If not for a tennis game with actor Dabney Coleman in the late 1970s, Eric Braeden might never have landed his signature role as conniving business mogul Victor Newman on CBS’ “The Young and the Restless.”
Braeden, 78, has become an Iron Man of daytime soaps who will mark his 40th anniversary on “Y&R” with episodes to air next week. But way back when he met Coleman on the court, Braeden was still on the fence about even accepting an offer to audition for the show.
At the time, Braeden was concerned about moving away from primetime, where he’d logged dozens of guest shots and TV series supporting roles: “Gunsmoke,” “Kojak,” “Cannon,” “Mannix,” “Combat,” “The Rat Patrol,” “Barnaby Jones,” “The Rookies,” “Marcus Welby, M.D.,” “Charlie’s Angels,” to name only a few. He usually played heavies, spies, detectives or Nazis, given his piercing stare and native German accent. (In his first decade on TV, Braeden was billed under his birth name of Hans Gudegast.)
When Braeden mentioned the audition possibility to Coleman, his tennis partner was enthusiastic. The comedic actor known for roles in “Tootsie,” “9 to 5” and numerous TV shows had himself logged a stint playing a doctor on the NBC soap “Bright Promise” from 1971-72.
“He said, ‘Do it. You’ll love it,'” Braeden recalled. “Upon that advice, I agreed to come in for an interview.”
Braeden said he had an instant rapport with “Y&R” producer William Bell. And he found he thrived on the grueling pace of soap opera production. After four decades and counting of working on a show that typically shoots 100 to 120 pages a day, Braeden can’t imagine toiling at the pace of what he calls “nighttime TV.”
“I think that would bore the s— out of me,” he said. Braeden’s personal best for a single day’s lensing is 62 pages of dialogue, a feat he delivered “about four or five years ago,” he recalled.
Braeden’s 40th anniversary episodes were set to run earlier this month, when the star was feted behind the scenes for his work on the show that’s been a staple of CBS’ daytime schedule since 1973. But the impeachment trial of President Donald Trump spurred preemptions that led to three segs being rescheduled to run Feb. 18-20.
The storylines were crafted to allow for the brief return of a number of fan-favorite characters who have tangled — in one way or another — with Victor Newman over the past 40 years. On screen, the occasion involves a big 50th anniversary bash for the Newman Enterprises empire.
Working on “Y&R” has made Braeden a more confident and more instinctive actor who rolls easily with quick turnarounds in a multi-camera TV format where there’s no time to spare. The other big takeaway for Braeden has been to appreciate the deep connection that faithful viewers have with their favorite TV stars, at any time of day.
“Daytime TV people tend to appreciate the connection to the audience. We go out and meet them” at fan conventions and promotional venues, Braeden said. “You meet families with three or four generations who watch the show. And then you realize why you’re doing it. Beyond the money, you’re doing it to entertain.”