Soap Opera Digest: How would you describe your overall vision for Y&R?
Mal Young: My overall vision is to keep it fresh, never rest on our laurels. My mantra is, “What is good is today’s show,” and the minute the viewers watch that, it goes into the history archives and they’re saying, “But what next? And what’s next?” And that’s our job, to keep the viewers guessing and enthralled and entertained and surprised. Not just to do what everyone thinks a soap should do, and fall into the same old tropes. I think our job is to constantly question where we’re going with the show and keep it feeling contemporary and exciting and entertaining. I also want it to get a better mix of the real, heavy drama and humor. Each week, I show all the heads of departments some tapes of the show, just so that we, as a group, all sit and look at what we’re doing. Celebrate some high points, and maybe say, “Well, what can we do better?” Recently, I showed them a whole collection of clips of Billy and Phyllis. I said to everyone, “This was a master class in rom-com,” and it brings in a different tone to the show. I don’t think humor should feel forced or as a gag; I think it should come out of character, and those two actors did that so well, I thought. So that’s kind of my vision. And it’s a continuing one.
Digest: When you took over as executive producer, what were your first steps?
Young: Well, I don’t think you can suddenly do a quick, sharp turn. You have to respect the fact that you’re inheriting a huge legacy of a show that goes back all these years, but also the more immediate stories that were already underway and styles of the show. So you have to do some things slightly, gradually. Visually, the quickest thing I tried to do, which seems to have had a good impact, was to introduce more exteriors and heighten the production values. This was a very quick way of putting your own stamp on a show visually, so I changed the style of the way we shoot it and the fans seem to be responding very positively to this. There’s some nice camera work and lighting, but the exteriors, I think, really made the show feel bigger, and really opened up the world of Genoa City. It felt too enclosed for me. We’re going to keep that going now and keep developing the look of the show.
Digest: What areas did you think needed some work?
Young: I think the lack of humor, maybe, the pace, the direction. When I looked at the history of Y&R, I realized that it was the first to do certain things, like it was the first to go to full HD, so it was leading the way technically, as well as in its storytelling, in its characters, in its acting and in the types of stories that it would do. So, I felt that I wanted us to keep that tradition going and to be at the forefront so that we would remain No. 1 and be seen as the market leader. That’s why I brought in a lot more location shooting, to make the show look as slick as possible, and to not look like any of the other shows, so that you could be flipping through the networks and you would know, “Oh, this is Y&R.”
Digest: What did you think was working well?
Young: Actors. That was the first thing that attracted me to the show when I was first asked to be involved. I think we’re blessed with a hell of an ensemble of quality performers giving really high-class performances. Really great people who just want to be challenged all the time. They love it when I talk to them and give them notes and talk about their characters and push them into areas that they might feel uncomfortable in.
Digest: Speaking of your cast, were there characters that you felt needed storyline attention?
Young: There were some that from the moment I really started to watch the show in detail, I felt were being underserved and were just not on-screen enough. Ashley [Eileen Davidson], I adore. I just think, “What a great character, what a great actress portraying her. She can do comedy, she can do heavy, she can do everything! Romance!” And I was frustrated about that, so she needed attention. And Mariah [Camryn Grimes]. Big fan. She’s one of those great performers who sometimes can kind of be underrated or undervalued by the audience, who kind of think, “Oh, it’s just Mariah.” She’s brilliant in this latest storyline with the baby; she turns in some quite amazing performances and then in the next scene does pure comedy! She’s terrific. I felt she was really underutilized. So, I think those two, mainly.
Digest: You are making wardrobe changes, as well. What is your ideal look for the show?
Young: This is supposed to be a very rich world and we enjoy the insight into the world of these characters who live these amazing lives in Genoa City. I think the wardrobe can say so much about the characters before they even open their mouths. I felt Devon was always in a suit, just looking like every other guy in the show, but you should be able to walk into our wardrobe department and see all the costumes hanging up and tell me who that character is, because they say as much as the script says, probably more because it’s visual. So Devon’s had a bit of an overhaul. We’ve used the GC BUZZ story and his new venture to take him into a much cooler, rarified world of show biz, and he’s looking great. And I’ve talked to [portrayer Bryton James] about bringing in his own taste to Devon, and the same with Hilary [Mishael Morgan], now that she’s embarking on this new adventure.
