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Tuesday, May 30, 2023
May 30, 2023

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‘The Young and the Restless’ celebrates 50 years

CBS soap opera launched many TV, film actors’ careers

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This image released by CBS shows promotional art for the daytime drama series "The Young & The Restless" which is celebrating their 50th anniversary.
This image released by CBS shows promotional art for the daytime drama series "The Young & The Restless" which is celebrating their 50th anniversary. (CBS via AP) (Sonja Flemming/CBS) Photo Gallery

NEW YORK — It all started on a late morning on a highway. A camera panned to the cab of a large semitrailer truck. The driver wore a plaid shirt and a day’s growth of beard. Next to him was a mysterious hitchhiker in expensive clothes that were ripped and a fresh head wound.

He got out at Genoa City. And he stayed.

That’s how “The Young and the Restless “ began on March 26, 1973, and a lot of people also stuck around Genoa City. The soap opera celebrates its 50th anniversary this month as the No. 1 daytime drama for 35 consecutive years, with fans growing up alongside the actors.

“I think a huge reason why the audience has stuck with us for so long is because we are the same people. We are family members. We show up every day — sometimes more than a regular family member,” says Lauralee Bell, a star and daughter of the show’s founders.

Created by the late William J. Bell and Lee Phillip Bell, “The Young and the Restless” concerns the goings-on of several Midwestern families, some of whom have a lot and some who don’t. William Bell was head writer for decades, giving the show a singular vision, unusual for soaps.

Lauralee Bell, an Emmy-winner who plays good-girl Christine Blair Williams and first joined the show in 1983, says her dad would likely not be surprised by the show’s milestone. “He said if you have two families that come from different backgrounds and good, solid characters, it’s endless material.”

One of the ways the show will celebrate its milestone is with a masquerade ball storyline. Creators promise “surprise visits from fan favorites and secrets are revealed, forever changing the lives for the residents of Genoa City.” “Entertainment Tonight” also plans a Monday special.

The CBS soap has helped launch the careers of such primetime and film actors as Vivica A. Fox, David Hasselhoff, Adam Brody, Tom Selleck, Penn Badgley, Shemar Moore, Eva Longoria, Justin Hartley and the late Paul Walker. Eric Braeden plays the male lead Victor Newman, a villain of the highest quality who once kept his wife’s lover locked in his basement.

Professor Elana Levine, who teaches media studies at the University of Wisconsin at Milwaukee and wrote “Her Stories: Daytime Soap Opera and US Television History,” says the staying power of soaps is that they get passed down from one generation to the next.

“What streaming TV has shown us is that serialized narratives and stories that continue from episode to episode are really appealing and engaging,” she says. “Soaps did that before anybody and are the maximum version of that because the story is going for decades.”

Among the cake-flinging food fights and evil twins on “The Young and the Restless,” there have also been important firsts — it aired the first live facelift on TV, back in 1984, and when veteran actor Kristoff St. John died in 2019, the cast and crew held a funeral for his character, bringing tears to a returning Moore.

It became the first daytime drama with a character who had a mastectomy, it was the first soap opera to broadcast in HD and, perhaps most importantly, it welcomed leading Black actors in the 1980s before many other soaps.

“‘The Young and the Restless’ attracted a big African American audience starting at that time because they were putting Black characters, front center, more so than some of the other soaps were,” says Levine.

That’s a legacy Bell is proud of and she puts it squarely as a result of her parents, whom she calls hardworking creators who demanded a lot from their writers and actors, even their kids.

“My dad was not afraid of being first. All the social issues he dealt with — date rape, AIDS, alcoholism, all of that. He really felt that if our audience bonded with these characters that they would learn,” says Bell. “If we could even help one person, it was worth it.”

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