‘Y&R’ Producers Discuss Gina Tognoni and Michelle Stafford Switcheroo

Joshua Morrow, Michelle Stafford, The Young and the Restless
Monty Brinton/CBS

Michelle Stafford is officially back filming as Phyllis Summer on “The Young and the Restless,” and will soon replace the outgoing Gina Tognoni on-screen when her episodes begin airing sometime in June. The road to switching back to the original Phyllis wasn’t easy, but it was just one of several decisions that executive producer Anthony Morina and co-executive producer/head writer Josh Griffith felt were necessary as they presented their vision of where daytime’s top-rated drama series would be heading under their stewardship.

In a cover story interview with Soap Opera Digest Editor-in-Chief Stephanie Sloane, on newsstands now, the duo discussed meeting with CBS and producers at Sony, which produces the soap, over where they saw the program heading as it moved forward into the future without the influence of previous regimes. One such change included switching the face of Phyllis Summers, albeit with a familiar one.

Soap Opera Digest, Cover Story, The Young and the Restless
American Media, Inc.

When asked by Sloane how that decision came to be, Griffith said, “that was just part of the bigger picture of us saying we need to try to get the show back to that iconic sensibility.” Morina further iterated Griffith’s comments, saying, “Michelle wasn’t looking for a job, it was really me. I called Michelle up. We always had a great relationship. I was always glad when I ran into her. I think she’s really bright.

“We got into a conversation, because it’s all in line with what Josh and I were talking about, I mean, it’s a piece of the puzzle. She wasn’t looking. She was really happy at ‘GH.’ I was explaining what we’re trying to do and why. But I will take full responsibility for not giving up on pursuing that. I just know where we want it to go, and really, where the network wants to go.”

Griffith called it “serendipitous,” which Morina agreed with.

Gina Tognoni, The Young and the Restless, Phyllis Summers
Monty Brinton/CBS

Further revealing how the switch came to be, Griffith said, “The timing worked out. And then by us getting her excited about it, it was sort of like, ‘Well, you know, this could actually fall into place.” Morina said things moved quickly and they had a short window to put their plan into action. “We love Gina. Gina did a great job. I mean, she was great as a person and as a professional. She couldn’t have been nicer.”

Outside of changing the face of Phyllis, hiring newcomer Mark Grossman as the third Adam Newman in as many years, and the returns of Chelsea Newman (Melissa Claire Egan) and Kevin Fisher (Greg Rikaart), not to mention the hiring of Eva LaRue as the Rosales matriarch, one of the biggest challenges the pair revealed they’re taking on as the leaders of “Y&R” is viewers tuning in “just one more day a week,” according to Griffith. Meanwhile, Morina says that with the show moving as fast as it does quality is still important. “You’re constantly talking about preparation. The time element is the biggest struggle — and budgets.” Griffith added, “And putting out a show that can compete with the multitude of platforms that are out there now. You can watch drama everywhere. It really comes down to, ‘Do I really want to spend an hour a day with these characters?’ If you’ve got the right characters that are involved in compelling story, you’re ahead of the game.” Morina cited the Neil story as an example of that and even storylines involving “All My Children’s” Erica Kane (Susan Lucci) from when he was growing up watching the stories alongside his mother.

For more from Griffith and Morina on their vision for what’s ahead for “The Young and the Restless,” make sure to pick up your copy of Soap Opera Digest on newsstands now.