As Y&R marks its 50th anniversary, what’s the state of the No. 1 soap? Check out what Digest columnist Carolyn Hinsey has to say about what’s happening across the daytime dial.
Happy 50th Y&R! It’s been a wild, entertaining journey, huh?
The first episode in 1973 of this revolutionary soap set the tone for what was to come. Various members of the haves (Brooks) and the have-nots (Fosters) were looking for love in small-town Genoa City when injured stranger Brad Elliot got into a dispute at the local restaurant because he couldn’t pay his bill. Patriarch Stuart Brooks put the stranger’s food on his tab and soon Brad — who turned out to be a presumed-dead doctor — was dating Stuart’s daughter Leslie. Note: This is probably the only soap debut that featured not one but two people playing the piano within a half-hour episode.
Sex, drugs and alcohol played a bigger role on this “restless” new outing than it did on other shows. Wild child Lorie Brooks met fellow partier Brock Reynolds in Paris, which introduced us to his wealthy mother, Katherine Chancellor. Katherine’s husband, Phillip, cheated on her with local manicurist Jill Foster (who got pregnant, natch) and the show we know today started to take shape.
By 1980, Katherine had hired ruthless businessman Victor Newman to run Chancellor Industries and the action shifted to his take-no-prisoners behavior, cheating on his wife, Julia, with Lorie Brooks and achieving a hostile takeover of Jabot, which created a lifelong rivalry with Jack Abbott. Show me a more iconic scene than Victor having a heart attack and Jack stepping over his body, kicking his enemy’s hand on the way out.
Villains are one of Y&R’s strengths. Victor is the gold standard but Phyllis has worked her way up to silver, always doing the wrong thing for the right reason (or so she thinks) and seriously interfering in her kids’ lives.
Phyllis (to Summer): “I will never, ever change.”
Good! They’ve softened the edges on Michael, Adam, Chloe and Chelsea but we’ve still got “Red”. Beautiful people doing ugly things is an important cog in the soap opera wheel.
Indeed, beauty matters on this show. Co-Creator William J. Bell spared no expense, filling his sets with lush furniture, beautiful flowers and flattering light. The biggest recipients of this lavish look? Nikki and Victor. The rich, Machiavellian man wooed the beautiful stripper from the wrong side of the tracks with expensive dinners, jewels, gowns, travel — everything she could dream of. Cue the cheating, fighting, apologizing, divorcing, reuniting, remarrying, etc., each time with a bigger diamond and a better wedding.
The expensive look of the show continues despite the inevitable budget cuts, and they’ve kept the throughline of families battling each other but remaining loyal when it matters. The Newman vs. Abbott feud is the greatest constant on the show, carried into the present by hot-headed marrieds Summer Newman and Kyle Abbott. Y&R tried to jump-start the next generation with Victor’s grandson Noah and Jack’s granddaughter Allie but lack of good story and proper chemistry caused it to fizzle. Still, on any given day you can turn on the TV and see Kyle messing with Adam, or Ashley toying with Victor, and it’s like a warm, dramatic hug.
Ashley (sarcastic to Abby): “Family and business can be a volatile combination, or so I’ve been told. I don’t know anything about problems with a sibling.”
Ha! Jack would like a word….
Ashley was talking about Lily and Devon, who are Jack and Ashley 2.0. The Hamilton-Winters clan has remained surprisingly strong despite the death of beloved patriarch Neil (and his even more beloved portrayer, Kristoff St. John). Remembering lost loved ones is important because it honors the commitment we made to those characters. E.g., Devon was recently being jerked around by his bio dad, Tucker, and Abby suggested he hear his father out.
Devon (picking up a framed photo of Neil): “This is my real father.”
Sniff! Katherine Chancellor, John Abbott and Dina Mergeron remain part of the fabric but Cassie Newman sadly does not. Does she still have a memorial corner at Crimson Lights? Sorry, kid.
It would keep Katherine even more alive if they properly tied her to Chance — the son of that baby her husband, Phillip, impregnated Jill with all those years ago. Playing Chance with just one member of the Chancellor family would help us connect after all those recasts: grandmother Jill, parents Nina and Phillip, great-aunt Lauren, even his ex-wife, Abby.
I also wonder what it would do to the Abbotts if Jack reminded Ashley that John was not her bio dad and therefore she might not have the claim on the family home she thinks she has. It would be a truly evil thing to do, but Jack’s another one whose edges have been unfortunately softened. Aside from leaving Victor for dead, this is a guy who cut Gloria out of her inheritance and shot Jill. He’s got it in him.
Using the past to inform the present is something all soaps should do more. Half of Genoa City could file civil suits against Diane for faking her death and causing them to be arrested … Victor should bring all the B&B characters Sally swindled and/or kidnapped to G.C. for a grand reckoning … and why are there no teens on this show? Imagine the offspring of Nick, Victoria, Billy and Lily mixing it up at the Walnut Grove Academy prom!
They also need to create more couples with the staying power of Nikki and Victor. Tucker/Audra and Nate/Victoria ain’t it, and remember Jack/Sally? Of course not. Take the time to grow two people organically and show us why they should be together, like this perfect example:
Daniel: “When did we get so jaded?”
Lily: “When we learned that love sucked.”
Dialogue like that will buy Y&R another 50 years.
Hey. It’s only my opinion.