NEW YORK — When "The Young and the Restless" climbed to the top of the daytime drama ratings, there were 13 soap operas on the air. Now there are four.

The CBS drama just marked week No. 1,248, or 24 years, at the top, the Nielsen Co. said. The series about the fictional Wisconsin town of Genoa City has been on the air since 1973, and its inhabitants are doing a little celebrating.

"It's definitely not something that we take for granted," said Angelica McDaniel, senior vice president of daytime for CBS.

"The Young and the Restless" had nearly 4.4 million viewers last week. Its streak has been going on so long that Nielsen has no reliable estimates of the actual audience size when the victory streak began. CBS marks the victories in Nielsen's household rating measurement, which estimates how many homes are tuned in to the show instead of viewers.

Although "The Young and the Restless" is the only one of the four soap operas where viewership is down compared with last year, there appears little immediate chance that another show will overtake it soon, said Carolyn Hinsey, a veteran chronicler of daytime dramas and author of "Afternoon Delight: Why Soaps Still Matter."

CBS' "The Bold and the Beautiful" is second in the ratings and ABC's "General Hospital," while third, has been gaining viewers most rapidly, she said.

"The Young and the Restless" has a number of veteran actors that viewers are accustomed to, like Jeanne Cooper, Eric Braeden, Melody Thomas Scott and Peter Bergman.

"That provides a continuity that other soaps didn't have," Hinsey said, "and soap fans hate change."

The show has long been the "best-looking" soap with its wardrobe, sets and makeup, she said.

"That makes it more of an escape than some other soaps," she said.

McDaniel said relevant storytelling and multigenerational characters have helped "The Young and the Restless" maintain its appearance.

The daytime drama field, which also includes NBC's "Days of Our Lives," has been constricting over the past two decades, with fewer viewers at home to watch them and networks interested in less expensive programming during the daytime.



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