The Backstage Battle Young & Restless’ Boss Fought and Lost — *and* Why He Might Have Been Right
CBS/Courtesy of the Everett Collection
“I got a lot of pressure, and I resisted,” said the late William J. Bell of the move made 41 years ago this week.
There’s a reason the late William J. Bell is considered a legend among not only industry experts but soap fans, too. Simply put, the guy knew his stuff. It’s a safe bet that not a day goes by that the name of the man who co-created — along with wife Lee Phillip Bell — The Bold and the Beautiful and The Young and the Restless isn’t mentioned, always reverently and usually with regard to the fact that he has no modern storytelling equal.
There was, however, at least one situation in which the story did not go as he’d hoped it would, and that was Young & Restless‘ expansion to an hour. “I thought the half-hour was such a perfect form,” he admitted during a 1997 interview with On Writing magazine which should be considered a must-read for every fan of the genre, not to mention those currently working in it.
So opposed was Bell to the idea of hour-long soaps that while serving as headwriter of Days of Our Lives, he prevented NBC from expanding the show. “I said, ‘You go to an hour, you’re going without me,'” he admitted. And it was only after he left that gig that NBC was able to move forward with its plan.
So when eight years into the wildly-successful run of Young & Restless, CBS wanted to bump up the show’s run time, Bell put up a fight. “I got a lot of pressure, but I resisted,” he recalled. When eventually push came to shove, the network got its way, and much to Bell’s disappointment, the show expanded to an hour on February 4, 1980.
“I wasn’t exactly thrilled, but we did it,” the show’s creator reflected. And the result? “We were [No. 1 in the ratings] when we went to an hour. You want to know what happened? It took us four years to regain that position. Four years.”
Of course, the show did eventually climb back to the top of the ratings heap, and it has remained there for decades. But was Bell right to fight against that expansion? Might soaps like All My Children and Guiding Light still be on the air today if instead of axing them entirely their respective networks had instead trimmed them back to 30 minutes?
Think about it: The Bold and the Beautiful has maintained its original format… and is one of the most popular serials in the world thanks to international distribution deals which would likely keep it airing in other countries even were it to eventually be cancelled in the United States.
There are a lot of things competing for the attention of the modern viewer, making it tough for them to carve out five hours of “me” time each week for their favorite soaps. As anyone watching Bold & Beautiful will tell you, the show goes down like bonbons, making it easier to rationalize sitting through even an episode which doesn’t feature your favorite characters… something you might not be as tempted to do if the show were an hour long.
Could a return to half-hour soaps — long a popular primetime offering in England, thanks to shows like Hollyoaks and Eastenders — be the future of the genre? Would a shorter length tempt you to watch a new soap, whether aired during the daytime or at night? And do you agree that shows like One Life to Live and Another World might have continued were they cut back to their original 30-minute runtimes? Share your thoughts below, then join us in venturing all the way back to the earliest days in Genoa City via this photo-filled album of Young & Restless memories.