By Allison J. Waldman, Special to TelevisionWeek
In 1992 Bradley Bell, executive producer and head writer on “The Bold and the Beautiful,” watched as his father, William J. Bell, received the Lifetime Achievement Award from the National Academy of Television Arts & Sciences. This year, Mr. Bell will see his mother, Lee Phillip Bell, co-creator of both “The Young and the Restless” and “The Bold and the Beautiful,” receive the same accolade.
However, as proud as Mr. Bell is of his parents, the upcoming Daytime Emmys could be the year he captures two Emmys himself for “The Bold and the Beautiful.”
“It’s our third nomination as outstanding show and our fourth for writing,” said Mr. Bell. “But with the Emmys, we’ve been at a disadvantage over the years. We’re a small independent company, and it’s true, we’ve had the reputation of being more about the beauty, but our actors have backed up our writers and there’s been a lot of substance to this little show.”
“The Bold and the Beautiful” is the only remaining 30-minute soap opera on the daytime dial, but rather than being held back, the show has thrived. “We are completely comfortable with our half-hour and I think it’s really an advantage to us,” said Mr. Bell. “Over the past 20 years, people’s attention spans have been getting shorter and shorter. The pace of life has gotten faster. A half-hour just seems a more digestible amount of time.”
Begun in 1987, “The Bold and the Beautiful” was originally commandeered by William J. Bell, with Bradley Bell co-head writer. The situation changed when the son took the reins from his father.
“It was about four years into the run of the show and my father was writing both shows — ‘The Young and the Restless’ and ‘The Bold and the Beautiful,'” said Mr. Bell. “He was going absolutely crazy, working around the clock, seven days a week, and I was working with him, but focusing on ‘Bold and Beautiful,’ and I just felt like I had it. I was in the zone, we were blocking shows in different rooms, and then when we’d come together we’d see that we had the same thoughts, the same emotional beats. I just knew I was ready.
“He went to the Olympics, and when he did, I just ran with the characters and wrote about 10 episodes. When he returned, he said, ‘I don’t know where we are with the characters,’ and I said, ‘Don’t worry about it. Focus on “Young and the Restless.” I’m taking the show,’ and I’ve run with it every since.
“It’s hard to give up something like this, and I took it from him, but he was so relieved. He was just working, working, working, day and night. It’s been a great success, so I’m sure he’s thrilled to this day.”
This year, in fact, marks the 20th anniversary of “The Bold and the Beautiful,” a feat that seemed unimaginable to Mr. Bell when the show launched. “First, the longevity of the show is something we never expected. When we were brought on, we replaced ‘Capitol.’ We didn’t really know how long we’d run. It’s been an amazing, exciting, unpredictable ride,” said Mr. Bell. “In 1987 there were a lot of changes in daytime, with some shows disappearing. So to be on the air 20 years later is a thrill.”
The past year on “The Bold and the Beautiful” has been dramatic, both on screen and off. The untimely death of actress Darlene Conley, who played Sally Spectra, one of the show’s most beloved veterans, was a blow. “Losing Darlene Conley was a tragedy personally for all of us here because she was part of our family. There’s no replacing someone like Darlene,” said Mr. Bell. “They broke the mold when they made her. There’ll never be another one. Out of respect to her, I’ll never recast that character. She brought the camp and the comedy and such a breath of fresh air that the show. We will forever be changed with her passing.”
On screen, Mr. Bell’s decision to kill off another key character, Darla Forrester, was a shocker. “It’s always difficult to kill a core character, but it generated so much story, and when you face that blank page every day you have to reach for something significant to move the audience,” said Mr. Bell. “I don’t usually like to kill core characters, but I found that the rollout was an excellent source of drama.”
Mr. Bell is plotting another major shakeup for his soap. “This year, the 20th anniversary, is going to be one where we throw caution to the wind. We want every show to be a cliffhanger or an emotional payoff. We’re really trying to cram three years of story into one,” he said. “I think I have one of the biggest bombs — actually the biggest bomb ever — in the history of the show [to] be dropped this year. There’s another death coming up. I watched it shoot just a few hours ago, so we have another character that is going to drop. Sometimes it’s hard to get excited, but right now I’m just elated. I have the whole year laid out and it’s going to be a good one.”
The night of the Daytime Emmys promises to be a good one for Mr. Bell. He’s anxious to see his mother honored, and believes it’s well deserved. “She had her own show for 30 years. She was the host of a daily show in Chicago called ‘The Lee Phillip Show’ and she was really the celebrity in our family growing up in Chicago. Everyone knew her on the streets. She had incredible ratings on WBBM. She would not only interview the president and the president’s wives and actors as they did the circuit and came through the Midwest, but she would tackle stories. She did an expose called ‘The Rape of Paulette’ that dug into very disturbing issues, especially for that time. And she would do it without fear. She had the goal of not just entertaining, but changing people’s lives and getting people to open up their minds and embrace change.”
Ms. Bell also was a force in the creation of her husband’s soaps. “Definitely, she was a main influence on my father in terms of getting into stories about child abuse, alcoholism — a lot of the issues that we’ve touched on over the years have come from my mother.”
That influence also has affected Bradley Bell. This past year, actress Susan Flannery was given one of her most dynamic storylines ever when it was revealed her character had been a victim of child abuse. “It was disappointing that Susan Flannery didn’t get nominated this year, because the episodes that we submitted featured her prominently along with Alley Mills and Betty White,” said Mr. Bell. “They were some of my favorite episodes of the whole series and they touched on the issue of child abuse. We found out Stephanie was abused as a child, and she went back to Chicago to confront her mother, and these scenes of confrontation where 30 years of anger come out of Stephanie and to a mother who is implacable. It’s a character unlike we’ve ever seen Betty White play before. It’s fascinating and thought-provoking.”
With seven nominations for “The Bold and the Beautiful,” Mr. Bell is optimistic about taking home a few awards at the Daytime Emmys. “I think we have a very good chance this year,” he said, even as he conceded that the process isn’t perfect. “I do think there should be some changes. I don’t like the pre-nomination process, and yet I wouldn’t want to be in their shoes trying to find the perfect process. I don’t think it exists. It’s so hard to take 250 episodes and judge one show against another over the course of a year. So I think that changes should be made, but I don’t know if there is a perfect system out there.”