Tuesday, March 26, 2013

General Hospital: One Fan’s Perspective on the Casting Carousel

Yesterday daytime media venues and fans were all atwitter (pun intended) over the news that General Hospital head writer Ron Carlivati plans to use Michael Easton (John McBain), Roger Howarth (Todd Manning) and Kristen Alderson (Starr Manning) in new and completely different roles, as seemingly the issues with Prospect Park, who owns the characters, cannot be resolved. While I have complete admiration for Carlivati as the man who saved General Hospital from near-complete destruction and almost certain cancellation – and I sympathize with the actors who play the roles – I believe this is the wrong move for the show.

Quick history: McBain and the two Mannings were all tent-pole characters on Carlivati’s One Life to Live, which was ABC’s soap opera ratings leader when it was canceled by then-ABC Daytime President Brian Frons, an even bigger daytime villain than Mikkos Cassadine. ABC then sold the rights to OLTL and its sister cancelled show, All My Children (AMC), to an entity called Prospect Park, which promised to revive the shows online. Carlivati and his OLTL producer, Frank Valentini, both signed with Prospect Park to run the online version of OLTL. After signing several actors from both shows, Prospect Park was unable to make further headway in bringing them online, and the deals seemingly fell apart. General Hospital wisely snapped up both Valentini and Carlivati, who brought Easton, Howarth, and Alderson over in their OLTL roles.

At first, this was a controversial move. General Hospital fans objected to the OLTL characters coming and seemingly taking over their show. Their protests died, however, when the true talents of the Ron/Frank partnership revealed themselves. Not only did the three OLTL characters take up minimal air space in Port Charles, General Hospital’s fictional town, but the two – longtime GH fans from the Gloria Monty era – brought back many fan favorites from bygone eras and shoved the show-eating mob to the background. Ratings exploded, and longtime fans who’d abandoned the show years ago, such as this writer, returned in droves.

Then Prospect Park returned from the dead, and they wanted their characters back. It turned out that McBain, Todd and Starr had only been loaned to GH, and now that OLTL had come back to life after all, Prospect Park saw these three characters as vitally important to the show’s online success. But Easton, Howarth, and Alderson are all under contract to GH, and, understandably so, did not want to leave a very successful daytime drama and their new lives in California to gamble on a lower-paying, on-line entity.

There should have been a way to work this out. ABC and Prospect Park should have been able to come to some kind of agreement to share these actors, maybe even offering some GH actors to visit OLTL as well. After all, who wouldn’t want to see Natalie and Sam go head to head over John? Such visits would encourage GH-only fans to tune into these shows online.

Unfortunately, as it now stands, it looks like OLTL will be recasting these characters, which are pivotal roles in OLTL’s Llanview. This will hurt OLTL’s viewership, as fans are always disappointed when shows are forced to recast favorite actors. And GH, which wants to retain the three actors, will be creating three new characters for them. Because of the lack of licensing agreements, the new characters cannot have any relation to the former ones – i.e., no sudden, secret twins.

Despite the proven talents of the Frank/Ron partnership, this decision has the potential for disaster. At the least, it’s a head-scratcher. While McBain, Todd and Starr all fit in nicely in Port Charles, each only really impacted one character – Sam, Carly and Michael. Their goodbyes were well scripted and the GH characters will be able to live their lives smoothly without them. GH has so many characters on its canvas now – and the promise of more legacy returns – that their absences won’t be that keenly felt.

So why the three new characters? Of course I feel bad for the actors caught in the middle, but they have roles in New York waiting for them and presumably some ability to work out an agreement to play their characters on both shows. All three actors are talented, charming and attractive. But to bring in three new characters in a non-organic way and then either ignore or play up their resemblances to three other characters who just left town are not the ingredients for storytelling magic. Indeed, GH fans just had to sit through another storyline that was based on Easton and Kelly Monaco playing against each other on the long-defunct show Port Charles, and there was a lot of headscratching about why McBain and Sam looked so much like Caleb and Livvie, respectively. (And the show never did resolve who Livvie was, since Kevin denied ever having a daughter.) To see that times three sounds like a headache, yet to ignore the resemblance seems impossible.

Yes, actors have been brought back to shows they have left in new characters many times. It’s almost always been an actor who was extremely popular in the show he left, playing a never-before-heard-of long-lost twin. And these stories almost always fizzle out, leaving the actor once again without a job or playing the original character. Now imagine this happening, times three. Even more complicated, none of these characters will be allowed to have any connection to the original character due to the licensing agreement (i.e, Howarth will not be allowed to play his presumed-dead twin, Victor, or a newly created triplet, Lord.) Simply put, Easton, Howarth, and Alderson are not that important to General Hospital to justify jumping through all those storytelling hoops – but they are on OLTL.

Yes, Ron/Frank are geniuses and if anyone can pull this off, it would be them. But I’d much rather have the genius happening at the higher administrative level, and for ABC and Prospect Park to work out a deal where the characters can appear on both shows. Otherwise, I think it makes more sense for General Hospital to cut its losses and let Sam, Carly and Michael find new love interests who don’t look like the people they just said goodbye to.

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