This is something I’ve been thinking about a lot over the last few months, and particularly the last few weeks as criticism of General Hospital’s casting methods has been highlighted.
In case you live under a rock on #soaptwitter, beloved icon of daytime, Genie Francis was unceremoniously dumped off contract and basically forced out, igniting the rage of pretty much everyone. Love or hate her, Laura was in the middle of an intense front burner storyline and running for mayor with her history as her platform. To lose her in the middle of this story without warning was simply stunning. At the same time, new characters have been introduced with either questionable acting skills or little purpose in the story (Peter August and who ever the hell Greg Evigan is playing, I haven’t paid enough attention to care about his name).
Look, writing for soaps is hard, y’all, and I’m the first person to admit it. It’s easy to throw stones from our couches, but under the best of circumstances, juggling a huge canvas is ridiculous hard and it’s clear that many of these new characters are top-down decisions. I don’t see the writers going to management and saying hey we’re writing this story, we need someone — it’s clearly “Here’s someone. Fit him in.”
Nothing else explains the revolving door of characters Michael Easton is playing. If they wanted ME so much, why did they kill Silas Clay in the first place? Or the million redemption arcs that Roger Howarth is stuck playing with Franco. If they want Roger so bad, let them kill off Franco and give him Todd or another character. I digress.
I’m currently writing my own version of GH (Damaged) and even with complete creative control and a limitless budget (heh) it’s ridiculously hard to balance history, characters, and stories, and the process of writing it has made me wonder what actually makes soap characters work. Why do some characters become popular and why do others fade from memory?
I think about my own favorite new characters in the twenty years I’ve been watching. Most of them were tied to legacy characters who were immediately given good material, had chemistry with their costars, and filled a niche the show was missing.
Elizabeth showed up in 1997 as the granddaughter of Audrey and Steve, and the daughter of Jeff Webber. She was a triple-hitting legacy with a connection to recent transplant, Sarah Webber. Sarah wasn’t working, thought I don’t think they knew that at the time Becky was cast. It only became evident once they gave Becky the storyline of a lifetime — her 1998 rape and recovery. Within a year of joining the show, Elizabeth was a fan favorite and part of a popular teen couple, Liz and Lucky. But they gave her scenes with Lucky, Nikolas, Audrey, and Ruby. Her early stories in those first six months weren’t great, but Becky lit up the screen.
Dillon was introduced in March or April 2003. He was initially on recurring and was connected as the son of Tracy Quartermaine. We also knew he existed from the mid-90s on, which helped. But nothing prepared GH execs for how quickly Scott Clifton took over the shaky teen scene. On his first day, they also aired the first scene with Dillon and Georgie, a couple that remains as popular as Karen and Jagger, Liz and Lucky. He was given a contract shortly after he started airing.
Patrick arrived in December 2005, and literally from the moment he showed up, Jason Thompson took over the show. He was the leading man for a decade and his absence is felt even two years later as his replacement, Griffin, is lovely but no Patrick Drake. But Patrick was immediately utilized and showcased in his best possible light: Lightning hit with Robin and Patrick, and he also had a great historical connection to Noah Drake. Kudos to the show for getting Rick Springfield to come back for a stint. Jason Thompson had chemistry with everyone he worked with, and made bad storylines look good.
What makes Patrick’s popularity even more incredible is that he came on the show as a contract character and immediately became a leading man. He led the way in Jason’s surgery story, the quarantine, the transplant–and I don’t know anyone who complained that they had too much Patrick. They needed a romantic leading man who wasn’t Jason and Sonny, and GH wanted to capitalize on the popularity of Grey’s Anatomy, so they went out and they found their own Daytime McDreamy.
All three of those characters have similar things that made them worked:
- They were immediately tied to existing characters in meaningful and believable ways. Sons and daughters.
- They were played by incredibly talented performers.
- They were given scenes with legacy characters.
