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"The Young and the Restless," still strong after 22 years

“The Young and the Restless,” still strong after 22 years — We spend a day on the set of the popular soap opera

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Inside the darkened CBS Los Angeles studio at 9 a.m., safe from the roars of the neighboring Price Is Right, the actors of The Young and the Restless begin to emerge from their dressing rooms, skin and clothes both wrinkle-free. They’ve been here since 6:30, getting glamorized in the makeup room (except for the car-accident victims, who have been blackened and bruised) and having their hair spun into perfection. Finally, the day’s 100 plus-page script in hand, first-up actors Michael Tylo and Brenda Epperson clamber onto the airplane set that the carpenters have been constructing since 2:30 a.m.

Tylo and Epperson, who play the unhappily married Blade and Ashley, have been thrown a twist today: Blade isn’t actually Blade, who’s locked in a dungeon somewhere, but Rick, his evil twin brother, who’s passing for Blade. Another complication: Epperson’s seven-month pregnancy, which, given her character’s uncertain romantic state, has not been worked into the story line. So in most scenes Epperson must sit or, as she says, ”If there’s a plant in the scene, I’ll be behind it.”

<p At the moment, she's scrunched up in her seat, hands folded over her ever-burgeoning lap, gazing out the airplane window at the living room set next door. Blade/Rick stares ahead, as his voice-over fills the darkened studio: ''The biggest test is going to be making love to you without you realizing I'm a different man . One slip and it's all over.''

<p To spend a day on the set of The Young and the Restless is to learn to appreciate a good melodrama. Each day on this soap opera — which has been on the air for 22 years — brings enough trauma and heartache to make a newcomer’s head spin. But somehow it all comes together: CBS’ Y&R has been the No. 1 daytime drama for almost six years, averaging nearly 9 million viewers. Cynics argue that Y&R stays ahead because of its lunch hour (12:30-1:30 Eastern) time slot. Fans point to the show’s aggressive hipness: While Y&R and its ABC competitor, All My Children, both shoot for a wide demographic, it’s Y&R that’s gotten attention for tackling downer issues like date rape and drug addiction with just enough Melrose Place camp value to enhance the drool factor.

And then, of course, there are the high production values, and all the attention paid to clothing those beautiful bods (the show’s wardrobe holds more than 1,900 nightgowns). Y&R is where a number of rising stars learned how to take off their shirts: Tom Selleck went on to rescue beautiful babes on Magnum, P.I., and David Hasselhoff now rescues the same species on Baywatch.

Two hours after the airplane scene, however, Tylo’s bod is not up to snuff. He’s lying prone on the floor, where he’s collapsed from a leg cramp (”I don’t see that in the script,” a cameraman mutters in confusion). Suddenly, a beautiful woman-gold and purple silken robes flying-swoops in and bends down by Tylo’s side. ”Oh, that’s Hunter, Michael’s wife,” someone whispers. ”She’s a Moroccan princess on The Bold and the Beautiful across the hall.” Unfortunately, her ministrations do little to comfort Tylo, and he drags himself to a neighboring set’s couch.

In the darkened console booth, executive producer Edward Scott is more concerned with Tylo’s Hawaiian-print shirt. ”If I never see that shirt again, it will be too soon,” he says to the wardrober. ”Make him look more masculine.” Scott’s attention to the actors’ appearance can be blunt: He once called Melody Thomas Scott (who plays Nikki Newman Abbott) from the booth and said, ”I have two words for you: Lose weight.” ”She started to cry,” he admits. He’s now married to her.

Given that cast and crew work together five days a week, 10 hours a day, it’s no surprise that they’re close, but it’s a little strange how close: Other on-set marriages include director Mike Denney and makeup artist Patti Denney; director Heather Hill and stage manager Randy Hill; and the show’s creators, William and Lee Phillip Bell.

But the mood on set is more workday prosaic than wedding-day romantic. At the start of the next scene, Melody is plainly apathetic. She stands in the living room with Eric Braeden, who plays Victor, her ex-husband. When the camera begins to roll, the gum comes out of their mouths and gets stuck on the scripts, which in turn get shoved under the coffee table. They begin discussing the fate of their son’s nogoodnik girlfriend. ”Can’t we just kill her?” Melody ad-libs, trying to spice things up.

”I’m quite bored with (my character),” she confesses when, at 1 p.m., she finally has time to sit down. ”We seem to be in a bit of a slump — all Nikki seems to do is have coffee and do needlepoint. She has beautiful clothes and gorgeous hair, and her makeup is perfect and she never leaves her house. She used to sit here and drink — that was actually more fun. But needlepoint — I’m sorry.” Victor, on the other hand, is having a far racier time: He’s currently married to a blind woman who is pregnant with what they fear will be a blind infant.

Such details may overwhelm the novice, but the intrepid Y&R fan is notoriously observant. ”Nikki was very poor at one point, and she had a quilt on her sofa,” recalls set decorator Joe Bevacqua. ”Years later, Victor had an affair with Ashley, and they had this little cabin where they’d rendezvous. I thought no one would remember it, so in one scene they were covered in the quilt. A fan called and said, ‘How dare he? He’s doing these horrible things to his wife, and then he goes and uses her quilt!’ ”

Indeed, what goes around on Y&R eventually comes around, as Jeanne Cooper can testify. She has played the wealthy and many-times-widowed Katherine Chancellor since the show’s inception as a half-hour drama (it was extended to an hour in 1980). Cooper, who is famous both for being Corbin Bernsen’s mother and for having her real-life face-lift videotaped for inclusion in a 1985 Y&R episode, found that once her character became an alcoholic, she followed suit. ”Katherine drank, then she sobered up and I drank,” says Cooper, seated in her dressing room preparing for the afternoon taping. Both character and actress are safely sober now, and Cooper is getting ready to have her face lifted again-in private this time. She defends her decision to let cameras film the first: ”I can’t tell you the good it did. We got a tremendous response from parents who had children with defects. (The operation) was done in a vastly educational and entertaining way, you know. And, of course,” she adds as an afterthought, ”Katherine fell in love with her doctor.”

Back on the set, the once-again-widowed Katherine is pondering the romantic state of Christine Blair (played by Lauralee Bell, William and Lee Phillip Bell’s 26-year-old daughter). Katherine has persuaded Christine to hold a surprise wedding for her fiance, Paul (Doug Davidson) — currently hospitalized due to a car accident — and has assembled the bridal party at Paul’s bedside. ”Like my wedding shoes?” Cooper jokes of her terry-cloth slippers, hidden from the camera’s eye.</p.

But Lauralee is in no mood to appreciate Cooper’s lightness. She’s spent the last hour in her dressing room practicing crying, since the script calls for her fiance to jilt her. Here, in her simple cream wedding dress, flipping her (blond, of course) tresses into character, Lauralee has worked herself into a grievous state. The music swells, hair falls over limpid eyes, and the scene is complete.