Three decades in Genoa City have flown by for Peter Bergman, whom "Young and the Restless" fans undoubtedly know as Jack Abbott.
Monday, the CBS soap commemorates Bergman's 30 years on the daytime soap with a special anniversary episode dedicated to Jack's life. The actor calls the celebration "cathartic," though he wasn't sold on the idea at first.
"I thought, 'Do people really care about this?' And as soon as I got the script, as soon as I got to play it all, it was so powerfully valuable for me to go through that experience," he says. "And I hope the same is true for the audience."
Bergman, 66, says "it’s just crazy" how long he's been on the series. He was fired from "All My Children" in 1989, after a decade playing Dr. Cliff Warner, a blow he calls "just devastating." But Melody Thomas Scott, who plays Nikki Newman on "Y&R," suggested to her husband, former executive producer Edward Scott, that Bergman should replace Terry Lester, who originated the role.
"When I came to 'Young and the Restless,' I was dragged, kicking and screaming, to the best thing that ever happened to me," he says. "Looking back, if I have any regrets, it’s that I didn’t immediately embrace it for the wonderful opportunity it was."
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Over the years, the Daytime Emmy Award winner has seen his character evolve from "a much more reckless, much more womanizing cad" to someone who understands "empathy, honesty. He’s learned the value of family."
Bergman's early days playing Jack still rank among his favorite storylines – when he romanced Nikki solely so he could use her as a pawn to wrestle his family's company, Jabot, back from Victor Newman (Eric Braeden).
"As Jack is pretending to have fallen for Nikki and has her increasingly in his clutches, and just before it's time to consummate the deal, Jack realizes he's fallen in love with Nikki," Bergman recalls. "And he loses everything. He loses Nikki, he loses Jabot, and that was a fun, fun storyline."
The start of Jack's romance with Phyllis also stands out.
"She’s like nothing he grew up with. None of the girls from the country club were anything like this girl, and he was just so taken with her," Bergman says. "Their kind of clumsy, awkward stumbling trip to being married was a fun story to play with Michelle (Stafford)."
Bergman was less fond of other Jack narratives – including his romantic reunion with Luan, a woman he met while serving in Vietnam with whom he had a son. "Everyone knows that’s kind of a standard joke with Peter Bergman," he says. "Just bring up Keemo and he starts to wince." For Bergman, Jack's lookalike – found in a Peruvian prison – was also too "outlandish." He says he prefers "things that are based a little more in reality."
"The Young and the Restless," which premiered in 1973, has stood the test of time, while many other soaps have been canceled (including "All My Children"). Bergman attributes the show's longevity to the network's "mixed lineup" of game shows and soap operas and the show's ability to stay true to itself.
"When people tune into 'Y&R,' they know who they’re going to see on the show, and that's a critically important thing," he explains. "A lot of these shows keep trying to reinvent the wheel, transform themselves, bring in a whole new cast, and that has been to their detriment every single time. And 'Y&R' has learned from that lesson."
But there was a notable void left by Kristoff St. John's death in February. The actor, who had played Neil Winters since 1991, died from hypertrophic heart disease at age 52.
Bergman says the "shocking" death brought the cast "all closer."
"When we did (Neil's) memorial service, we had already been through a funeral. We had already done scenes where Neil died, but we had not as a company really come together to mourn this loss," he says. "It brought us all together in a really powerful way."
Bergman says months later, the cast is "doing OK," but St. John's presence is still felt.
On the set, "there are pictures of Kristoff all around, and we all stop and look," says Bergman. "We all take a moment to go and visit Kristoff on that set because he’s still very much a part of our 'Y&R' experience."
Bergman hopes his journey with the soap continues for as long as he remains passionate. "As long as I love it as much as I do at this moment, I’ll stay as long as there’s a show ... I still get excited every time I open a new script."
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This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: 'Young and the Restless': Peter Bergman on 30 years, outlandish plots