Digest: As far as the sets, was the restoration of the Chancellor mansion any response to fan outcry or was that something you wanted to do?
Young: It’s a funny one, that. We’re working so far ahead of what the fans are seeing. We do obviously listen, and I particularly do to the fans all the time — I want to know what their responses are — but it’s usually to what you’ve already done, not what you’re just about to do. With this particular change in the Chancellor mansion, we decided we wanted to bring Jill back, and Jess [Walton] was available and it worked out great. I adore her and the fans do, and she’s so good and so inventive. She comes into a scene with all this energy, which is just infectious. And, as with all the best stories, they’re the ones written by the character, because we all sat in a meeting and went, “Jill would hate this house!” And we were picturing, “Well, there’s the story. She makes him change it. It will be hilarious but it will be real.” And it coincided with the fan outcry, because by that point they were seeing it on the air. But we just allowed the fictional character of Jill to make that decision for us, funnily enough.
Digest: How would you describe your working relationship with Head Writer Sally Sussman?
Young: Oh, it’s great! It’s total trust. We are similar in a way; we’ve both been immersed in our soaps, but we’ve also got a lot of differences and that’s always good because you could both bring strengths to the table. There’s a mutual respect, there’s no politicking between us. Both of us just care passionately about making the best show possible, and we both like to talk and we both like to have a laugh, so that’s good, isn’t it? We talk about the vision of the show, and it’s our vision now, and hopefully it’s one that the fans will agree with. Not all of them will, but I hope enough of them will say, “Oh, this is fun, this is great.” The fans have got a hell of a Christmas and New Year coming up, and they’re in for a treat when Sally’s stuff hits. I think that takes us through the next phase in the life of the show.
Digest: What have you learned from your past efforts that you’re incorporating now?
Young: I think the big thing that I’ve learned over the years is that these shows are huge machines and you have to be very visible and accessible to the whole team in front of and behind the camera. You have to be the principal of the school one day, and keeping everyone to the rules, but you also have to constantly engage and inspire people to give their best creatively.
Digest: What can you tease about what’s coming up?
Young: Well, there’s some really cool twists and turns, quite unexpected ones, coming up in the Sharon, Dylan and Nick triangle, which is good fun. The GC BUZZ set has been very successful for us; the people have responded very well to us giving Hilary and Devon a whole new journey, and Mariah getting involved with that. We can do stories that reflect the way we watch TV now and we watch gossip shows, and the way media is a part of our lives. The GC BUZZ story can reflect that. We’ve got a good twist with Victoria and Travis. Travis’s past is just about to come in and hit them over the head. I can’t say too much about that right now, but you won’t see that one coming. And you’ve got Jack on his new journey, going back to the old Jack. He’s not going to get messed with, he’s much tougher, much colder. So he’s really going to be driven to destroying all his competitors, including Victor. He’s going to try to take down everyone, including his brother, because his brother’s working for Victoria’s company, but under the same roof, and that’s going to give us lots of problems. Expect lots of fireworks, I can definitely promise that.
Digest: I know Y&R is the No. 1 show, but if there are people who have tuned out, what would you tell them is the reason they should tune in again?
Young: I would say, “Come back and just try an episode and see the changes, and where the show is going, the new characters that are coming in and the new stories.” We have got some great new characters coming in, but we’re also going to elevate a lot of the legacy characters. I think that a lot of the fans who may have tuned out are going to be very pleasantly surprised, particularly when Sally’s influence comes to bear because she goes back years with this show, and Kay Alden [story consultant] is now involved. The three of us have been talking a lot about how to respect and celebrate the past as well as move the show forward. So I think those people who wandered off will come back and want to stick around.