In a period of 24 hours starting on September 14th (I'm sure a record was broken), it was announced that ABC's General Hospital lost 3 actors: Tyler Christopher ("Nikolas Cassadine"), Bryan Craig ("Morgan Corinthos") and Teresa Castillo ("Sabrina Santiago"). The former 2 won Daytime Emmys just 6 months ago for Outstanding Lead and Younger Actor in a Drama Series, respectively. Christopher originated his role as an heir of a wealthy, unbalanced royal family in 1996. He's left the series twice; the second time he was unexpectedly let go in 2011 and fans rallied for a reversal, not seeing him again until 2013. Christopher was temporarily replaced during a sabbatical this summer, while Nikolas faked his death, only to be shot by Valentin Cassadine (portrayed by James Patrick Stuart) and presumed dead again. There wasn't a formal send-off with a wrapped-up storyline, flashy funeral and sentimental montages, as Christopher said in late July he thought he'd return to set in September. Somewhere in that short month and a half, contract negotiations reportedly fell through. Bryan Craig came on the scene in 2013 as the first actor to play an aged Morgan Corinthos. His performance was applauded out of the gate, with him nabbing a Daytime Emmy nomination in his first year and consecutively since. He chose to leave the series, stating he felt it was "the right time." Castillo arrived a year before Craig, as a nerdy duckling-turned-swan nurse with a heart of gold. Apparently, it was a writing choice that led to the actress' contract not being renewed; her character was strangled by the hospital serial killer (9/14). Sabrina joins the long list of newer figures to not stick around for the long haul or full-time. With the extremes of a veteran actor and freshman talent, these departures bring attention to GH's secret elephant of a problem: they aren't building for the future.
As I wrote in my "We Need Tyler Christopher Back on General Hospital!" petition mission statement (click here if you'd like to sign it), legacy characters/actors are the backbone of a soap opera. They are the threads in the tapestry and help maintain a sense of familiarity. That said, they should be regarded with great care and respect. However, 30+ year personas (ex. Monica Quartermaine, Lucy Coe, Laura Spencer & Kevin Collins) are given little or nothing to do, while the 10-20-year class is allowed to walk--sometimes in the middle of a front-burner storyline-- as if they're dispensable. In 2016 alone, contract impasses saw Jason Thompson ("Dr. Patrick Drake") heading over to CBS' The Young & The Restless, Rebecca Herbst ("Elizabeth Webber") almost out, and now Christopher. It might be unfair or inaccurate to say there isn't reverence, but it feels like the attitude is that we viewers should just be glad to see the older-set, even though they're treated like relics instead of legends with these barely-there plots. Further, when actors don't seem to be fought for, it makes you wonder if they're valued by the honchos. How can you lay the groundwork for the next generation if you let the foundation, from which they'd launch, fall out? That is...if they ever launch.
There's been an effort to broaden and add to GH's canvas (ex. there's been more minority-race casting in recent years than in the last decade), but that's where it stops. New characters are cut off at the knees, never to blossom into proper supporting players because they're habitually used as romantic placeholders, props, plot-devices, side-kicks and air-time fillers. Promising storylines are abandoned and/or characterizations are altered in an unfavorable way. The mixed reaction to Sabrina's death online, for instance, was all about what they didn't do with the part. Numerous comments on Twitter were in the frame of "She was useless anyway" or "It's a shame because she had potential." Sabrina was never given her own tale. She spent the first-half of her tenure helping Patrick lick his wounds until his wife (and true love) came back from the dead, and the second-half championing Michael Corinthos through a breakup with Kiki Jerome and a custody battle over his half-sister. Consequently, most followers she had weren't exclusively hers--they were interested in her as long as she was with their guy; otherwise, they weren't paying attention. It was only legitimately about her twice: 1) when she tried to cause Ava Jerome's miscarriage to avenge her own, and 2) when she went on the run with the only link to her past in the cast, Carlos Rivera (Jeffrey Vincent Parise). The miscarriage angle was a flash-in-the-pan unfortunately, and the other was wildly whipped up for Castillo's maternity leave. That was another issue--rather than creating clever and convenient exits, both of Castillo's pregnancies were written in, causing Sabrina's life to be deconstructed repeatedly. Determined to work again as a nurse, Sabrina pronounced to Michael that she needed to have her "own life." I thought that meant she would finally get a meaningful day in the sun, but in actuality, the sun was setting. One of many missed opportunities, in my opinion. As TV Guide magazine's Michael Logan tweeted, Castillo is a "lovely, luminous actress." Parise was wasted too; Carlos was a plot-device hot potato, passed around to fill in several stories and recklessly killed twice.
