CBS Daytime Topper Angelica McDaniel on Rebuilding Y&R
When Angelica McDaniel became Senior Vice President of CBS Daytime in February 2012, the soap genre seemed like it was on its way out. Y&R was at a creative, and ratings, nadir. A year later, the soap is back on track and all five of CBS’s daytime programs have improved their ratings versus a year ago. McDaniel has launched new promotional campaigns, cross promoted CBS ‘s soaps on “The Talk”, and made herself accessible to fans via Twitter. At a recent press junket featuring Y&R’s young stars, her enthusiasm was infectious. McDaniel spoke to me about the challenge of revamping America’s top soap, why she thinks the genre has come back, and why fans don’t need to worry about Melody Thomas Scott or Jeanne Cooper.
Why do you think soaps are growing now? They were written off for dead a year ago.
There’s a lot of different reasons. But one of them is I think that four is actually a really good number. There were times when there were 17 soaps on television. Obviously that was a few decades ago but at CBS we always say we have a good balance of talk, drama and game. You can’t just weight too much on one genre of the other. You have to create balance. For us, we found that balance. We also have great stories that we’re telling. “The Bold and the Beautiful,” when everybody was saying, “dramas are dying,” Bold was increasing. They’ve been doing it for over a year now so it’s really great to see Y&R and all the other soaps on the other networks starting to find their rhythm and finds what’s working and goes viral.
Catch Up on the Latest Episode of “Y&R”:
When you came in, how did you approach improving the shows?
With Bold, I really have to credit Brad Bell because he really found that triangle with Liam. Hope and Steffy that was resonating. Some people might say it was too much, but the numbers were going up. That was really working. Then we had two iconic cast members, Ronn Moss and Susan Flannery who exited the show. That could have been devastating, but Brad wrote such great story that people were crying and laughing. It really took viewers on a journey. So I think that’s what was working at Bold. And, with some of those characters exiting, it allowed him to open the canvas to tell other stories that he couldn’t necessarily tell. So that’s what’s working on Bold. With Y&R, it was much more roll up the sleeves, get in the trenches with Steve [Kent] bringing on Jill and Josh. We’ve really maintained the integrity of the iconic brand but we’ve really changed everything from the top down, whether that was wardrobe, editing, music, story, actors. We did have to say goodbye to some actors. We brought on ethnically diverse characters. That’s a big priority. Really playing up the next generation of people in their twenties, thirties and forties and finding out what is that new type of storytelling that we need to be focused on to get people to tune in more than once a week.
How did you decide what it was that needed to be changed? Did you do focus groups or rely on your instincts?
It really was an instinct. It was just watching the show as a newer viewer. I grew up watching soaps but I hadn’t been on a regular basis for a few years. So it really was about sitting down and watching hours and hours of each show and saying, “You know what? This is where we’re weak. This is where we’re strong. So we need to play up our strengths and build where we’re weak. And sitting down with Steve Kent at Sony and realizing we need to inject a new perspective, not just mine, but also a new headwriter and a new executive producer. So we brought Jill and Josh on. We’re a really collaborative team where we all throw everything at the wall and figure out, “Where’s everything going to fit now?”
How would you define your vision for the show?
The great thing about Y&R that they’ve always been successful at and that they will continue to push is telling multi-generational stories. So while today’s [event] is all about fresh, sexy, new, faces… it’s about telling those multi-generational stories. We have characters that are teens, grandparents. We can encompass all of them. We can’t just focus on one. We have to really be all encompassing and drive story with some of the new actors and infuse some new story because we have the new characters. After someone’s been in Genoa City for 20, 30, 40 years, maybe they’ve dated everyone, so you have to bring in someone new for them to date, or a rival or a nemesis. It’s really just about great story that we’re working on for characters of all ages.
There are two iconic characters on Y&R. One, Nikki’s, been diagnoses with MS another, Kay, looks like she is developing the symptoms of Alzheimers. There could be some concern with viewers that these could be their exit storylines. Is there anything like that going on?
With Jeanne, with Kay, on this show we’re always creating a beautiful mosaic. There’s a lot of little pieces. These kind of shows have been on for 40 years. These kind of stories aren’t something that can be resolved in a day. So you definitely have to keep watching. Viewers are worried about her, but don’t worry. She’s going to be fine. I’ll say that much. As far as the MS story, I [spent a lot of time] on “The Talk” and I’m still very attached to that show. I was really there with Sharon and Jack as they were experiencing when he was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis and finding out what that means for his life and really the lack of awareness. So I came back to Jill and Josh and said, “I really want to do something with MS.” I want to show it’s not a death sentence. You can live with this disease. Granted, it’s a serious disease that has serious effects and repercussions, but I really wanted us to take it on and handle it in a really respectful way that would create awareness. Melody, obviously she’s somebody who’d been on the show for a long time and she had the gravitas and the maturity as a woman and as an actress who we thought could really take it on. I wouldn’t say it’s an aging storyline because MS can strike anyone Jack was in his twenties when he found out he had it. We decided the story fit her as a character and as a person.
What’s something viewers can look forward to?
I will say the fortieth anniversary is coming up in March. We kicked it off on Valentine’s day with the blizzard. There are a lot of things that will happen that will play out in the next month, So I will tease that in March, we’re going to have a killer wedding and somebody’s going down.