The reign of Maria Arena Bell as head writer for "The Young & the Restless" is over after more than 1,500 episodes of the hit drama.
Sony Pictures Television released Bell from her contract over the weekend, and has installed former "General Hospital" executive producer Jill Farren Phelps into her position. Phelps will be joined by former Y&R writer Josh Griffin, who will take over Bell's duties as head writer.
The move came as a surprise to Bell, who is the daughter-in-law of the show's creators, Lee Phillip Bell and the late William J. Bell. She posted a message to fans on Facebook soon after her ouster still not sure even why she was let go.
"There have been a lot of tears shed in the last few days ... by me and by my loyal staff and by our iconic actors," Bell wrote, according to Soap Central. "I was not given a reason, and in fact, I have heard nothing from Sony or CBS. They sent me a message through my husband Bill who had the terrible job of conveying that they'd gone around him and were letting me go."
Her husband, Bill Bell Jr., is the brother of Bradley Bell, the current head writer on Y&R's sister soap, "The Bold & the Beautiful." It's not clear why Sony chose to inform Maria Arena Bell through her husband, who has not been associated with any of the programs for more than a decade.
"I fought hard for my vision and to keep the show on track with the characters that matter to the audience," Maria Arena Bell said. "Maybe I fought too hard. But I'm glad I did. I never compromised on what I believed in. I never dumbed down the storytelling.
"I walked in the door at Y&R in 1988 as a young writer getting her first job. Today, I leave there knowing it was one of the greatest experiences of my life."
Bell stepped into the head writer role during the 2007 writer's strike, using the name "M.A. Bell." Once the strike was over, she expanded her on-screen credit to her full name.
Bell came into the soap during what was somewhat tumultuous times in terms of where the soap was going creatively. She replaced Lynn Marie Latham, who was let go when she abandoned her post for the writer's strike. Bell immediately went to work correcting some of the stranger things Latham did with the storyline, including making longtime rivals Katherine Chancellor and Jill Abbott mother and daughter, and indicating that Jill's first son -- who was supposed to be killed in a drunken driving accident in the 1980s -- wasn't really her son, and that Australian-born Cane Ashby was her son instead.
Bell undid the mother-daughter pairing, and introduced a new character to be Chancellor's child -- business magnate Tucker McCall. She also removed Ashby as Jill's son, and actually "resurrected" her old son, with him claiming he faked his death because he was afraid to come out of the closet.
Under Bell's leadership, the show won a writing Daytime Emmy in 2011, as well as lead actor award for Christian LeBlanc and lead actress award for Jeanne Cooper.
Griffith originally worked under Bell, but was reportedly let go in 2008 for tampering with Bell's stories without her knowing about it. He had previously worked on "One Life to Live," "As the World Turns," "Santa Barbara" and was a co-creator for "Sunset Beach."
He won Daytime Emmys for writing in 1989 and 1991 for "Santa Barbara" and in 1994 for "One Life to Live." He was nominated for five other Daytime Emmys as well.
Phelps has had a bumpy way to Y&R as well. She and Griffith most recently worked on "Hollywood Heights" for Nick at Nite, based on a Mexican telenovela that received an 80-episode order. She bounced around soaps including "Santa Barbara," "Guiding Light," "Another World" and "One Life to Live" before spending the last decade at "General Hospital."
She won seven Daytime Emmys along the way, but only a few were received without controversy.
Phelps fired Anna Lee from "General Hospital" in 2003, who had played Lila Quartermaine for 25 years. Lee, who was 90 years old at the time of the firing, said that she had been promised the role for life by the former executive producer of the show. Some cast members said the firing was completely unnecessary, and Lee died in 2004 at the age of 91.
Y&R has its own longtime actress, Cooper, who has played Katherine Chancellor since soon after the show premiered in 1973. Cooper will enter her 40th year in the role next year, and will celebrate her 84th birthday in October.
Phelps also shared the stage for "Santa Barbara's" Daytime Emmy win in 1988, even though her involvement in that series to that point was limited. And when she won a Daytime Emmy for "General Hospital" after her ouster there, she supplanted the new head writer to take the statue as her own.
Phelps has also been known for writing gruesome violence into the shows she's worked on, including violence against women like rapes. On "General Hospital," she used a longtime character's HIV-positive status against them, including one storyline where that character's blood was used as a biological weapon. That move did not sit well with HIV activist groups.
Y&R is one of a handful of remaining soap operas left on television, and has been No. 1 since 1988, making its run of 1,000 weeks a record. The show also recently taped its 10,000th episode.
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