Earlier this week, “The Young & the Restless” hosted a press junket focused on the No. 1 soap’s new cast members and new showrunners. As the show prepares to celebrate its fortieth anniversary, it is simultaneously revamping itself with updated sets and sexy new characters while honoring its history.
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Executive producer Jill Farren Phelps is one of daytime’s most experienced — and most controversial — producers. Last year she left “General Hospital” after an extended tenure. When she joined Y&R, everyone acknowledged that the show had lost its way. But some fans questioned whether Phelps was the right person to get it back on track. She is well aware of her reputation for getting rid of veterans, and focusing on crime and action stories rather than romance. She spoke candidly about her vision for the show, what she felt had to change, and what she has in store for the fortieth anniversary.
Taking over as executive producer must have been both a thrilling and a daunting opportunity. How did you decide what changes to make?
It was an interesting challenge in the beginning because I was very conscious of the iconic nature of the show, of the legacy of [the show’s creators] the Bells and the way it had always been done. My directive was bring it into now and we all know that you don’t want to shock an audience. So I watched for a month or so and did nothing and just wanted to get a sense of what [was] the identity of Y&R. Ultimately, I realized it’s the characters. You can paint it, you can dress it up, you can change all of the bells and whistles, but you must stay true to the characters, and ultimately to the stories. Because that’s what people tune in for, it’s those stories. And what makes it Y&R is the Newmans and the Abbotts and the Chancellors and all the other families. All the rest is dressing to try to make it feel more updated for new viewers and not to shock the old ones.
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What have you been proudest of so far? What surpassed your expectations?
That’s very hard. It’s never one thing. It’s a combination of a lot of elements that come together and make me proud of a day because everything works: the sets looks pretty, the lighting was nice, the acting was superb, the story was perfect and it was well edited and well produced and well directed. We have such a huge job to make all of these shows good that you get really proud when you start to watch and it all turned out.
Was there anything that surprised you, like the audience responded to something differently than you expected?
I’ve been very pleasantly surprised by the response of the audience. There is always this sense of, “Oh my goodness, what’s she going to do now?” I’ve been pleased with the response to Josh’s [Griffith] writing, to the new characters, to the new actors on the show, to Steve Burton’s [Dylan] entrance, and to their commitment [to the show.] We are playing the core characters. We are building story around the core characters and we are bringing in these other young new people in support of them.
How would you define bringing “The Young & the Restless” into the twenty-first century? What elements did you feel needed to be updated?
I think that there was room to update a lot of the elements: the sets, the music, the shooting style, the direction, the editing, the lighting, the costumes. Everywhere we looked there was an opportunity to enhance it and modernize it.
There’s been a lot of talk today about making the show sexier. How are you planning to “sex up” the show?
Well, I think if you look at the group of people who are here, by looking at them you can see that will just happen. Love stories are inherently stories that involve sexing it up, and I love love stories.
Can you preview the fortieth anniversary episode?
The 40th anniversary, we’re really looking at it as a month long event. We certainly are aware of the history of the show as we go into the fortieth anniversary month. The thing that we have planned is for ten of the episodes surrounding the anniversary, we are treating the viewers to ten three-minute pieces of the most iconic actors on the show speaking as the actor about their experiences and that leads you into the show. You get a window into the actor and I love that. I think it’s original and that’s the gift. There’s no way to do a special episode and say, “Thisis forty years.” There’s been too much evolution. To let the audience hear from the actors that they love, that’s a special treat for the audience.