In these days of crippling budget cuts, it's pretty damn remarkable that The Bold and the Beautiful went down to L.A.'s Skid Row and hired some 25 real-life homeless people to tell their life stories on camera. The sequences, airing October 28-29, are part of a plot that has Beverly Hills matron Stephanie Forrester (Susan Flannery) battling stage 4 lung cancer and using what time she has left to help those who have nothing. The soap's exec producer-head writer Brad Bell, who has hired an additional 30 homeless to appear as extras, swears he won't be dropping this storyline anytime soon. In fact, it'll be an integral part of the show's holiday season. TV Guide Magazine spoke with the B&B boss man about his groundbreaking plot and where it goes from here.
TV Guide Magazine: Kudos on this story. Your dad [the late B&B creator] Bill Bell would have been proud.
Bell: This has been a huge awakening for me — I now have a real appreciation for the pillow under my head and the roof that's over me. So many people are just a paycheck away from homelessness or living in a shelter. Our entire production company has been changed by this experience. Hopefully, so has the audience. To be a great country we need to take care of these people. As they say, we're only as strong as our weakest link.
TV Guide Magazine: What inspired you to do this story?
Bell: Three or four years ago, I wrote down a sentence on a piece of paper: Why are you homeless? And I've kept it in my desk ever since. I've long wondered about the stories behind all those people I drive past on Beverly Boulevard while going to work in the morning and going home at night. It's taken years for me to do this story and there have been several tries before I found a way to make it fit. We now have Stephanie taking a camera to downtown L.A. and asking people, "Why are you homeless?" and letting them speak.
TV Guide Magazine: How was that for Flannery?
Bell: Susan said, "I don't have much of a script here." And I said, "That's because there isn't much of a script. You and I are going to take a skeleton crew and go downtown — I'll be right there with you — and we're going to ask questions and put the camera on the homeless to find out who they are. We are going to give them a voice." And Susan was a natural. She was Oprah in a minute! And that turned out to be the day the temperature in downtown L.A. hit 113 degrees! These episodes are half B&B, half reality. For the October 28 show, we went to Gladys Park, in the heart of Skid Row, and talked with many of the people there. Most of them have been in prison, addicted to drugs, but are on the road to recovery — at least we hope. Then on October 29 we go inside the Union Rescue Mission and meet some of the homeless families. The mission has taken them in, feeding them, giving them a room. This is unlike anything we've ever seen on our show and that's hard to do after 23 years on the air.
TV Guide Magazine: Let's talk about the logistics of this story. How did you go about finding and selecting the homeless people you interview?
Bell: An incredible man named Kevin Key knows them and got them all together for us. Many of these men and women hadn't worked in years. Just to have a purpose, a day's job, meant so much to them. Kevin is an attorney and community organizer for a group called LAPD, the L.A. Poverty Department, who actually lives downtown where we were shooting. A lot of people see it as a terrible place, but Kevin says he couldn't live anywhere else. He told me, "I choose to live here with these incredible people. And anyone who doesn't understand that needs to get a new set of glasses, and see the place for what it really is." Well, I've put on that new set of glasses and used it as inspiration.
TV Guide Magazine: Your original script cut back and forth from these Skid Row sequences to scenes of Stephanie's husband Eric [John McCook] kicking back with a martini at the mansion. But the viewers at home won't be seeing that.
Bell: We shot those scenes with Eric but I decided not to air them. I was going for a contrast there. I was thinking of a lot of people who may be retired, who are leading a nice, sheltered, comfortable life where they play their round of golf, have a nice lunch, and are just kind of waiting...merely existing. I wanted people like that to question themselves. Could I maybe reach out with the time that is remaining and do more with my life than chase golf balls? However, those scenes didn't turn out that well. Eric came off too pompous and for a variety of reasons, mostly the concept on the page, it didn't work.
TV Guide Magazine: So where does Stephanie's saga go after this?
Bell: Her relationship with Dayzee [Kristolyn Lloyd] is going to continue, as will her outreach to the mission and the people of Skid Row. This is a story that won't stay front burner, but we are not going to play it and move on. It's going to remain a part of B&B and part of Stephanie — a better Stephanie. The story with Dayzee will be very much a part of our holiday season.
TV Guide Magazine: Even though Stephanie decided to seek care for her cancer and had surgery, there was no soap-opera miracle cure. You're still playing her condition as dire. What's her prognosis in your mind?
Bell: She's going to be in a precarious spot for quite some time. At least until we renegotiate Susan's contract. Stephanie's attitude is, if she dies, she dies. But while she's living she's going to try to make the world a better place. She does not want those sad looks, she does not want to hear that tone in people's voices, she doesn't want people reaching out and helping her — she doesn't want any of that. Because, even with cancer, she'll flatten anyone who tries! There will also be some interesting stuff with Taylor [Hunter Tylo]. Stephanie is now bonded with Brooke [Katherine Kelly Lang], having shared something so intimate and incredible with this journey of the cancer, and Stephanie has said that she loves Brooke. Taylor has always perceived herself as Stephanie's best friend. Will that last? Could Taylor be left behind as Brooke becomes even closer to Stephanie? There are some interesting possibilities there. But some things will never change, like that recent scene where Brooke said, "I love you, Stephanie." And Stephanie said, "You're still a slut from the Valley." What a supercouple I have with those two!
Soaps are supposed to be shocking, trashy, guilt-drenched fun — so how come The Bold and the Beautiful is suddenly so good for us? It's been a long time since a daytime serial appealed to our better angels, and B&B is doing it in gripping and spectacular fashion with a story of how a potentially terminal illness has given Stephanie Forrester a new lease on life. And it keeps getting better: I've had an advance look at some of the October 28-29 footage and assure you it is not to be missed. Gorgeously written — deeply moving yet never sappy — and filled with divine, heartfelt acting and surprising doses of humor, this is a plot to be deeply proud of. Will it bring B&B its third consecutive Emmy for best soap and Flannery her fifth as best actress? Oh, you can bet big money on it. But do yourself a favor and donate that dough to the homeless.