‘Bold and the Beautiful’ EP and Head Writer Brad Bell Talks 34 Years of Drama

The Bold and the Beautiful - Clayton Norcross, Susan Flannery, Ronn Moss, John McCook, Teri Ann Linn
CBS / Everett Collection

What a difference a year makes! In March 2020, near the end of its 32nd year on the air, The Bold and the Beautiful —along with many other TV shows — shut down due to the coronavirus pandemic. Now, the series, which premiered on March 23, 1987, is celebrating its 34th anniversary.

In the March 23 (2021) episode, original cast member Katherine Kelly Lang appears as Brooke, giving daughter Hope (Annika Noelle) advice about love, forgiveness, and relationships. Meanwhile, Liam (Scott Clifton) leans on his father, Bill (Don Diamont), while attempting to work through feelings of guilt.

B&B executive producer and head writer Bradley Bell recently sat down with TV Insider to chat about the soap’s longevity, tease some potential story lines, and share how it felt taking the No. 1 spot a year ago.

It’s hard to believe that some B&B cast members weren’t even born when the show debuted back in 1987.

Brad Bell: I hear that more and more often these days. [Laughs] I’m not sure how to take it!

Bradley Bell (Matt Petit/CBS ©2018 CBS Broadcasting, Inc.)

When did you know B&B was going to be a long-term player in the soap world?

It’s hard to pinpoint a time as we’ve been the only half-hour series on the air for so long. We felt we were the odd man out, blazing a trail all our own. Going way back, I suppose the first Sheila [Kimberlin Brown] crossover from The Young and the Restless in 1992. The ratings popped, bringing us to the No. 2 spot. We’d remained a strong contender before then, but that moment was a big one. That elevated us in the ratings to a point that showed we were here to stay.

Last year’s pandemic shutdown wasn’t the first time B&B faced extensive preemptions. There was also the O.J. Simpson trial in the mid-1990s. How do you handle these challenges?

In the world of daytime TV, the O.J. trial really rocked us. We were off the air for so many months. Every show upon returning had lost a good chunk of their respective audience. Yes, we rebuilt — but never to quite where we were prior to the trial. Whenever we’re not airing regularly, it’s a time of great anxiety. It was a similar situation during the pandemic. It’s why I was so determined to be the very first or one of the first dramatic shows back in production. There was bit of a dip, but we’re also building back. We have momentum now.

What did you learn about your company during the pandemic?

I always knew we had a great “can do” spirit here. It was put to the test because of COVID-19. It was scary. We knew very little at the time. We had a group come in to monitor all of our activist at TV City, where we’ve shot the show since Day One. We rebuilt the studio control booth with plexiglass.

Sonja Flemming/CBS 2020 CBS Broadcasting, Inc.

We went through every type of safety precaution and put everything in place. Many were uncomfortable. People wore shields. We limited close interactions. We asked the actors to play romance — eight feet part! That was a challenge. Everybody came together. Attitudes here are fantastic. We couldn’t have done it without that. Everyone rose to the occasion with enthusiasm and bravery, and we got the job done.

Your international success has been unparalleled. What’s that been like?

Our first breakout country was Greece. We were amazed at the popularity of the show there. Then Italy, France, and Belgium. We found popularity in Germany and in Holland. It was just well received all over Europe and then Australia, India, and Africa. We kept on going. We were thrilled to find we had a global hit on our hands.

B&B took the top spot in the ratings the week of March 15, 2020. How did it feel to achieve that milestone?

We’ve had some great milestones over the years. We hit No. 1 in key demos prior to that during a climax of the baby Beth storyline when Liam and [Hope] were reunited with their baby. We took over the top spot in the soaps for being No. 1 in the overall ratings. It was one week, and now we’re staying tight to Y&R, which is always good. It was a thrill to see it on paper to be the top-rated show not only in the world but in the United States as well.

Sonja Flemming/CBS Broadcasting, Inc.

The Forrester, Logan, and Spencer clans have been a part of B&B the beginning, and they’re still front and center! How do you explain their longevity?

We owe a lot of that to original cast members John McCook [Eric] and Katherine Kelly Lang and to their commitment to the show from Day One. They’re still enthusiastic, and they bring incredible performances. They’re two of the cornerstones of the show.

Over the years, we’ve brought in Bill Spencer and his sons Liam and Wyatt [Darin Brooks]. We’ve aged Steffy [Jacqueline MacInnes Wood]. Not long ago, they felt like newcomers, and now they’re mainstays of the show. We have Annika Noelle, who is incredible. We’ve been fortunate in our casting with not only talented people but people who are loyal to their characters and to the show.

Have you ever considered might there come a day where Steffy starts going by the name “Stephanie”?

Certainly, that’s her name. She’s named after her grandmother, Stephanie Forrester. Susan Flannery [who played Stephanie for 25 years], of course, was a powerhouse for so long. We could have Steffy go by Stephanie—perhaps we should use that name with her more often. It’s certainly powerful thanks to Susan’s heritage and thanks to Jacqui continuing on with her own performance.

B&B has had many great “have not” characters and antagonists. How key are they to the canvas?

Yes. Over the years, we’ve have characters like Amber Moore [Adrienne Frantz] and, more recently, Dr. Reese Buckingham [Wayne Brady], a brilliant doctor but one who had a gambling addiction he had to get over. He was brought into the baby-switching storyline. We need people who are either wanting to advance themselves, like Amber was, or who are desperate, like Reese. When you have wealthy families like the Forresters and the Spencers, it’s important to see the dichotomy of characters.

David Pfiel/Bell-Phillip TV/CBS 2020 CBS Broadcasting, Inc.

Another staple of the show is sibling rivalry: Tell us about the relationship between Buckingham sisters Zoe [Kiara Barnes] and Paris [Diamond White].

We’re building up the Paris and Zoe dynamic. They’re going to get mixed up with some of the longer-term characters. We have great story unfolding there.

It’s rare to have fans for 34 years in today’s TV landscape, where there are so many viewing options. B&B is still here, alive, and thriving.

Soap operas are unique in television as programming has evolved. Ours is a genre and a style that many people gravitate to and enjoy. We have an incredible commitment from our fans, who tune in daily for a taste of drama, humor, and family. The fans are our extended family as we are theirs. We appreciate all the years they’ve put into B&B. They’re loyal and they’ve passed down the tradition of watching the show to other family members.

Our goal is to provide entertainment but also tell thought-provoking stories that can spark debates on how families relate and how they should relate, how they argue, which is natural. They can find common ground. Our constant message is that love and family can prevail through just about anything in the world.

The Bold and the Beautiful, Weekdays, CBS (Check your local listings)