General Hospital

General Hospital: The Introduction of New Characters

This entry is part 1 of 5 in the series General Hospital Commentary

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:

  1. They were immediately tied to existing characters in meaningful and believable ways. Sons and daughters.
  2. They were played by incredibly talented performers.
  3.  They were given scenes with legacy characters.
  4. They had chemistry with a variety of cast members in platonic, familial, and romantic ways.
  5. 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.

General Hospital

How Genie Francis Inspired My Life’s Work

This entry is part 2 of 5 in the series General Hospital Commentary

If you know me in real life, the first thing you usually learn about me is I am obsessed with history. I study it in graduate school, I’m pursuing it as my teaching certification, and historical fiction and nonfiction are my favorite genres.

I can actually pinpoint the moment that I fell in love with history. It was July or August 1992, and I had just turned eight years old. I was at my grandmother’s house, and my uncle popped in a VHS of North and South. Not the amazing BBC production, but the fantastic 1980s miniseries with Patrick Swayze, James Read, Robert Mitchum…and Genie Francis.

I was captivated almost immediately by the story of Orry Main and George Hazard becoming friends at West Point in the early 1840s — Orry was the son of a slave-owning cotton producer from South Carolina, and George was the son of a steel mill owner from Pennsylvania. They became friends, fought in the Mexican War, and struggled to maintain their bonds as the section divide in the country grew throughout the 1850s.

But Brett Maine, Orry’s little sister, was my favorite character. Played to perfection by the effervescent Genie Francis, fresh from stardom as Laura Spencer on General Hospital (N&S aired in 1984 originally with sequels in 1985 and a very bad one in 1994). I did not know Genie as Laura. I was born in 1984, and she and Luke had already left the show.

Brett fell in love with George’s brother, Billy, and their love story was my first OTP. My first obsession. I started to write stories about them at the age of eight because my VHS collection was incomplete and I didn’t know how their story ended until my grandfather finally unearthed the endings. I started writing because of Genie Francis. I fell in love with history because of Genie Francis.

I used to wrap blankets around my waist and swan around the room like I was living in that time period. I was only eight, but reading far above my grade level, so I badgered my parents until they started buying me John Jakes novels. I tore through all the historical fiction he had to offer — the North & South trilogy, the Kent Family Chronicles, and any thing else he pretty much wrote until around 2001.

When Luke and Laura came back to General Hospital in 1994, my mother was excited — she’d grown up watching them fall in love and get married. I was excited, because oh my God, Brett Maine was going to be on my screen every single day. I loved Laura Spencer. And through her, I fell in love with Lucky Spencer. And then Elizabeth Webber came along. General Hospital had already been in my life because of my mother watching, but it wasn’t until the Spencers came home that I paid more attention. Not every day — I was only ten and I still had school. My memories of the show before 1994 are scattershot–I have so many more memories between 1994-97 before I started watching on my own and seeking it out.

I can’t be the only one with a Genie Francis story, or a Laura Spencer story. She’s been in our lives too long. It breaks my heart that her talent and her loyalty to the show that she put on the map, that she made relevant doesn’t treasure her. The brass at ABC obviously thought Anthony Geary was the true draw of the couple, but after Laura left in 2002, I never liked Luke as much. He was elevated by being in the same room as Genie, and Luke’s most redeemable quality was his love and devotion to Laura.  Without Laura, Luke had no heart.

And dumping daytime royalty to recurring, blindsiding the actress and the fans in the middle of an amazing front-burner storyline that used a lot of characters and history, this proves that without Genie and Laura, General Hospital also has no heart.

General Hospital

The “Yes, But Your Boy Did This” Defense

This entry is part 3 of 5 in the series General Hospital Commentary

Note: If you like Franco and don’t enjoy hearing criticism of his character, you’re gonna wanna turn away. Because I’m not hash-tagging this with the Friz tag this time. I’m not in the mood on this subject. We can debate his redemption story all you want, but I just can’t anymore with this sexual assault crap.