A legal Morgan might have come on with Kiki, but he was clearly just her welcome mat: she ran off to be the daughter of a major villain (Franco) and a long-lost Quartermaine (albeit temporarily), and eventually dumped Morgan for his big brother. The writers changed Kiki's DNA and her characterization (from an unsophisticated and mouthy horndog, to a sanitized princess) to make the new match feasible. Sonny encouraged Michael to pursue Kiki, and Carly--who's usually a "mama bear"-- never protested. This, coupled with Sonny outing a huge secret of Morgan's, made him feel even more like a family outsider. As opposed to exploring heartbreak and isolation (and what it can make you do), Morgan's subsequent string of bad decisions were painted as the root of him being inherently flawed, ignorant, impulsive and immoral. Once that was the going narrative, it didn't change. There was never any balance or conceptualizations about shared responsibility, poor parenting and loyalty. Sonny, Kiki and Michael had all betrayed him, but the response was "that low-down, dirty dog shouldn't have lied about Kiki's paternity!" Even now, when the aforementioned parties discuss mistakes they made with Morgan, this situation isn't mentioned. Later, Morgan drugs Michael so he'd lose custody of Avery and she'd be returned to Sonny. Brother Dante said "I'm ashamed of Morgan!," and Sabrina told Michael "he's jealous of who you are" (a sentiment repeated by various people), but there was no discussion about how and why Morgan would be so desperate for Sonny's approval, he'd do such an awful thing. Any valid feelings or observations Morgan had were warped into baseless whines in the script, and CarSon's nepotism was revised to be a figment of his imagination. When even the bit part of Rosalie was switched from being interested in Morgan to Michael, it was apparent favoritism wasn't just the point of view of fictional parents.
Morgan continued to cause irreparable damage, much without context. Eventually, he'd be diagnosed with bipolar disorder, but the "bad seed" stamp would never lift. He'd cheat on Kiki, inadvertently get her shot and suffocate her with co-dependence, among other things unrelated to her. His storyline became cyclic and fatigued viewers. Morgan was written to be so unlikable, self-hating and disgraceful, that when Craig announced he was leaving, many fans expressed hope the character would be killed. His death may have relieved the weary and opened the door for must-see cast performances, but it doesn't do GH any good in the long run.
With classic actors, GH relies too much on sentiment, versus blazing a spanking trail for them. Home-team veterans aren't secured, and doyens from other soaps (ex. Michelle Stafford and Rebecca Budig) are flailing about. The fantastic younger performers are underutilized and dealt with like obligations, while newbies are brought on in droves, only to be used as unsatisfying hors d'oeuvres. Where does that leave the audience who's been tuning in for so long? How will novice watchers be recruited or kept intrigued? What kind of position does that put the series in? The soap genre being in trouble as a whole, producers and writers appear to be uninspired and have gotten desperate, rolling between extremes and resorting to cheap tactics and short-term tricks. It's resulted in loss of sight and fast-food storytelling. A moment-to-moment approach is just digging the hole deeper. Daytime Confidential posted a great article in 2015 suggesting that if soaps would just read from their own blueprint, like the hit primetime drama Empire was, they might get back on their feet. OWN's The Haves and the Have Nots, CMT's Nashville and E!'s The Royals, to name a few, are all taking their cue from daytime drama. The future isn't in November sweeps, 1-day returns of beloved actors, trumped up events with no real payoff, or flashy names with no story. It starts with nourishing the talent you have in front of you and what comes out of the pen.