griffith said. “Now you can find out at the end of the day.”

Whenever Griffith or his writers have questions about whether a plot contradicts something that happened in the past, which is a lot on a show that’s been on the air since Richard Nixon was president, they consult the continuity department, who can tell them. , just in case. For example, if the death of Diane Jenkins could have been staged. (As it turns out, she did; she returned to the show last year, a decade after her presumed death.)

Griffith began her daytime career on NBC’s “Santa Barbara” in the 1980s, later moving on to “One Life to Live” and “Days of Our Lives.” He still finds the creative freedom of writing for soap operas exhilarating. “This is the biggest medium out there. There is no limit to what you can do as far as storytelling,” he said.

But the creative model that has driven “Y&R” for so long seems to be in jeopardy. In February, the Wrap reported that Griffith had laid off all program breakdown staff and would absorb the work himself, drawing outrage from passionate “Y&R” fans. on social networks. Many predicted the imminent demise of their beloved soap opera as a result of this reduction, which was implemented months before a possible strike by the Writers Guild of America.

A representative for the show, produced by Sony Pictures Television, declined to provide specific details about the personnel changes, but Griffith defended the action to The Times. “It was a creative decision that we felt would streamline the process and give us more efficiency, given the detailed drive and design we were already doing,” he said.

The long-term impact of this revision remains to be seen. For now, at least, the show is in celebration mode. In episodes beginning Thursday, the people of Genoa City will gather for a bicentennial gala to coincide with the 50th anniversary of “Y&R.” Viewers can expect visits from returning characters and dramatic developments in various leaked stories.

The goal, as always, is to “maintain a level of dramatic storytelling consistent with what Bill Bell implemented 50 years ago,” Griffith said, “and at the same time, stay relevant.”

‘The Young and the Restless’

Where: CBS

When: 11:30 a.m. Monday to Friday

Transmission: Parmount+
Classification: TV-14 (may not be suitable for children under 14 with a suggestive dialogue notice)

Merry C. Vega is a highly respected and accomplished news author. She began her career as a journalist, covering local news for a small-town newspaper. She quickly gained a reputation for her thorough reporting and ability to uncover the truth.

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