Doug Davidson joined Young and the Restless as Paul Williams in 1978. A few years later, the show expanded Davidson’s role by writing in a family for him. Davidson graced magazine covers and won fan-based awards while Paul’s popularity and his screen time increased. Towards the late 1980s, Y&R thrust him into his first adult storyline, the George Rawlins Murder Mystery, as the show rose to No. 1 in the ratings. Davidson spoke with Soap Hub about his exit.
Doug Davidson: The 411 on Paul Williams
The private eye was paired on-screen with many leading ladies over the years, most notably Lauren Fenmore (Tracey Bregman) and Christine Blair (Lauralee Bell). Viewers loved that Paul had a “helicopter” mother in Mary (Carolyn Conwell) and a gal Friday, Lynne (Laura Bryan Birn), who was not-so-secretly in love with him.
Davidson won the Daytime Emmy for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Drama Series in 2013 for his role as Genoa City’s police chief. Around the time of his 40th anniversary with the show, he was taken off contract. Davidson confirmed his status with the show on Twitter and has stayed in regular touch with his followers on social media platforms ever since. Recently, the actor cleared out his dressing room at TV City, the facility where not only Y&R shoots but also, until recently, The Price Is Right. (Davidson hosted the nighttime syndicated version of Price from September 1994 to January 1995.)
Now, the actor sits down with Soap Hub for an exclusive QA to set the record straight on what led to his departure from the top-rated CBS soap opera and addresses whether he’ll ever return.
It must have been a big moment to clear out your dressing room. How are you doing?
Doug Davidson: It was a good thing for me to do, actually. I had stuff in there. [The show] wanted it for another actor. But for those of us who remember CBS when it was known as the “Tiffany Network,” [the building] is nothing like it once was. It was so much easier to say goodbye than I thought it was.
I went in on a Saturday. I was looking for my pass to get in. I still haven’t found it. Matt [Kane, Y&Rs publicist/talent relations] was really kind. He met me there, and we went in. I didn’t see anyone else. It was empty because Price has already left. [Editor’s note: The longtime game show is now taping at a studio in Glendale, Calif.] There was no power anywhere. I went around with my cell phone [light]. As my wife [Cindy] pointed out, it was like visiting the Titanic. You could only see where your light was pointing. I also wanted to see Stage 33, which is where I hosted Price. From what I understand, they’re going to fill it in. That’s the only real television studio that is built for a live audience – not bleachers [but theater-style seating]. Everyone from Jack Benny to Carol Burnett did their shows there.
What belongings did you find in your room?
Doug Davidson: There were some framed magazine covers, all the stuff I had on the wall. My kids are 31 and 33 now. I had some crayons in a box from when I did Price, and they came with me on the weekends. We’d do five shows and then another five. There was an acrylic sign of “Doug and Lauralee” when she and I did the Hollywood Squares. There were some magazines that were 25 years old. I had my inflatable bed that I used for when I’d sleep over.
You had quite the commute from your home to Hollywood.
Doug Davidson: Yes. I got tired of the traffic. It got worse over the years. It used to be around 90 minutes to get from my home to the studio. But it eventually got to the point where it would take an hour and 15 minutes just to get to the freeway from the studio. I looked over at the Grove [an outdoor mall next to TV City], and Maggiano’s [restaurant] is gone. It was a shock to see all the changes as I drove along Beverly Boulevard. It’s remarkable how something that was so steady for so long could change so much.
When did you learn you were being taken off contract?
Doug Davidson: I don’t remember the exact date, but I got my notice in early December of 2018. But [changes] actually started when Bill [Bell] stepped down [as head writer in 1998].
Were you given a reason?
Doug Davidson: Jill [Farren Phelps, who came on in 2012] and I had a really good working relationship. They made her hire her replacement. I guess her replacement was doing what Sony [Pictures Television, which produces Y&R] had issued. He was the one that made the decision [to take me off contract]. He had a history of cutting legendary characters from his shows. He made the claim that nobody has to know [I’d been fired]. I went to a producer three times that year in April, June, and another time. I was saying if he doesn’t write for me, it’s going to raise a red flag. I’m under my guarantee. I was told not to worry.
There’s never a good time for this, but you were supposed to be celebrating your 40th anniversary on the show in 2018. There was no traditional on-set celebration.
Doug Davidson: I had my 20th when Bill [Bell] was there. It was a big deal. The network gave me a clock. Those [celebrations on-set] went away for a while because they were happening every 15 minutes. They had started again. I felt odd to celebrate my 40th when they took me off contract, essentially firing me. I was pretty stunned at the time. One day, I was watching the show, and there was a new face behind Paul’s desk in Paul’s office. That let out a firestorm on the Internet. At that point, I hadn’t heard from anyone from the show for over two months. What was I supposed to think? The producer [who let me go] was fired the following Christmas.
When Josh Griffith and Tony Morina took over as, respectively, head writer/co-executive producer and executive producer, Paul popped back up one day in the squad room. That was a positive sign you’d be back more often.
