After two years at The Young and the Restless, Mal Young is on cloud nine. “I pinch myself every day as I drive into CBS Television City,” he says. “To be on the stages where The Sonny & Cher Show, Judy Garland and all the shows I grew up watching in England in the ‘60s were produced and to be writing stories for Y&R is pretty magical.”
The executive producer took over as head writer last year, with his first episodes as showrunner premiering last October. “The biggest challenge has been bringing my voice into the show, while learning what the show is and getting to know the history — and it’s a big history!” Young grins. “Every time I come up with a story, someone will say, ‘She can’t do that, because she’s been married to him six times!’ or ‘We did that in episode 9053.’ I try to be respectful to the past… but it’s always about what’s next.”
With the show’s official archivist helping him stay on top of the history, Young insists the key to keeping the drama alive is shaking up the canvas. “My mantra is, ‘I never saw that coming,’” he says. “I have that on my office wall. If you tell me you were screaming, ‘Oh my God! What have they done?’ then I’ve done my job properly.”
He’s also done his job if the show has you talking about the big issues of the day. “Bill Bell created this show to go places no other show goes,” Young maintains. “The show’s roots are in the issue-driven stories and the British tradition of soaps is to reflect society. If you stay relevant to your audience, the show can keep up-to-date.”
One of Young’s controversial, issue-driven stories followed JT’s abuse of Victoria — which was finally stopped by Nikki and a fire poker! With that drama still unfolding, some viewers have skewered the showrunner for destroying a beloved character. For the record, that was his point!
“We didn’t want to do an abuse story where the typical villain beats up his wife,” he explains. “We’ve seen that. I wanted it to be JT precisely because you did like him and know him from the past. So what changed? What happened in his life that he treated Victoria this way?”
“This was all about emotional abuse, and that is much more prevalent. It was very complicated and complex and a lot of people watching identified with it. And Amelia Heinle (Victoria) and Thad Luckinbill (JT) just ripped this story up. Their performances were absolutely outstanding.”
As a bit of an inside secret, Young reveals Eric Braeden was ready to brawl when JT threw his character Victor down the stairs. “We replaced JT a couple times with a stunt guy, but every one of those shots in the fight was Eric,” Young marvels. “That was pretty amazing!”
Where The Girls Are
Another emotionally fraught romance that got a rise from viewers was that of Mariah and Tessa. “I’m really proud how we’ve told that story, so far,” Young says. “The fact that both actresses were up for Daytime Emmys makes me feel great for them, because those performance and the writing of those scenes was really good, high class stuff.”
The soap vet reveals his career was actually made on a single lesbian kiss. “In the ‘90s, I wrote the first one on British TV,” he says. “It was sensational. It changed everything. It taught me a lot about what people felt about gay politics back then… and we haven’t come that far. That saddens me. There’s a lot to be said and done with this. There’s definitely more to come for these two.”
The Big Abbott Twist
Among the biggest shockers Young has brought to Genoa City is the reveal Smiling Jack is not an Abbott, after all.
“I’ve just written the scene where he finds out,” Young says, his eyes twinkling. “Jack’s name is completely his identity. It’s everything — so without that name, what is he? That’s why the story works. It’s soapy, but it also makes you think, ‘What would I do?’ I love writing stories that make people ask that question!”
While Jack isn’t likely to take this turn well, Young is throwing lover boy a bit of a bone. “I might give him a little bit of happiness… for a few minutes,” he winks.
“You just know Peter Bergman (Jack) will deliver performances that take you places,” he adds, “so we’ll just take him through the whole range!”
Sharon And Nick, Together Again?
With Nick and Sharon back under the same roof, Young hedges the question of how serious things are going to get. “I’m not going to tell you if they’re coming back together permanently… but we have to investigate their relationship,” he teases. “They’ve been together since they were teenagers and no matter how much they tear themselves apart, something brings them back together. Their path of true love will never run smooth. That’s why we love them!”
Wherever this round takes them, Young promises it won’t be the same ride. “Sharon’s so different now,” he says. “And that was on my shopping list when I came to the show — I wanted to strengthen Sharon, because Sharon Case is an amazing actress and Sharon the character is a really complex, interesting person. So now, there’s a whole journey to go on with her and Nick.
Sharon isn’t the only beauty Young’s had his eye on. “If my legacy is anything, I want it to be that I strengthened the female characters,” he says. “And I think we’re halfway there with that.”
He’s having a lot of fun with Nikki, in particular. “We’re seeing a very different Nikki — and not just with Arturo, which upset people so much, for some reason,” he chuckles. “For so long, we’ve had the guys going out with younger girls and I thought, ‘What the hell, it’s Nikki’s time. She’s been on the show for so long, let’s give her a good time.’”
While we’re barely through spring in the real world, Young’s written well into the fall. “It’s going to be a big summer — in more ways than one,” he promises. “A lot of changes and a lot of ‘I never saw that coming’ moments.
“And then I kinda know where I want to be by Christmas,” he continues. “I’m always projecting ahead. I’ll ask myself, ‘All right, what happens in October?’ and then work backwards and figure out how I’m going to get to that point. So my next big points are, ‘How do I build up to Christmas? And then into next year?’ It never ends. 45 years and it never ends — and that’s why we love it!”
As Young leads the charge into a whole new year, he’s quick to share Y&R’s success with a host of players. “I’ve got the roadmap, but I’m only as good as this massive team of 300 odd people — from writers to actors to crew,” he concludes. “We’re all in this together and everybody feels like a big family. I just love my job!”
Keep up with Young by following @malyoung on Twitter.