Ex-Y&R head writer Sally Sussman dishes Teriah and the pressures of daytime
Posted Friday, August 11, 2017 1:04:27 PM
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Former The Young and the Restless head writer Sally Sussman opens up about the challenges of soap opera writing and how the Mariah and Tessa (Teriah) romance came about.

Mariah and Tessa kissed last week on The Young and the Restless, and the resulting viewer response is just as heated as President Trump's Twitter battles. While many fans have applauded the longtime conservative soap opera for finally delving deep into a same-sex storyline (years behind the other daytime dramas, no less), others are horrified to see the CBS series head down the LGBTQ path. But former Y&R head writer, Sally Sussman, defends her decision to pen Teriah -- and says CBS and Sony were also quite supportive of the pairing.

“Because of the [writer] change happening so fast, I had to jump in with both feet. While starting to write the daily shows, I came up with several stories that I pitched the network; one of which is the love story between Mariah and a new character named Tessa,” Sussman told Daytime Confidential. “The executives at CBS who oversee daytime enthusiastically approved this story; I think they saw the value and the freshness in the way it would be told. They did however note that they have a very conservative audience and this story may offend some people. CBS knows their audience very well, which could be the reason Y&R never did a story like this before, except in the early 70's when Bill Bell tried it and it was very negatively received.”

The key to making it work, the writer explains, was the way the romance between Mariah and Tessa unfolded.

“This is a love story; it's not a gay story,” Sussman explains. “It's about falling in love with a person, not a gender. It is about Mariah and Tessa's self-discovery and it catches them both off guard. People fall in love unexpectedly for all sorts of reasons. Some they understand; some they don't... I had hoped with this story people wouldn't just see gender; they'd feel the honest love between the characters. I hope the audience watches as it plays out and doesn't judge too quickly.”

However, don't expect the writer to cry if the Teriah pairing turns out to be an utter failure. She's grown quite a thick skin during her two decades of soap opera writing.

“When you work at this frantic pace writing 250 episodes a year, some things are going to work; others not," she states. "When you take this job, you accept that and know you're not going to hit a home run every time. You trust your instincts and experience and hope the audience responds positively. When they respond negatively, I listen to what they're saying and take their criticisms to heart. You cannot be a head writer with a thin skin; everyone comes at you, thinks they can do it better. Being a head writer is like a quarterback; everyone says you should've done this or done that...after the fact and usually on Mondays [laughs]. But time is the enemy in daytime, sadly.”

She continues: “Obviously, there are things I wish I'd done differently, but unfortunately you only have one day to do each episode, which is very difficult creatively because you don't have the luxury to ruminate and rewrite, etc. Being head writer on a daytime serial is by far the most difficult job in all of scripted entertainment (be it TV, film, online). As difficult as it was to make a feature film, it was nothing compared to the rigors, limitations, juggling that's required to do this job. But I take responsibility for every scene in every episode as it was all done by me. As head writer you can't farm this work out to your writers or anyone else; to do this job properly you need to be in the trenches on every episode and every scene. So if the audience liked what they saw, great. If they hated what they saw, then I feel badly and disappointed but I know it goes with the territory.”

For more from Sussman on her year at Y&R, check out Daytime Confidential's interview with the writer here.

What do you think about the Teriah storyline? What are your thoughts on the challenges Sussman says come along with being a soap opera writer? We want to hear from you -- and there are many ways you can share your thoughts.

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