You have to hand it to "The Young and the Restless" when it comes to creativity in casting. Not only does CBS's top-rated soap opera seem intent on raiding the stables of its other daytime dramas, but it's looking to pull in viewers from other genres, as well. The show recently announced that "American Idol" alum Diana DeGarmo will be joining the cast, and now CBS is heading all the way back to the 1970s to grab a real television icon. Michael Learned, who played Mama Olivia on "The Waltons," will arrive in Genoa City in November .
Learned has signed on for a temporary gig to portray Katherine Chancellor while long-time favorite Jeanne Cooper takes a short leave of absence from the role. While many older fans will indeed remember Learned from her days on Waltons Mountain, she has forged a long and honored career that includes several stops on Broadway and television, as well as four Emmy Awards. Even soap operas don't represent new terrain for Learned, as she has previously appeared on three other afternoon dramas. Her hiring thus allows "The Young and the Restless" to both fill an immediate need and to continue its quest for world domination at the expense of its competitors.
Although Cooper has portrayed Kay for nearly 40 year and is more or less irreplaceable, Learned certainly seems like a worthy fill-in, at least temporarily. The quiet dignity and firm handling of her family on "The Waltons" are characteristics that fit well with the persona that Cooper has cultivated over the decades, though fans should not expect a carbon copy. Cooper's Kay has shown a propensity for petulance, especially when dealing with her enemies, that Learned may be hard-pressed to match. Maybe a more diplomatic Kay will open up some fun new story lines.
Of course, any time an actor steps away from the "soap" box for awhile, there will be speculation about the future of the affected role. While there don't appear to be underlying health issues or contract tussles in the case of Cooper's sabbatical, you just never know how these situations will play out in the long term. If, for some reason, Cooper stays away for a protracted period or doesn't return at all, then Kay couldn't land in much better hands than Learned's.
With the arrival of Michael Learned, "The Young and the Restless" continues its recent trend of pumping their lineup full of stars in the hopes of keeping the ratings up. In the case of Learned, that strategy should work to perfection.