Jeanne Cooper died Wednesday morning in Los Angeles. Her age is irrelevant, for she was timeless.
The IMDB credits her for appearing as Katherine Chancellor in 1006 episodes of The Young and the Restless, a tally that must surely fall short considering that she first appeared in 1973, the same year the show premiered on CBS. A single Daytime Emmy award is an indictment on the Emmys more than a statement of her acting abilities. Her star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame sits at 6801 Hollywood Blvd, a location I will surely visit when I am in California later this year.
Cooper was a legend in her own time if there ever was one, the dame of an era of television that the world left behind. America once loved its morning show anchors, evening newscasters and late night hosts who came into our lives on a daily basis. All of those daily institutions went into decline as entertainment options fragmented, including soap operas. Once-standard shows like All My Children and One Life To Live are gone and only four remain. My grandpa surely went apeshit in his grave at the cancelation of his beloved Asa Buchanan. OLTL recently returned as a 30-minute series on Hulu, but Grandpa Julius ain’t got time for that. Asa belongs on television with the Cubs and Crossfire, dammit.
The Young and The Restless has not been immune from the decline even though its ratings improved after last year’s housecleaning of on- and off-screen talent. It still leads the other four remaining sudsers in all categories. Y&R is making a clear move towards youth in its talent and fresher, more modern sets, indicating that it probably knows it needs to keep and attract younger viewers. As it does, though, they will be coming into the show in a different way than past generations.
Soaps used to be passed down like a family heirloom. My mom’s dad passed Asa on to her, she passed Y&R on to my sister and me. If either of us ever has children, they may take it from us. That connection to their closest relationships is part of why soap fans are so incredibly tied to their shows. As more viewers come to the show without that connection they will be more difficult to retain.
Soap operas will then rely more on another connection unique to the genre. I obviously only knew Cooper in the way that all viewers did, but she and her co-stars have been a part of my life every weekday for half the time I’ve been alive. That might sound a little odd, to say that television stars we never meet can be a part of our lives, but think about it: Five days a week, for years on end. What other parts of your life are that frequent, that consistent? I’ve watched stars like Joshua Morrow and Sharon Case go from their 20s to near their 40s. Christel Khalil began her role as Lily Winters when she was 14 years old. We literally watched her grow up. A viewer cannot help but feel a connection when it devotes 39 minutes to them day after day, year after year. Soaps will need new viewers to stick with the show often enough and long enough for that connection to take root in them the way it has for so many of us for generations.
And through it all, there was Jeanne Cooper. Not young, still restless, forever the dame of daytime television.
Rest in peace, Duchess.