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Bell family into soap-opera business

Daytime dramas offer domestic bliss for clan

Soap creator William J. Bell brought to life the Newmans, Abbotts and Fosters on “The Young and the Restless” and the Forrester, Logan and Spectra gangs on “The Bold and the Beautiful,” but the daytime guru’s greatest family was always his own: wife Lee Phillip Bell, sons William James Bell and Bradley Phillip Bell and daughter Lauralee Bell Martin.

The senior Bell passed away in April 2005, but his wife and children continue his legacy as driving forces in the daytime community.

Lee, who was recently announced as this year’s Lifetime Achievement Award recipient by the National Academy of Television Arts & Sciences, blazed a path as host of her own talkshow in Chicago, “The Lee Phillip Show,” which was broadcast on WBBM-TV from 1952 to 1986. She also narrated and produced award-winning documentary specials.

As co-creator of “Young” and “Bold,” Lee was instrumental in the shows’ development and contributed greatly to social-issue storylines done on the two soaps. But perhaps her greatest contribution came in the mid-1980s, when Lee turned in her press pass as the family relocated from the Windy City to Los Angeles to start “Bold.”

“It was difficult,” says Lee, “but everyone wanted to move out here, so I certainly decided that I would, too.”

Says Lauralee, now a mother or two: “Looking back, it was the biggest sacrifice that my mom ever (made). She had so many friends, roots and contacts in Chicago. (But she said), ‘Don’t worry about it.’ We’re starting ‘Bold and Beautiful.’ ”

Each Bell offspring expressed an interest in a different part of their parents’ work. The younger William gravitated toward the business end, and Bradley followed in his dad’s footsteps as “Bold” head writer/executive producer, while Lauralee became an actress on “Young.”

“I don’t think we ever planned (for our children) to join the family business,” Lee reflects, “but I think we each hoped that they would. When it happened, it was wonderful. It’s worked out beautifully. I’m more proud than I can express.”

As president of Bell-Phillip Television, William oversees daily operations of the two serials and also BBL Distribution, the company formed to deliver “Bold” overseas.

“(My father and I) worked well together,” William says. “He handled the creative side of things, and I handled the business side.”

“Bold” appears in more than 140 countries and is the only daytime drama in the United States to be simulcast in Spanish using SAP (Secondary Audio Program) technology.

” ‘Young and Restless’ had some success internationally, and ‘Santa Barbara’ did, too,” says William. “Our timing was good. European television was going through a revolution in the late ’80s/early ’90s. We looked at the landscape in various markets and tried to get on the strongest channels. We took it to the next level.”

In fact, “Bold” actors enjoy immense popularity in many foreign markets, especially Italy. As for the success of SAP, William says, “It’s not something we can quantify, but we love the concept of introducing new viewers to the show in a different way.”

Under Bradley’s creative direction, “Bold” ranks No. 2 in the Nielsens among daytime dramas.

Cast member Jack Wagner, who joined the show in 2003 as Nick Marone, likens the Bell family to another famous TV dynasty — the Spellings.

“They’re very similar,” says the actor, who appeared on the Aaron Spelling nighttime soap opera “Melrose Place.” “There was a way of telling a story that Aaron Spelling believed in. So did Bill Bell. So does Brad Bell.”

Wagner hadn’t planned on returning to daytime, but eagerly signed up after taking a meeting with Bradley.

“He’s a regular guy,” Wagner says. “You just don’t run into that (in show business).”

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