Soap mixes entertainment, education
Successfully combining entertainment with education isn’t easy, but “The Bold and the Beautiful,” sparked by co-creators Lee Phillip Bell and the late William J. Bell, has accomplished just that during its 20-year run.
Lee, an established host/producer of her own Chicago talkshow and documentary specials, and William, a revered soap opera head writer, combined her knowledge of social issues and his storytelling skills to explore topics such as breast cancer, rape and alcoholism on “The Young and the Restless,” which they co-created in 1973. The couple continued this practice with “Bold.”
“(Bill and I) exchanged ideas, and we worked together as a team,” Lee recalls.
CBS senior veep of daytime Barbara Bloom says that the Bells are highly successful at social-issue storytelling because they keep the focus on the characters.
“They go into the emotional universe of their characters and tell stories from that vantage point,” the executive notes. “It’s not about preaching or the message learned. It’s about the journey.”
In 1991, after the show’s Stephanie Forrester, a Beverly Hills socialite, endured the remarriage of her ex-husband to her rival, she suffered a minor stroke. Subsequently, a homeless Stephanie wandered the streets of Los Angeles, dodging foes and acquiring allies.
“I thought it was one of the best social issue storylines that’s ever been done on daytime television,” recalls Susan Flannery, who plays Stephanie. “(Viewers learned) homeless people aren’t just alcoholics or drug addicts. They were people that were slipping through the cracks of the social network and welfare systems.”
William Bell created psychiatrist Taylor Hayes in 1990 not only as a romantic leading lady but also as a character who could facilitate social issues — and directly partake in a few, too. “Bold” raised the dramatic stakes when a pregnant Taylor refused medical treatment for tuberculosis until after she safely delivered her twin daughters.
“It was a great way to bring awareness about the disease and the threat it poses to pregnant women,” says Hunter Tylo, who plays Taylor.
Recently, “Bold” revealed that Stephanie had been physically abused as a child by her father while her mother, Ann (played by Betty White), looked the other way. She managed to lend Ann some forgiveness during the Christmas episode, however, according to executive producer/head writer Bradley Bell.
“It wasn’t a fantasy storyline in which all was forgiven,” says Bell, son of Lee and William. “Our message was felt — there should be zero tolerance when it comes to abuse.”