Y&R's Maria Arena Bell:"I'm Definitely a Character-Driven Storyteller in Everything That I Do"
Daytime Confidential readers have no doubt gotten whiplash from our shifting opinions on The Young and the Restless showrunner Maria Arena Bell. When she first took over the series we praised her for masterfully "fixing" the mistakes of past regimes. She brought the Abbotts back front and center, undid Kay and Jill's (Jeanne Cooper and Jess Walton) wonky, maternal connection, invited back beloved, old faves like Beth Maitland (Traci), Lauralee Bell (Cricket), Nina (Tricia Cast) and more. We were thrilled.
Then somewhere along the way, we noticed a shift. The brass at Y&R started going a bit furtther than we liked in revisiting the past. Okay, that's an understatement! They brought back Philip Chancellor III (Thom Bierdz) via an ill-conceived gay storyline, coupled with an identity swap, featuring two men several years apart in age; had Kevin (Greg Rikaart) dressing up like a chipmunk to rob banks; scripted a story where Victor (Eric Braeden), the serial's lead protagonist, was responsible for a legacy YA heroine's death, then received said heroine's heart and most maddeningly, created the roles of Emily (Stacy Haiduk) and Sarah (Tracey Bregman), doppelgangers of Patty and Lauren (also played by the popular Haiduk and Bregman), and embarked on perhaps the most ludicrious storyline in daytime history, "So long, Sister Killer". Don't even get us started about what's been done (or not done) to the once essential Winters clan on Arena Bell's watch.
Yet along the way, Y&R under Arena Bell also managed to pair the insanely-romantic "Villy" (Amelia Heinle as Victoria and Billy Miller as a Terry Lester-esque Billy), successfully SORAS Abby Carlton Newman (Marcy Rylan), hire the game-changing Michael Muhney (Adam) and pen some of the best storylines Melody Thomas Scott (Nikki) has acted in during her 30-odd years on the serial. Now if they could just afford to play her, but that's a Sony issue, not an MAB one, so I digress.
It's no wonder our readers and podcast listeners have been perplexed by our ever-fluctuating take on Arena Bell. Heck, we don't quite know what to make of our opinions on her ourselves! Some days we want Arena Bell tossed out on her bum, then others we're calling her "Aunti Ri Ri." We feel this is more a reflection of Y&R's schizophrenic jumps from amazing, character-driven drama to over-the-top foolishness than it is our being wishy-washy bloggers/podcasters, but then again we would see it that way.
However we may feel about Arena Bell's tenure at Y&R, the head writer/executive producer of the serial recently took home the Daytime Emmy Award for Outstanding Writing for a Drama Series. Bell submitted the pick up from the Villy wedding, however she wanted to clarify it was news of Chance's (John Driscoll) "death" traveling across Genoa City, complete with a fiery performance from Tricia Cast, that was at the emotional center of her writing team's reel.
Suddenly, in the press room, we finally had our opportunity to ask Arena Bell herself — what kind of storyteller does she believe she is? Her answer may surprise you, or not.
"I'm definitely a character-driven storyteller in everything that I do," said Arena Bell. "If we do a story that's a larger-than-life kind of more action/adventure story—which we don't do very often, because that isn't what The Young and the Restless is known for—what we do, I hope, is we ground it in character and make it have more depth to it, than just being something outrageous. But, the truth of the matter is, it's entertaining and so you sort of want to have a show that's varied. There's different elements to the show. Sometimes you have a more, sort of outrageous story in the midst of some very, very more heartfelt, character-driven storytelling and that makes up the constellation and tapestry of a whole episode. That's how it works, so I think there's room for both."
And there you have it...
I guess we will have to keep waiting for the "depth" Arena Bell mentioned to be showcased in Y&R's current, laughably-bad, over-the-top tale, featuring General Hospital's Genie Francis as the unhinged Genevieve, mother of Cane (Daniel Goddard)—whose backstory has been retconned more times than all the X-Men combined—his dead twin and some other gal no one cares about. Oh, and she's also the biter of Tristan Rogers' lip.
If you had to rate Maria Arena Bell's tenure at Y&R on a scale from 1 to 10, where would she measure up? I'm giving her a solid 5.5, because while I do feel she does amazing character-driven story—when that's what she's focused on—her more plot-driven arcs are some of the worst in daytime history. So basically I'm wishing she would learn to stick with what she does best. Now it's your turn. Sound off in the comments!