Tuesday, May 03, 2005

In Memoriam - William J. Bell

I never knew Bill Bell personally, but I felt I knew him from the soaps that he created. Now he is gone, and a link to the soap past has gone with him.

Bill Bell grew up in Chicago where he learned soap writing from the Godmother of Soap Operas, Irna Phillips. Think of a soap on the air today, and she either created it, wrote for it, or trained the writer that wrote for it. Now only Agnes Nixon is left of those writers who started writing for soaps during the Golden Age. Douglas Marland is long gone, passed away in 1993, Claire Labine now longer writers for soaps, and now Bill Bell is gone.

I first started watching The Young & The Restless when it first came on the air when I was a tender youngster, too young really to be watching daytime dramas. I loved the show from the beginning and I have watched it on and off ever since. It is the only soap that has been number 1 for the past twenty years. No one can catch this show. CBS cancelled Capitol just so Bill Bell could premiere The Bold and The Beautiful, the number 2 show, seen in 30 different countries.

His shows have been unfairly categorized as pretty people with problems but there is more to the shows than that. His shows are about families and relationships. What makes his shows so successful are 3 things: 1) the Bell family co-owns the shows which means less network interference. Take a look at the ABC soaps and you can see what happens when there are two many cooks. 2) Because he wrote both shows for many years, and trained the current head writers there is a consistency to the shows. Plus the shows have had the same Executive Producers as well for over 20 years. 3) the show has never steered to far away from the staples of soap writing which are families and romance. Also, The Young and The Restless is the only show apart from Passions that has featured African-Americans in prominent story lines for years.

Bill Bell knows that bad characters have to be punished. Michael Baldwin was sent to prison for attacking the show's young heroine. His brother Kevin, was an internet predator, who seduced an underage girl. He also went to prison. Despite their horrible childhoods, they still had to pay for their crimes. Sheila Carter on B&B again had to pay for her crimes. Guza & Pratt could learn from Bill Bell's example of how to write a conflicted hero. Even Victor Newman had to pay when he crossed the line by bribing stores to support his product instead of the competition.

Now that Bill Bell is gone, I fear for the future of daytime dramas. Most networks don't have training programs for daytime writing, so the same writers get recyled over and over again. Not many shows are willing to take a risk on an unknown head writer. If things don't change, soaps are going to be an interesting footnote along side early radio, and live television.

So, here's to you Bill Bell for your amazing talent, and strength, at the same time as a family man, raising 3 children, who will hopefully carry on your legacy.

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