What's Behind 'Young and the Restless' Ratings Drop

CBS' daytime chief denies the network wants its soaps to fade so they can be replaced with lower-cost talk shows
Sonja Flemming/CBS
'The Young and the Restless'

A version of this story first appeared in the Oct. 31 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine.

For 26 years, The Young and the Restless has been TV's top-rated soap opera, attracting more than 5 million viewers a day. But Y&R has been declining lately, falling to a 1.4 rating among the key demo of women 25-to-54 this season, compared to a 1.9 in 2009-10. And the slide has coincided with increases for CBS' The Bold and the Beautiful and ABC's General Hospital.

“Last year was a terrible year for The Young and The Restless,” says Sara Bibel, a former Y&R writer who now writes about soaps for Daytime Confidential and others. “Its rating went way down.”

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It was in 2012 that all of the soaps looked to be in graver danger than some of their characters' marriages. From a peak of 19 soaps in the '90s, there were six left; then ABC canceled two — All My Children and One Life to Live — leaving only four (including Days of Our Lives on NBC, the lowest-rated soap currently on broadcast).

Y&R remained on top in the ratings, but the gap among the remaining soaps had shrunk to less than 1.5 rating points (in households), and less than a point in the key female demos. At one point in the late '90s, Y&R nearly doubled the size of the audience of the second-highest-rated soap (which at the time was General Hospital).

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However, “in the past decade,” says Roger Newcomb, editor-in-chief of Serial Scoop, “there has been a rotating door of head writers and executive producers leading to inconsistent storytelling, cast turnover and multiple reinventions of [Y&R].”

To boost Y&R, CBS brought on a new executive producer two years ago (Jill Farren Phelps, formerly at General Hospital) and has made cast changes, some controversial (soap fans hate to see their longtime favorites depart). It still has 17 out of 31 contract players who have been with the show for years, in some cases over 30 years.

General Hospital has found success in the past decade or so with stories that involve gangsters and crime, although it recently has found its way back to the hospital more often. Meanwhile, Y&R has stuck with its traditional multigenerational stories.

This season, Y&R has steadied the ship, and it recently brought in a new head writer. In fact, it’s doing better than anyone knew until Oct. 20 when Nielsen made public revised data for daytime TV in the wake of a national ratings glitch that has rocked the industry.

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While Y&R held steady and Bold actually grew, according to the revised numbers, General Hospital ‘s audience dropped about 8 percent overall and about 14 percent in the key demo of women 25-to-54.

Y&R seems to have stanched the bleeding. “They are holding a little more steadily than people thought they would when there was a wave of cancellations,” says C. Lee Harrington, a professor at Miami of Ohio University who has written books about soaps.

Y&R even won the daytime Emmy as outstanding drama series earlier this year for the first time since 2007.

Y&R remains not only the top soap, but also tops among all shows in daytime. Still, it remains an ongoing project for the network. “The show historically was struggling and was going down but we were able to plateau that,” says Angelica McDaniel, who became head of CBS daytime in 2012. 

McDaniel says Y&R is also a hit for CBS on the web, where viewing is up 60 percent year over year. She said it also has done well in repeats on the TV Guide channel (recently renamed Pop).

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Part of that increase on CBS.com may be because Soapnet, which carried repeats, shuttered at the end of 2013.

Still, rumors persist that CBS wants its soaps to fade so they can be replaced with lower-cost talk shows.

'"That's hilarious, and anyone who says that is greatly misinformed," says McDaniel. "While some say the numbers are softening, we feel the numbers are very strong. They're up about 5 percent from where we were last year."

CBS already has renewed both Y&R and Bold and the Beautiful through 2017.

"Nothing lasts forever," says analyst Brad Adgate, senior vp research for Horizon Media, "but as long as they are in first place, they're OK."