As women across the U.S. and Canada march together on Saturday, Jan. 20, 2018, to advocate women’s rights, racial equality, immigration reform, healthcare reform, LGBTQ rights, freedom of religion, reproductive rights, the environment, General Hospital fans learned that veteran actress and television icon Genie Francis was fired from the ABC soap opera, according to Daytime Confidential.
Best-known for her role as Laura Webber, Francis joined General Hospital in 1977, a year before she became one-half of daytime most popular supercouples “Luke and Laura,” opposite Anthony Geary. 30 million viewers tuned in to watch their 1981 ceremony — making it the most-watched event in daytime soap history, turning the show, it’s characters and their portrayers into pop culture icons.
Francis exited GH on her own accord in 1983 and returned a decade later. In 2002, Francis left the show following a contract dispute with (then) executive producer Jill Farren Phelps. A team player who always recognized where her celebrity status came from and was always winning to give longtime GH fans what they wanted — Laura back — Francis agreed to return to the soap a few times in the past decade, the first to commemorate Luke and Laura’s 25th wedding anniversary in 2006, then to celebrate the show’s 50th anniversary in 2013 and lastly to help usher off Anthony Geary’s Luke off the canvas in 2015, before finally signing a long-term contract with the soap, which we assume has now expired.
The ‘00s was a hard time for the show’s veteran performers, primarily the women as one by one each actress was taken off contract and bumped to recurring and then stopped making regular appearances including Leslie Charleson (Monica Quartermaine), Kristina Wagner (Felicia Scorpio) and Jacklyn Zeman (Bobbie Spencer). ABC and Phelps also removed the show’s matriarch Anna Lee from her contract in 2003. While Francis now joins the “recurring” ranks of these other three women, it comes at a time when General Hospital’s new writing regime of Shelly Altman and Chris Van Etten have finally given Laura a storyline where she may be in the running to become mayor of Port Charles (the fictional city in New York state that the show is set in), after marrying Kevin Collins (Jon Lindstrom — who is also a recurring vet). Appearances from GH’s team of recurring players is often a treat for fans as the show must be written around the full-time cast members and not actually the fan-favourites that fans have been tuning in to see day after day for 55 years.
ABC not finding the funds to keep an actress of Francis’ name recognition and caliber comes at an interesting time with Hollywood’s gender wage gap movement, as the meaning behind the “Time’s Up” initiative has gone beyond sexual harassment to include aspects of women’s rights. Also at ABC, Ellen Pompeo who has starred on Grey’s Anatomy for the past 14 years has had to fight hard for her new deal $20-million dollar deal which will keep her at the network for another two years. This after she was paid less than her former male co-star, even though she was the Meredith Grey of Grey’s Anatomy.
Former General Hospital stars Sarah Joy Brown and Vanessa Marcil have recently spoken about the ABC soap’s gender pay gap in recent weeks. Brown who was on the soap from 1996-2001 (as Carly) and then from 2008-2009 (as Claudia) stated that she was paid less than half of her male co-stars Maurice Benard (Sonny) and Steve Burton (Jason). While Marcil (who played the uber-popular Brenda) alluded to leaving the series when she wouldn’t agree to an 80% pay cut. This coming from an actress whose 2003 return spiked ratings, as did her character’s wedding to Sonny in 2011. The first person to get cut when General Hospital was able to lure back Burton (fresh off his Y&R gig) was Rebecca Budig (Hayden) earlier this year soon after her character was given ties to a longstanding Port Charles family and in the middle of a front-burning storyline.
With only four soap operas left, it’s sad that General Hospital’s executive producer Frank Valentini and the brass at ABC have no desire to keep hold of their celebrated performers and keep longtime fans happy. Valentini seems he’d rather keep his friends employed than actors who’ve won the shows Emmys and accolades, like Tyler Christopher (ex-Nikolas) — who has since jumped ship to NBC’s Days of our Lives.
Whilst there are many factors as to why CBS’ The Young and the Restless has marked almost 30 consecutive years as the number one American daytime drama is that despite recent behind-the-scenes changes, the soap has recognized that fans tune in each day to see their favourite performers. They know that they can tune in to see Victor (Eric Braeden), Nikki (Melody Thomas Scott), Ashley (Eileen Davidson) and Jack (Peter Bergman) day after day. Where are Brenda and Jax (Ingo Rademacher’s over at CBS’ The Bold and the Beautiful!) at General Hospital? Why isn’t Lucy on more? How long before Laura disappears for good? And then how long before we lose powerhouse performers like Finola Hughes (Anna) and Maura West (Ava)?
While gender disparity at the soaps may not be just at GH, they are the ones that have had a problematic history with this topic and with the news of Genie Francis’ firing, it keeps ABC at the forefront of this women’s rights issue — what’s even more disparaging is that this is a medium that was designed for women.
General Hospital airs weekdays on ABC and City. Canadian fans can catch up with GH on demand, at citytv.com and the City app — which is now available on Apple TV.