- They had chemistry with a variety of cast members in platonic, familial, and romantic ways.
- They filled holes in the existing GH cast or took over for weaker, recurring actors. (Rebecca’s Elizabeth replaced Jennifer Sky’s Sarah, Scott Clifton replaced CJ Thomason’s Lucas [though I argue CJ wasn’t the problem, the lack of teen girls he wasn’t related to was], and GH had no leading doctor in the cast).
You look at the new characters brought on in the last five years and you just don’t see that same combination of factors for a lot of them.
Julian Jerome is played by William DeVry, and he meets some of those factors. He was a returning legacy character, DeVry is incredibly talented, and he was tied to Sam as her father. Julian and Alexis worked as couple in a lot of respects, though that’s obviously up for debate and they’re incredibly problematic.
But Julian doesn’t really work with the rest of the cast. That comes through in the awkward way they’re using him now as a pub owner, ranting at Ned about his privilege or the weird, forced scenes with Tamara Braun’s Kim Nero. We don’t need a mob boss — we have Sonny. We don’t need another redeemed villain (we’re overkill on that), and he doesn’t have any real relationships outside of Alexis, Sam, and Ava.
Jordan Ashford should work. I like the actress–none of the problems are with her. But we didn’t need a kick ass female police commissioner. We had Anna. And I’d argue that most of the time, Jordan is an idiot. And she was only tangentially connected to the rest of the canvas. Sean Butler and TJ Ashford were fine, but no one was clamoring for more of them or relatives.
I really honestly like Curtis and they’ve done a better job fitting him into the cast — he works really well with Drew, and I like his scenes with TJ. I’m just not sure they always know what to do with him outside of his small little universe.
Let’s not even talk about Stella who plays no role at all except passive-aggressive pain in the ass.
I would suggest that probably only Griffin hits some of the points above. He was needed when Jason Thompson left; Matt Cohen is reasonable talented, and he does well in most of his scenes. I just don’t think they know what to do with him either. He’s wasted on a this whiny, redeemed Ava Jerome.
I could go on — Kim and Oscar Nero — you didn’t need them to tell this story about Drew. Not at this point. Unless Kim is some sort of ubervillain, they play no role in furthering this story. They didn’t serve as any kind of complication. They writers not using Kim effectively as the hospital or giving her anything interesting to do except smile and look reasonable around Carly. She doesn’t particularly have any of the old chemistry that Tams had with any of her old castmates. She’s just blah.
And Oscar? Lord love him, but he looks dead behind the eyes. Eden McCoy’s Joss can’t even save this kid.
When you look at the history of the characters that broke out and became popular, they had those five elements. Carly was played by the incredible Sarah Brown, we needed a femme fatale to shake things up, Sarah literally lit up the screen with everyone she worked with, she was tied to Bobbie and Tony, given scenes with Jason, AJ, and Robin. She just worked from the get. Even if you didn’t like Carly, her storyline potential with Sarah was through the roof.
Carly is also a rare character in that two of her three recasts have also been gold. Tams and Laura turned this character into a mainstay legacy, and Laura redefined who Carly was. It’s hard to imagine GH without her, love or hate Carly.
It’s not a coincidence that the characters and actors who enjoy insanely popular fanbases have those elements. Elizabeth, Dillon, Patrick, Carly. You can also go back to the Quartermaines in the late 1970s, the Cassadines in the mid 1990s, and to a lesser extent, because they didn’t last long enough to leave a long legacy – the Zaccharas in the late 00s. Alan, Monica, Edward, Lila, Tracy, Stefan, Nikolas, and Alexis are popular characters that, save Stefan, drove stories for over a decade if not more. Because GH cast the right people as the right characters at the right time.
The characters that stick — the characters that people come back for — are the ones that are talented, tied to the GH history, fill a needed role on the show, and have chemistry with everything they touch.
Viewers know what work. And they know what doesn’t. The way GH is currently casting and writing in characters isn’t working.