The once-mighty soap-opera genre has definitely fallen on hard times. Once a cash cow for the networks, these iconic dramas have seen their ratings plummet in recent years. A decade ago there were 10 of these shows on the air; today, it's down to four. Of these last remaining shows, CBS' long-running (since 1987) The Bold and the Beautiful is one of only two to still command a sizable audience.
Set in the glitzy high-fashion world of Los Angeles, "Bold" has been a surprisingly conservative show. In a business where LGBT people are a part of the daily fabric, "Bold" has kept it's feet planted firmly in the heterosexual world. Until now. Last month, the show's viewership met its first lesbian couple in what's promised to be a long-term story arc.
The two actors cast in these roles are both quite familiar with lesbian culture, albeit in very different ways.
Crystal Chappell, who's straight, will be seen as Danielle, the new lesbian character on the "Bold" canvas. The actress was a fan favorite on the now-cancelled soap The Guiding Light. She and Natalia Rivera sizzled on that show as Olivia and Jessica, a lesbian couple in the suburban town of Springfield. Guiding Light's ratings were quite low during its final few seasons, but "Otalia," as fans called the onscreen couple, definitely stood out. Towards the end of the series' run, they were just about the only players who could still generate press and bring in new viewers. The duo proved to be so popular, they played a second lesbian couple on Venice, a web soap that was produced after GL ended.
Chappell isn't worried about typecasting as she begins playing her third lesbian role in as many years. "The majority of my career, I have played a heterosexual," she said in an interview with WCT. "I have played plenty of roles like doctors, business people, etc, so no, I don't worry at all."
The actress said that she's still hearing from fans of "Guiding," and expects them to follow her to the new show: "The [Guiding Light] and Otalia fans are extremely loyal and yes, they continue to follow me throughout my career. And we are very connected through social media. I also think there will be some new "Bold" fans."
For Joanna Johnson, who plays Chappell's new onscreen partner, being cast as Karen Spencer is more personal. The actress first played this role many years ago, when Karen was seen dating men. Johnson's return is also her first acting gig after a long hiatus from performing, during which time she worked behind the scenes in television. Soon after her "Bold" return was announced, Johnson publicly came out as a lesbian. As is often the case, her revelation wasn't quite the surprise as it was made out to be in the media, as Johnson has hardly been closeted.
"I was completely out in my private and professional life where and when my relationship status would come up," Johnson told Windy City Times. "It's not like the minute I was introduced to someone I said, 'Nice to meet you, and, FYI, I'm a lesbian'just like a straight person doesn't announce they're straight. But, for instance, when people ask what my husband does, I say I have a wife and she's an event promoter.
"So there was never a plan to come out. But when Brad [producer Brad Bell] called me and asked if I'd do the story, I said sure. Realizing that there would be press interest in the story itself and that I'd be interviewed about it, it would be weird not to talk about my life and how playing a gay storyline as a gay woman affected me. I didn't mean it to be a big coming-out event because I am out."
Both women have been hearing from the LGBT community. The response has been overwhelmingly positive.
"I am hearing from all people, straight and gay," said Crystal Chappell. "I think LGBT people are happy to see themselves represented, but it is very much a mix of open minded people. I am sure there will be people who don't understand, but I think most people will see a loving relationship. If you can affect one person who can see that it is all about love, then we have done something good."
"The response has been overwhelmingly positive," Joanna Johnson added. "I also heard from people who I went to high school with, who've been really supportive. It's been amazing. I think Brad Bell and the [Bold & the Beautiful] writers have written a wonderful story and some lovely scenes that I think everyone can relate to."
Chappell also stated that she was unconcerned about possible backlash from conservative, anti-gay viewers: "I stopped listening to that a long time ago. There is always backlash and naysayers. I choose to focus on the positive feedback and the effect we are having on people."
As they prepared to return to work on the "Bold" soundstages, both women gave us an idea who they might be voting for in the next Presidential election.
"I commend President Obama for supporting gay marriage," stated Johnson. "I understand that politically he's between a rock and a hard place, so it's small steps forward. I hope the next step in his evolution is to recognize that it needs to be a federally protected right. We didn't leave slavery or segregation up to the states. Civil and human rights can't be left to the states, they must be federally protected."
"He is who I expected he would be," added Chappell. "He said something that certainly makes him a Democrat and liberal and I think it's wonderful that a President accepts all citizens of this country for who they are."
The Bold and the Beautiful airs weekday afternoons on CBS. Check local listings for times.