Update: Edited for typos because I wrote in a rush while I was trying to get ready for work.

The other day, General Hospital’s Twitter feed asked if Franco deserves Elizabeth’s love. I responded that no, he didn’t. He’s a sexual predator and I’ll never buy the tumor storyline.

I get it. The show wrote him a redemption storyline that worked for a lot of people. Good. That’s how fiction works. Something works for you. Doesn’t work for everyone. And for a lot of us, there was no redemption that could be written to make the Elizabeth and Franco pairing palatable. We don’t have to debate that. My reasons are my reasons, and I’m allowed to have them.

What absolutely drives me crazy is the response to the statement that Franco is a sexual predator, because it’s often a variation on the same theme. The “Yes, But Your Boy Did This” Defense. It exists in real life, and we’re seeing constantly to deflect from sexual misconduct accusations.

When I talk about hating that Franco is lying to Elizabeth, I get but Elizabeth lied too!  Great. That has literally nothing to do with this story.

When I talk about Franco being a sexual predator, I get two responses:

1. He didn’t actually sexually assault Sam, and he didn’t want Michael to get raped.

2. Yes, but your boy did this.

We’ll come back to number 2, but let’s dispense with number one right now. We can set aside the Michael storyline because Franco didn’t literally do that and it’s facilitation at best. So, you know what? You can take that off the chalk board. Score one for you.

He absolutely, unequivocally, without question sexually assaulted Sam. And he made Jason watch.

Sexual assault does not require penetration. And I’m sorry, I think we only have Franco’s word that he didn’t rape Sam. The fact that he’s not Danny’s father doesn’t mean anything to me. It just means there’s no biological evidence. (And I would love them for to revisit that because I’m pretty sure we’re still taking Todd Manning’s word for it on the paternity test. Feel free to correct me.)

You can come at me with your brain tumor nonsense, and I’ll just repeat the name Manny Ruiz until I die. Because they used the same storyline, only Manny Ruiz wasn’t played by a high profile contract player and Franco is. That’s the difference. If Franco were anyone else, the brain tumor would already be a smoke shield.

Also, the brain tumor doesn’t work on another level: He’s still a sociopath. His entire world is built on how people reflect on him. People only matter to him if they can do something for him. Elizabeth and the boys? Make him presentable. Respectable. I believe he even loves Elizabeth. But look at how what happens when he doubts her. He immediately turns on her. Puts her on the defensive. Makes her feel guilty. That’s toxic.

So yeah, the brain tumor didn’t change his brain chemistry. It only allowed him to better control his impulses. Those impulses are there. They were there when Franco helped Nina kidnap a baby, humiliate Carly in front of her nine-year-old daughter, and bury his mother alive. Not to mention, he threatened to kill Carly.

You can argue that Carly and Heather deserved what they got — but that doesn’t change the fact that Franco did it.  People deserve a lot of things. That doesn’t mean you do it.

Franco absolutely sexually assaulted Sam. And the brain tumor doesn’t work for me.

BECAUSE MANNY RUIZ HAD THE SAME BRAIN TUMOR. All it did was make him question himself. Ultimately, Manny went back to his old life and impulses.

And if Franco has nothing to lose? If he thinks Elizabeth is walking away from him? He already lied to her when she didn’t even give him a reason to distrust her. When happens if and when she actually goes? Look what he did to Carly for leaving him? You think Elizabeth isn’t in for a rude awakening?

But let’s get back to the number two defense of Franco. Yes, but your boy did this. 

Yes, but Jason is a killer.

Yes, but Sam kidnapped Jake.

Yes, but Elizabeth lied.

Yes, but Sonny had Karen stripping underage.

Yes, but…

Listen. All of those things are true. And we could spend hours here talking about those characters. I probably will.

That’s called deflection. Your boy is a sexual predator. When you come at me with this “but your boy did this” crap, I don’t hear you disagreeing. I hear you changing the subject.

