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"The Young and the Restless" at 50: The drama continues

"The Young and the Restless" at 50
"The Young and the Restless" at 50 06:55

Executive producer Josh Griffith was just 14 when "The Young and the Restless" debuted 50 years ago today. And he acknowledged some things have not changed, like the theme music. "Who would want to mess with that?" he laughed. 

Rocca asked, "And if you did tweak it at all, what would happen?"

"There would be an outrage; planes would fly over CBS!" Griffith replied. "There are certain things that you leave alone. That's what keeps the connection to the history and the past with the fans."

Every weekday about 3.7 million viewers tune in to the drama of "The Young anmd the Restless." CBS

And it's the fans, like the ones we met at CBS Studios, that have made "The Young and Restless" the most-watched soap since 1989. About 3.7 million viewers tune in each weekday to gawk at and gush over the goings-on in Genoa City, Wisconsin.

One woman said, "I've been watching this show since I was 15. My dad is 88, and he still watches to this day."

Another woman confessed, "I was in high school, and I used to run home for half an hour – no VCRs! – watch the show, and run back to high school!"

Actress Lauralee Bell, who plays Christine Blair, said, "I still hear to this day, 'We started watching because of our grandmother.' It's that comfort feeling of maybe your grandmother's not here, but what you did with her is still here."

The Young and the Restless
The cast for the 50th season of the CBS daytime series "The Young and the Restless."  Sonja Flemming/CBS via Getty Images

For Bell, "Y&R" (as the fans call it) is a family business; her parents, William and Lee Bell, co-created the show. And how big a hit did "Y&R" become? The Bells ended up living in a Beverly Hills mansion with a retractable roof.

After half a century and more than 12,000 episodes, there's a lot of fictional family drama to keep track of, so we asked producer Elizabeth LeBrun for a crash course on who's who, who's with whom, and who's been with whom.

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Rocca said, "Life in Genoa City is complicated, isn't it?"

"It certainly is," LeBrun replied.

"Y&R" producer Elizabeth LeBrun breakdown down the characters in Genoa City for Mo Rocca.  CBS News

And life for all soaps got complicated around 1995. Back then there were 10 on the air, but that same year, they competed against a true-life soap opera: the O.J. Simpson trial. "That ultimately took our Nielsen numbers so low, and never to be revived at that level," said actress Melody Thomas Scott. "We didn't know we were watching the first reality show with O.J."

Scott has played stripper-turned-corporate executive Nikki Newman for 44 seasons. "I'm a dinosaur, but I love it still," she said. "I have so much fun here. We shoot many more pages a day than a film or a nighttime show. Only certain people can do it."

Rocca can attest that it is not easy having been given the opportunity to play a guest role: a Genoa City accountant (and HR nightmare), Milton.

Nikki: "And how's your wife – Sarah, is it?
Milton: "Excellent memory. We're divorced."
Nikki: "Oh, I'm sorry to hear that."
Milton: "Don't be. … But that does mean, if there ever was a chance for us, Nikki, this is it."

The newly-divorced Milton (Mo Rocca) propositions Nikki (Melody Thomas Scott) in "The Young and the Restless."  CBS News

Alas, there is no future for Milton and Nikki.

As for the future of "The Young and the Restless," it's a survivor, one of only four remaining soaps.

Rocca asked Eric Braeden, who plays Genoa City's take-no-prisoners tycoon Victor Newman, "Are you surprised that you're here right now?"

"Deeply grateful," he replied. "I would be lying to you if I told you that I'm not surprised.

"It's a medium that is obviously loved by millions of people all over the world, and yet not respected appropriately," Braeden said.

"You don't think it gets the respect it deserves?"

"I mean, I don't give a damn, you know, whether they do or not. I really couldn't care less. But I know that generally speaking, yes, it's sort of slightly looked down on."

Since 1980 Eric Braeden has played the villainous Victor Newman on "The Young and the Restless."  CBS News

Sure, it's easy to mock the mayhem and melodrama. But millions remain mesmerized.

And who wouldn't be, by that end-of-scene stare?

Rocca asked, "What is that about? I would miss it if it weren't there."

"Yeah, we've sort of moved with the times," said Bell. "I think you won't see as many of those. But the reality is, we have to end the scene. So, it has to be on a stare."

So, let's end it on Milton's own stare: "Nikki Newman, you are a golden goddess."

Fade to black... CBS News

For more info:

  • "The Young and the Restless" on CBS, and streaming via Paramount+

Story produced by Dustin Stephens. Editor: Lauren Barnello. 

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