Fan Campaign Gives ‘General Hospital’ Star New Life

Becky Herbst Is Staying on General Hospital

Sometimes fan campaigns do work. Friday both Soaps In Depth and Soap Opera Digest reported that Becky Herbst, and the character she plays Liz Weber, will not be leaving “General Hospital” after all. When news that Liz was being written off the show broke last month, there was a huge public outcry.  Actors are let go all the time, but Herbst, who began her tenure on the show as a teen, when Liz embarked upon one of the show’s most popular romances with Lucky (Jonathan Jackson), was one of the most loved actresses on the show. While other GH stars have left the show for periods of time to pursue other opportunities, Herbst remained loyal to GH, sticking around through some less than great storylines, and being backburnered, without ever uttering a public complaint. This did not just seem like a popular character being written off for questionable storyline purposes. Herbst was, like so many people during the current economic downturn, being rewarded for decades of hard work with a pink slip. It struck a chord with viewers. Herbst’s numerous fans embarked on letter writing campaigns and used social networking to get the word out about her departure.

It apparently worked.  Though ABC has yet to issue a statement, the show has clearly reconsidered its decision to write off Liz. Unlike several high profile publicity stunts that made it look like actors were departing in the hopes that the audience would believe that their characters were really dead, the fact that both the announcement and the stay of execution happened before Liz’s planned exit storyline began airing means that this was all real. It begs the question: how did GH not realize how much the audience enjoyed watching Liz? After Jackson departed the show, Herbst’s Liz proved equally popular in relationships with Ric (Rick Hearst) and Jason (Steve Burton). Few actresses can boast that kind of a track record.

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Liz is a rarity on GH: a female character with an ordinary job, who despite her feelings for Jason wanted nothing to do with the mob, and made raising her children the top priority in her life. Though the character at times has been written as manipulative, she is one of the few genuinely good and heroic women on the show. She provides a good balance to the constant self-created drama of Carly (Laura Wright) and Brenda’s (Vanessa Marcil Giovinazzo) constant perils.

When Jackson returned to the show, viewers anticipated Liz and Lucky working through their issues and reuniting.  Whether the people randomly assembled for a focus group failed to list Liz as one of their favorite characters, or GH’s writers and network executives assumed that the short term shock value of one of GH’s patented sensationalistic plot twists that would probably end with Liz dead was more important than having Liz around for the forseeable future, it was an epic miscalculation.

I give GH a lot of credit for realizing that they were about to make a terrible mistake and changing courses. Too often, fans feel like the shows that they love have no respect for their opinions. This time, GH and ABC listened. Whether they will follow up by giving Liz a meaty storyline like, say, the one the show set up last year about Lucky, not Nik, being the father of Liz’s son, remains to be seen.  But this is definitely a victory for Herbst, fan campaigns, and everyone who loves GH.

“Days” Co-headwriter and Y&R Executive Producer Depart

Two behind-the-scenes personnel changes have fans buzzing.  “The Young & the Restless” executive producer Paul Rauch has announced that on April 1 he will be leaving the show to return to his home in New York. Rauch originally joined the show as a short term consultant before being appointed executive producer.  He has been working in daytime for 50 years and it is certainly understandable that he wants a less demanding schedule at this stage in his life. There has been a lot of speculation about who his successor will be and how his departure will impact the show.  Whoever ends up filling the role, it will be Y&R and Sony’s decision, without a lot of input from CBS since CBS daytime topper Barbara Bloom is departing the network.

Friday, news broke that Chris Whitesell, the co-headwriter of “Days of Our Lives” is leaving the show.  According to Soap Opera Weekly, “No word yet on whether a new co-pilot will take his place. As for where Whitesell is headed….? Don’t be surprised if he pops up somewhere else!” Popular wisdom has it that Whitesell is responsible for all that’s good about DOOL,and message boards are buzzing with speculation about whether he will move to another soap.

It strikes me how much better informed daytime fans are about their shows than most primetime fans are. With the exception of big time showrunners like Matthew Weiner, J.J. Abrams and Kevin Williamson who have almost become celebrities in their own right, nobody pays much attention to the writers and producers.  I doubt many “NCIS “fans can name the show’s second in command, or its line producer. In part its because the daytime press, having fewer shows to cover, covers each one in greater depth. I think it’s mostly because daytime fans, at least the ones who read websites, care about the show behind the show.  Not only does it affect what is on the screen,but it’s fun (and often accurate) to imagine that what goes on backstage is juicier than what’s scripted. That intense fan interest is part of what makes covering the genre fun. However, the elaborate conspiracy theories that people have cobbled together based on off-hand remarks actors have made during interviews and gossip site blind items are a little farfetched. An offhand, profane remark that Y&R actor Darius McCrary made in a radio interview about getting along well with Rauch has viewers wondering whether Rauch’s departure will mean that his character of Malcolm might get recast again. Whitesell, who has written for nearly every soap, could be about to assume the headwriter role on the troubled “All My Children.”  Anything’s possible. However, Rauch’s primary responsibility was physical production, so it’s more likely that his departure will affect the show’s visual style than its casting or storytelling. It’s common sense that a writer of Whitesell’s caliber will eventually land another daytime job. Sometimes a rumor is just a rumor.

The opinions expressed are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Comcast.

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