Soap Opera Digest: Did you have any trepidation about holding both the head writer and executive producer positions at the soap?
Mal Young: Ever since I’ve taken it on, I’ve started to get trepidation because of people saying to me, “What are you thinking?” I’m thinking to myself, “Oh, my God, am I overconfident here?” In the [United Kingdom], I’ve done this so many times, being a showrunner, so it just felt like the next natural progression in what I do. I’ve always felt that the separation that the daytime soaps have here between head writer and production wasn’t particularly a healthy way of running the show. I mean, it suited whoever was doing it at the time, but for my tastes, coming from where I was coming from, the person who runs the show does everything. You lead the vision and then you take that vision and you inspire and lead 300 people to get that onto the screen. I think if you have a separation of writers and then everyone else in production, interpretation can be lost in the gap in between, and maybe what gets onto the screen might not be what was intended. So rather than trepidation, it felt like it was a fantastic opportunity to deliver it my way, and CBS and Sony have been fantastically supportive.
Digest: What kinds of changes did you want to make?
Young: I felt like we needed to pace up the storytelling. Viewers’ tastes have changed, and we can’t just rely on the fact that we’ve been around for almost 45 years. Every episode has to feel like it’s our first, that it has to count, and that’s a big ask when you’re talking over 255 episodes a year. My mantra is, “We’re only as good as today’s show.” I have to deliver surprises and entertainment and thrilling, compelling drama to them every day. They deserve that, and that’s our job to deliver that.
Digest: What was your first order of business as head writer?
Young: I suppose, really, to get the writers inside of my head. They only really got to know me as executive producer because they could see the changes I was making in production. Of course as EP, you still have a lot of influence over the storylines, and I still signed off on every single script, so you have input, but you’re not driving the storytelling process. So I had to get them really quickly inside of my head about the changes I wanted to make. There’s a tradition in American soaps to slow time down, stretch things out, maybe have one party over four or five episodes, and I think that was great for the past, but not anymore. My style is very much each episode is a new day, so things move on. Now, occasionally I will break that rule and we will do what we call a direct pickup where we finish on a big hook and we pick up on that in that next episode if it’s a big cliffhanger. But generally, if it’s a Monday at home, it’s a Monday in Genoa City. If it’s a Friday, it’s a Friday in Genoa City, so it feels like it’s moving in real time. I had to really get the writers inside my head about how to do that and to stop some old habits and create new ones. But right away they grabbed it and ran with it and loved it because it’s actually quite liberating for a writer, and it’s actually quite thrilling for a director and the crew and the actors to think of new ways to tell stories, because if we don’t keep up and make the show contemporary, it just feels dated.
Digest: I imagine it would be a fun challenge for the wardrobe department.
Young: They’re the first people I told I was going to do this before the writers, and you know what? This sums up our crew. Their reaction was fantastic, they went, “Great! Even more reasons to put great clothes on people! That’s terrific!”
Digest: How soon will we start seeing your changes?
Young: My visual changes have been coming in over the last year, the way we direct the show, the way we light it, the way we do more location shooting, exteriors, but where I’m overseeing the storylines as well as all the scripts and every detail is October 25, episode 11,292. How about that for a number [laughs]? But I want people to think, “Oh, this is the Y&R we recognize.” It’s not going to suddenly go off on a ridiculous direction. It’s going to be respectful. I hope people will recognize that it’s gone and added energy, pace and is a little more compelling.
Digest: How would you describe Genoa City under your vision?
Young: I want to really bring Genoa City up as a character in our show. I’m blessed to inherit this phenomenal set of characters played by the best ensemble set in the business. I want to give those people a stronger backdrop, so Genoa City almost becomes an additional character within it, so it doesn’t feel too anonymous. This is a place I want to visit every day and be a part of and hang out with these people. That’s the feeling I want to go for, and just generally a feeling of “wow” moments. I’m very, very keen on how we open and close every show. I think that’s when people make the decision about whether they want to watch the next episode or not, or if they even want to stick with the episode they’re watching, so I think the opening is hugely important to me to say to the viewers, “Come on in.” You know that feeling you get when you’re watching your favorite show and you don’t want it to end? That’s the Genoa City I want.
Digest: Were there any characters who you felt needed more attention?
Young: I love Neil and Devon. They’re been a little bit on the back burner for my tastes, so I’d like to see them more. I find them terrific actors, really interesting characters. But I don’t like people saying I’ve got favorites, because I don’t! I love them all! But what we will see is a concentration on the core characters. I will be moving away from the characters who are on fringes, who feel like they’ve come in to help a story along, but shouldn’t take over that story. The story should always be driven by our core cast and characters. That’s who I tune in for and I hope the viewers tune in for, and they want to see what happens next to these great characters! So we will be concentrating on that core. That’s why I know confidently I’ll have more space to bring Neil and Devon to the fore alongside all the other characters.
Digest: Do you have any plans to add to the cast?
Young: Not at the moment, because I don’t want to take focus away from who we’ve got, and I don’t want to get into that thing of, “Oh, we haven’t got room for the people we love.” I really am genuinely excited about who we have there to play stories with, so at the moment, I don’t see anyone new having to turn up.
Digest: What can we expect to see when your episodes begin airing?
Young: Well, certainly I hope the first week will contain lots of surprises. We have a saying in the writers’ room, “I never saw that coming.” I’m a TV watcher and a TV addict. I love to be surprised, and I think our audience is very, very smart. They’ve seen an awful lot of stories in 45 years, so we have to work harder to come up with their, “I never saw that coming!” And in those first three episodes, I’m proud to say, I think that we’ve achieved quite a few of those moments.
Digest: How do you balance your dual duties every day?
Young: If you can come up with a way of giving me another day in the week, that would be great. I’m very big on time management. I’m actually a bit of a geek on this. I’m very disciplined about when I’m going to read a script, when I’m going to run a story conference, when I’m going to write something, when I’m watching the show and how much time I spend with the actors on the floor. But again, it’s nothing I haven’t done before, so to be back into all-year-round production at this level with this kind of show is thrilling and exciting. It’s the best adrenaline possible. But you also delegate, you have a fantastic team of people you surround yourself with, the best people you can get from the business, and if they share the vision and share your passion and dedication, then you can pull it off.
Digest: How do you feel to be the person to usher the show into its 45th anniversary next March?
Young: I pinch myself. There’s been a few times I’ve pinched myself in my career. One was when I drove into the BBC the first time as their head of drama. That felt like a real achievement. Or launching a show that’s still on air 20 years later. It’s a fantastic business to be in, a privilege, and this is one of those moments. You say the title YOUNG AND THE RESTLESS to people anywhere in the world, and they may not have even seen an episode, but they know what you’re talking about. That, I find, is a huge privilege and an honor. I don’t take that lightly. I don’t want to let people down because I know how much it means, so what a time to be doing this, standing on the shoulders of all these giants who’ve come before me. It’s terrific. It’s great fun.
Digest: What would you say to fans as your material is about to air?
Young: I want them to know that I care about the show, and there’s nothing cynical here at all about passionately believing in doing the best possible show for them. That’s what we are here to do. The viewers who are loyal to us, I want them to think this is in good hands and that this is going forward, and that we are respectful to the legacy and the past, but we’re also looking to the future. I want them to know that as long as I’m running the show, I want this to be the No. 1 show. I want it to go on long after I’ve gone. I know CBS agrees with me that this is far from the end. This is the beginning of the next phase in the life of these shows as long we make them good.