LOS ANGELES -- Victor and Nikki Newman face each other across a table in the Genoa City Athletic Club. The mood is intense.
She wants him to worry more about a family dilemma, and he wants her to worry less. Their relationship is both fond and mistrustful, fraught with passion and tension.
Eric Braeden and Melody Thomas Scott have played variations of this scene between the divorced and remarried Newmans many times before on the CBS' daytime drama "The Young and the Restless" (12:30 p.m. weekdays, WRDW-TV, Channel 12).
"Melody and I have worked together over 23 years now," says Braeden, who plays the elegant but not always upright billionaire.
"We've had some great scenes. She's very vulnerable and I think that is one of the essential ingredients you need to bring with you to make it in this medium. People want to see into your inner soul," the 62-year-old actor says.
"The Young and the Restless," which premiered on March 26, 1973, has ranked No. 1 overall in daytime drama for the past 15 seasons. The show recently regained the top slot in the age 18 to 49 female demographic considered vital by advertisers.
"The show is very consistent with the times," says co-executive producer and co-head writer Jack Smith, noting that current plot lines include financial malfeasance and Internet stalking along with the usual helpings of love and adultery.
Smith often gets story ideas "driving home listening to 'All Things Considered' on National Public Radio ... from those interesting columns on the side of the front page of The Wall Street Journal ... and from watching CNN," he says. "But the one constant is that we are a character-driven show."
The hour-long series is taped at CBS Television City. The actors get their scripts about a week before taping, but have to process many more pages of dialogue a day and spew out emotion much faster than on prime-time series.
"It's an inordinate pace but I'm very used to it and I love it," says Braeden. "But you need to make adjustments very quickly. Either you develop a sense of what is real or you don't."
He stresses the need for naturalism, not histrionics. "The only way we can keep this medium alive is to make it as real as possible ... get away from soap operatic conventions."
Creator Bill Bell retired in 1998, but his legacy is carried on by writers who worked with him. Head writer Kay Alden celebrates her 30th anniversary in May and Smith has been around since 1979.
"We are unlike other shows where different writers and producers come in and change everything, and then the characters lose credibility with the audience by doing things they never would have done," says executive producer David Shaughnessy. "We've been so successful at keeping the characters absolutely true."
There are 32 regular characters on the show. Six to eight story lines are ongoing, with about three featured each day, usually played along for three or four episodes before crossing over to alternative plots.
Despite the television industry's increasing emphasis on the youth market, "The Young and the Restless" will continue to weave younger characters into a multigenerational story mix.
Alden says experience has taught her "the best way to bring in young people is to make sure they are tied to some of our important existing characters."
"The main core characters are what keeps the show going," says Joshua Morrow, who plays the Newmans' son, Nicholas. "I don't think the show needs to get massively younger."
The 28-year-old actor got his job 10 years ago because "they basically needed someone to take their clothes off and get in fights and stuff." He's still filling that bill.
Jeanne Cooper, 75, who's played wealthy doyenne Katherine Chancellor since 1973, says of the show's longevity: "I've never had a marriage that lasted this long. This has been much kinder to me than marriage."
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