Soap-Opera Veteran Peter Bergman on the Future of Daytime Dramas

The Emmy-winning star on 'The Young and the Restless' talks about his former show 'All My Children'

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Peter Bergman
Robert Voets / CPT Holdings / CBS

Peter Bergman as Jack Abbott on 'The Young and the Restless'

It’s been an exciting few days for veteran soap-opera actor Peter Bergman, who, since 1989, has played Jack Abbott on The Young and the Restless on CBS. (He’s been working in daytime dramas since 1980. If his face looks vaguely familiar to you non-soap fans, it might be from his appearing in those Vicks Formula 44 commercials from the mid-’80s in which he advised viewers, “I’m not a doctor, but I play one on TV…”)

On May 1, he learned that he was nominated for yet another Daytime Emmy. It’s his 19th; he’s won thrice, most recently in 2002. He knows that the world of soaps has changed since he earned his first nod in 1983: It’s a slightly different animal now; back then, there were 11 different soap operas—and now there are four.” And that change is only highlighted by the fact that his first nomination—30 years ago—was for his work on ABC’s All My Children, the daytime drama that has also had an exciting couple of days. Last week, the show (along with One Life to Live) made its move from network television to online-only.

TIME caught up with Bergman, who appeared on All My Children from 1980 to 1989, to get his take on the changes.

(MOREA Soap Opera Goes Digital: On the Set of the New (Online-Only) ‘All My Children’)

“You’d be hard-pressed to find anyone in daytime television who isn’t cheering them on,” says Bergman, of the new Web-based soaps. “I hope it is a massive success and I’m one person who’s going to buy Hulu Plus and check it out.” (Though the first episodes of AMC and OLTL went live on Apr. 29, Bergman said he planned to watch later in the week—one of the advantages of online viewing.)

Much of that good will comes from being part of that small community of daytime-drama vets: Bergman has friends who are still on both shows But another part of it is less feel-good: he still believes that ABC pulled the plug prematurely on the two long-running series.

“Like all of television—daytime, nighttime, news, morning programming—the ratings have been in freefall for a very long time,” Bergman acknowledges. “I think some young suit walked in and said, ‘How about if we change the whole paradigm, what if we put on a show that had half the viewers that All My Children had but only cost one-third what All My Children did, wouldn’t we come out ahead?’ And no one in the room said, ‘What are you talking about!?’ Networks aren’t idiots but I just think too many bean-counters got in there.”

'All My Children' 1984

ABC via Getty Images

Melissa Leo and Peter Bergman on ‘All My Children’ in 1984

Bergman says that he never believed the network would actually cancel the shows, but knows that the salad days of soaps have long passed. “I got to ride the crest of the wave back in the ‘80s,” he says. “It was an extraordinary time. It was a national phenomenon, this daytime thing. Those days were heady days and they’ve passed, but what’s there now is still really significant.”

As evidence, Bergman points to successful primetime soaps (he likes Downton Abbey) and, yes, the rise of online television. Plus, with fewer soap operas on TV, he says the ones that remain have seen a boost in their ratings. (He cites a figure of 4 million daily viewers for The Young and the Restless, which he wouldn’t have thought much of for a soap opera in the ’80, but thinks is boast-worthy today.) While it makes for a concentrated Emmys race—three of the four actors in Bergman’s category are from The Young and the Restless—it’s good for those who are worried about the genre.

“The state of the soap opera is actually healthier than it was a year ago,” he says. “This may be the perfect time for All My Children and One Life to Live to launch online. And I’d love to see it be a giant success and for ABC to be really embarrassed by it all.”

(MOREWhy Is Turkey’s Prime Minister at War with a Soap Opera?)

2 comments
MaryannConwayIller
MaryannConwayIller

I loved Peter Bergman as Cliff, and even more as Jack Abbot, he is one of the best recasts I have seen.  And his predecessor was very popular, Terry Lester, RIP.  

AMCTruSVU
AMCTruSVU

lol I have to laugh evilly at his last comment because all soap fans were totally thinking it too in the last couple of weeks...Him and about ten other actors are the reason I moved to watching Y&R on September 26, 2011 when AMC ended its TV run on September 23. I have loved All My Children my entire life. When my mom first saw that I was watching Y&R and saw Peter on it she told me that I was born the summer of the last time his character Cliff and another character Nina got married for the last time and I just laughed thinking about all these characters getting married and divorced so many times that everyone is related somehow. He was apparently even engaged to Debbie Morgan's character on AMC, Angie, back in the eighties and thought that was neat them working again together on Y&R.