Your boy is a sexual predator. He sexually assaulted Sam. He still has violent urges. And his violent urges are pretty goddamn sick.

Yeah, Jason and Sonny are violent men too. And Sonny’s history with Karen is problematic, let’s just leave him out of this because Sonny drives me crazy anyway.

You know what you can’t say about Jason? He’s not a sexual predator. And calling him a killer is unsophisticated view of the entire character history of Jason Morgan in general. So until my boy is anywhere near the savage animal that Franco is, I leave you with this:

Your boy is a sexual predator.

General Hospital

The Elizabeth Webber Conundrum

This entry is part 4 of 5 in the series General Hospital Commentary

Born in the mid 1980s, I have a handful of early television memories. I remember wearing out the VHS tape watching Bambi, begging to rent Lady Lovely Locks from the indie video store my aunt worked at, and Katherine Bell being poisoned on General Hospital some time in 1993. According to my mother who started watching in the heyday of Luke & Laura in 1979, I’ve been watching General Hospital since I was in the womb.

General Hospital is a member of my family. I love this show because it’s been in my life since birth. It’s part of my family tradition. We also have fights and long estrangements, and I often disapprove of the hella poor life choices my family member makes, but you don’t get to pick your family. That’s the magic of soap operas and why the medium refuses to die out. It’s why fans who love the show bitch about it and still watch.

I already had a decent history with General Hospital by the time Rebecca Herbst showed up as spunky spitfire Elizabeth Imogene Webber on August 1, 1997 when I was fourteen years old. I had watched Audrey get brain surgery earlier that summer when Port Charles premiered and had rolled my eyes as Sarah Webber came to town, and for some reason, Lucky Spencer and Nikolas Cassadine feuded over her.

Elizabeth was a troublemaker who never took any shit from anyone. She went after what she wanted. Lied, manipulated people, and even cheated to make people look at her and not her perfect sister. She wanted Lucky and went after him.

I loved Elizabeth Webber from the second she came on screen.

I had watched in a half-hearted manner before that summer — Jonathan Jackson was my first celebrity crush; Jason Morgan and Robin Scorpio were my first OTP. But nothing captured me in my teen-aged years like Elizabeth Webber, and by extension, her relationship with Jonathan’s Lucky. Even though Elizabeth hated the nickname Lizzie, the fans called them LL2 because we saw them as the second coming of Luke and Laura, even before the rape storyline catapulted them into General Hospital history. Though I’ve moved on from my LL2.1 to being a firm Liason fangirl, there’s a special place in my heart for 1997-99 LL2.

For the last twenty years, I’ve watched General Hospital and loved many characters. Patrick Drake. Dillon Quartermaine. Jason Morgan. Carly Corinthos. Georgie Jones. Damien Spinelli. Johnny Zacchara. Nadine Crowell. But no one has ever eclipsed Elizabeth as my favorite character. Her character was about the same age as me, and I always felt like she and I were growing up together.

But as the years passed, I started to think maybe I was only loving Elizabeth because of that nostalgia. I hated the way they made her look when she married Ric Lansing in 2003, and then again later that year. I hated the way they had her lie to Jason about paternity and put up with all of Lucky’s insecurities. I hated the affair with Nikolas. I hated her lie to Jake Doe.

And I loathe Elizabeth’s relationship with Franco. I don’t care what they do to the character or how much I genuinely enjoy Roger Howarth. It doesn’t change anything for me. She’s a rape survivor, and he’s a sexual predator. The tumor argument didn’t work for Manny Ruiz, and I don’t believe it now.

I was starting to feel disconnected from this character who had meant so much to me and starting to wonder if I could continue calling myself a #LizFanFirst as I had somehow been able to do through LL2.2 (Jacob Young) and LL2.3 (Greg Vaughan) and LiRic. And Niz. The Friz relationship seemed to be my breaking point.