Doug Davidson: My last show was [taped] towards the end of October 2019…that was the end of it, until the 50th year.
That’s when Mamie, Nina, Danny, Leanna Love, and Gina all came back – but no Paul. What happened then?
Doug Davidson: I was contacted [by the show] about coming back. I had several Zoom meetings with Danielle [Unger, director of current, CBS]. She cares about the show. She was delightful, engaging, forthcoming, honest — everything you’d want to see. Josh [Griffith] was great. They said, “Well, we will set the ball [in motion]. I’m sure we can [find] a middle ground and have this taken care of.” I contacted my lawyer. He contacted Sony, and it was like they had no clue about [my talks with Josh and Danielle]. I felt there was a total disregard to my legal representation. My answer was, “No, thanks.”
It seems as if Danny [Michael Damian] and Christine are being revisited. Why not Paul and Lauren?
Doug Davidson: They didn’t start in 1978 [like I did]…what really set the show to No. 1 was the Cassandra [Nina Arvesen] storyline. I had the No. 1 TV Q [which measures familiarity and appeal] in all of daytime. Bill handed me the ball, and we powered it to No. 1. I was in every day. [Bill] spent money on going to Bermuda [for a location shoot]. He spent money everywhere. I think the proof was in the pudding.
Well, what I meant was that there’s got to be story for you, given all the relationships Paul has on the canvas.
Doug Davidson: There’s always story. There are plenty of story wheels that would work. But that’s not the reason [I’m not there]. Paul is more expensive than Danny. That’s what it’s all about.
Is there anything the show could do to bring you back?
Doug Davidson: At this point…probably not. It’ll be three years in October.
Who are you in touch with from the show?
Doug Davidson: I’ve heard from Tracey, Michelle [Stafford, Phyllis], and Peter [Bergman, Jack]. Eric [Braeden, Victor] and Lauralee have been a constant. They still talk to me. We’re still friends regardless of what’s happening with the show. I’ve been in contact with some of the production crew and directors, who have suffered the same. Don Jacob [retired Y&R stage manager] came up, and we had lunch. My story is not specific to me. There are plenty of people who have been treated poorly and not appreciated. It’s not just our industry, either.
Victor has had lines asking about Paul Williams’s whereabouts. I can’t swear that they are adlibs, but they might be.
Doug Davidson: (Laughs) It could be. I know Melody [Thomas Scott, Nikki] at a meeting early on said, “Is he on the show or off the show?” Eric is probably my best male friend on the show. Lauralee would be my best female friend on the show.
Chris and Paul have split – off-camera. There are Y&R fans who don’t go online. All they know is that Paul is gone. There’s no real closure. Would you go back to help provide that?
Doug Davidson: I understand. That’s something you’d need to talk to Sony about. Paul could do this or that [on the show]. That’s not the issue. It’s the issue of [money]. I think Danielle is really committed to the show.
Do you have any other thoughts?
Doug Davidson: I’m indebted to [Y&R co-creators] Lee and Bill Bell and everything that they did for the show and for me, personally. It was not my place to complain when you have such a brilliant writer [meaning Bill]. You’ve got a 30-year-old man being nagged by his mother [Mary, Carolyn Conwell], but people loved it. He knew they loved it.
I was reminded of a “Bill” moment when I saw an NBA player [Bam Adebayo of the Miami Heat] giving an interview post-game. His phone rang. It was his mommy. There’s an insight that Bill just knew. All we had to do was find out how to get there. He always had something that had major gravitas and deep roots. He named a gun shop after his sister Mary’s last name — Neuenschwander. Paul’s mother’s pot roast or sauerkraut recipe. It was a different time than when other writers come in and say they weren’t character-driven.
Another supporting player who made Paul a stronger character was his secretary Lynne, who was hopelessly in love with him.
Doug Davidson: [Lynne] came up to Paul one day and said, “We’ve lost our [office] lease. We’re done!” But you’re right – what does [losing Lynne] buy them? They got rid of Paul’s office. It’s all being destroyed by trying to save a nickel.
Had you ever thought about going to another show?
Doug Davidson: No. I felt blessed to be where I was. When I was asked to go to Santa Barbara, Paul Rauch [the producer there at the time] said to me, “You’re not ready to leave. Are you?” He was a character. He came onto our show [as executive producer] and had the decency to call me to say, “They’re cutting you again.” It wasn’t until Jill came in that [I] got back to something decent.
How does the outpouring of support from fans on social media make you feel?
Doug Davidson: Unbelievably warm. I feel the love. It’s not their fault, either. When you get some of the haters on there, they get swamped. They’re forced to disappear. I had to have people tell me about “bots” and how they work. I was totally oblivious to any negative energy that’s created by things I don’t understand. Y&R viewers have been incredibly supportive. They’re the only reason I’m on social media anymore – their commitment, support, and love. I can’t say enough about them.