On Nov. 27, Peter Bergman will celebrate his 20th year playing Jack Abbott on CBS’s top-rated The Young and The Restless. The veteran soap star (he previously played Dr. Cliff Warner on ABC’s All My Children) talked exclusively to EW.com about what it was like to originally assume the role, how he felt about his character talking to a ghost, and whether he and the cast believed that Eric Braeden would ever really quit the show.
EW: What was it replacing Terry Lester, who had previously played Jack Abbott, 20 years ago?
Peter Bergman: He had burned every bridge he could burn before he left. He had alienated pretty much everybody in the building. Had I showed up as anything less than an axe murderer, I would have been welcomed. That said, every lighting guy, every wardrobe person knew more about Jack Abbott than I did. That took some getting used to. Melody Thomas Scott (Nikki Newman) was very friendly to me but Eric Braeden was a big Terry Lester fan so his wasn’t the warmest welcome.
From the start, Jack was a very angry character. We didn’t see his compassionate side for a long time. What was the journey like for you?
The journey was an interesting one. I actually loved playing a careless, womanizing, and manipulative Jack for as long as I did. But one of the cool things about being on these shows is that characters grow and change. And I can tell you who the characters were who changed Jack Abbott: Nikki, followed by Phyllis – the least likely person ever to touch Jack’s heart — and then Sharon, who of all people, I think was a disaster on the writers’ part. It’s almost like they thought, ‘They both are basically in the same predicament. Put them together.’ I can remember the day Sharon Case sat in the dressing room with me and how we decided to make it believable. And I think we did a pretty respectable job. So three women changed this guy so much in these 20 years, so he’s a very different character now.
Let’s talk about one of Jack’s most memorable scenes – sitting at his dying father’s bedside.
It was far and away his most emotional experience. He still hasn’t recovered from that. He is still seeing his father in his office, in his home, in his car. He’s everywhere he goes.
How did you react when the writers said, ‘By the way, you’re going to be seeing your dad’s ghost’?
Oh my God. I’m on the one show that’s based in reality and suddenly I am in charge of the f—ing ghost storyline? Oh, great! But you know what? I was wrong. In the end, it worked. It was Jack’s conscience coming back to him. He had lost his conscience.
You’ve been at this for a long time now. What do you think is going to happen to daytime dramas?
I have good things to say about that. We are all going to get leaner, tighter, with smaller casts. Fewer sets. Tighter stories. Better-written stories than you see on the air [now]. And when they minimize the casts, they are going to cut away the bad acting. They are going to keep as many of the good actors as they possibly can. Get rid of the scenes we didn’t need to see, like ‘Well, let’s follow the maid and what her life is like. Let’s see who her boyfriend is.’ No! Let’s focus on Victor and Nikki and Katherine and Jack and Ashley and Phyllis and Nick and Sharon.
I know you are pretty optimistic but there are a lot of predictions that we’ll see another soap opera die in the next five years.
We will. We’re on the top floor of a sinking ship at Y&R. But I do think that when we are talking about seven, eight daytime dramas, do you have to replace all of them? That’s too much programming. What the f— are the networks going to do with a giant hole in daytime television?
Eric Braeden has been very vocal about his recent salary negotiations, especially about how he was being told to take a pay cut – or else. Had you experienced the same type of negotiation?
Everybody on this show was asked to share in some of the burden and Eric was no exception.
Did you really expect that Eric was going to leave?
There were days that we all thought he was going to be gone. In the end it was fighting with a corporation, and the corporation was going to win. It wasn’t whether or not they were going to fold. It was always whether or not Eric was going to agree to come back for a lesser salary.
Are you going to retire as Jack?
I will retire from daytime television as Jack, yes. With All My Children moving to Los Angeles, everyone’s saying, ‘Oh, well, that would be fun. They’d probably love to have you back.’ And I think, ‘No … that’s a different character.’ I get to play one of the truly great characters in daytime television.
Photo Credit: Robert Voets/CBS