And then I took a step back. And I thought about a project I’ve been working on.

I’m writing a story, Mad World, set during the summer of 2003. It’s a rewrite of the panic room and its aftermath. Part of the story has Elizabeth attending therapy session with Gail Baldwin, and I’ve been using Brene Brown’s Rising Strong as a map for the sessions. This book talks about vulnerability and shame, and trying to be kinder to yourself when you’re struggling.

I was rereading a passage I wrote over the summer the other day:

Elizabeth took a deep breath. “Somewhere along the way…I decided it was difficult to love me, and that most of the time, people didn’t think I was worth the effort. That’s why…they left. Or forgot me. Or moved on. That I’m high maintenance or something. Or that I just…there’s something inside me that makes it impossible to say forever and mean it.”

I’ve always argued that the core of Elizabeth’s character comes back to her rape. Not because she hasn’t moved on from it in a lot of ways, but that the show has missed the opportunity to talk about that development and how the rape tied in with her back story.

She came to Port Charles after Sarah when her parents went to Europe to work with Doctors Without Borders. She was sent to neighbors. Sarah got to stay with family. She even later tells Jason that her parents gave up a fellowship when her mother got pregnant with Elizabeth, and Elizabeth has felt her parents didn’t think she was worth it.

Elizabeth had to lie and break the rules to get to PC. Everyone looked at her and found her wanting. Even Lucky. After the rape, that really only changed for Lucky. Audrey and Sarah didn’t really adjust their thinking, and it goes without saying that Elizabeth ought to feel some serious abandonment issues with her parents. And then Lucky died. And Jason left. And when Lucky came back, she clung to him even when she knew she didn’t love him.

And she walked away from Jason, but stayed with Ric. Fought for Ric. Fought for Lucky. She never fought as hard for Jason as she did for Ric or Lucky. Or now as she defends Franco. She didn’t fight for Nikolas or AJ either in those relationships. But Ric, Lucky, and Franco? Arguably her most self-destructive romantic choices in the last fifteen years? Elizabeth continually gave them second chances. Continually believed their lies and manipulations.

Even now, her instincts should be telling her not to trust Franco. That if she thought about it, he’s been telling half-truths about the twin situation for months. But she continues to champion him.

Is that love?

No. For Franco, it’s a toxic outgrowth of his sociopathy.

For Elizabeth?

I don’t think Elizabeth knows what love is. She measures it by the people who want to stay.

Gail hesitated and then set her notepad aside. “Words have a power. Saying something gives it life. You can’t deal with something until you’ve made it real. And to be honest, Elizabeth, this is what we’ve been working towards for the last six weeks.”

“Yeah?” Elizabeth tilted her head. “Yeah, okay, I guess that makes sense. I made so many choices out of fear of being alone, but I guess…I never thought about why I didn’t want to be alone. Why was I so desperate for Lucky to love me? For Jason to put me first? For Ric to give up his vendetta against Sonny? Why would I have…ignored all my instincts and stay when my feelings weren’t there? I agreed to marry Lucky and Ric and I didn’t really love either of them.” She rolled her shoulders. “And I did it because they were going to stay. And God, I guess that was…I guess I was measuring love by whether someone stuck.”

She looked out the window. “I should have found another way to measure it, I guess. It should be more than someone who doesn’t go away.”

My Elizabeth figured this out in 2003. Unfortunately, the real Elizabeth is still measuring love by the people who stay in 2017.

Let’s hope 2018 brings her something different.

Along with an assload of therapy.


NaNoWriMo Nov 2018: Day 3

This entry is part 5 of 5 in the series General Hospital Commentary

I’m going to keep this short and sweet tonight because that cold I’ve been arguing with showed up today and I spent most of the day in bed. I didn’t want to let today go completely, so I managed a short Elizabeth scene in Chapter Two and about 637 words, bringing my total to 4149 words. This puts me a bit under par for the month, but I’m confident once I get rid of this cold, I’ll be back on track.