“General Hospital” Madness: Why Kill Jake? And What Have They Done to Luke?

By Ed Martin

Anyone who is still wondering why broadcast soap operas are disappearing before our eyes need only review recent episodes of ABC’s General Hospital. Don’t blame shrinking audiences. (Viewers aren’t really going away. They’re just harder to count.) Don’t blame competition from other media. (Overall media consumption is on the

The current Death of Jake Webber disappointment comes at a time when soaps overall are in dire peril — and in desperate need of stories that respect their shows’ histories while reinventing them for the future.

rise, boosted by ever-evolving digital technologies that make following a favorite soap easier than ever.) Don’t blame the recent round of network budget cuts. (Low-budget serialized storytelling is thriving on basic cable television, and there is no reason why broadcast soaps can’t adapt.) Whatever you do, don’t blame the actors. (There are dozens of fine performers of all ages on the six remaining soaps.)

So what’s the problem? Take a good long look at the current Death of Jake Webber baby jackstoryline on GH and you’ll have your answer. It’s the writing, plain and simple.

I’ve never been a fan of soap stories that involve the deaths of children, and that includes the now legendary Death of BJ Jones saga on GH almost 20 years ago, another tale in which one kid died a sudden death and made available a critical organ to save an afflicted child elsewhere on the canvas.  At the time, I thought the loss of Nurse Bobbie Spencer Jones’ little girl would in the long term damage the show, in that I could imagine dozens of stories about BJ in her troubled teen and young adult years and the impact her behavior would have on her mother, who had been a rather combustible teen herself. For the most part I was wrong about that. The show found plenty of stories to tell even without BJ, and the transplant story was so magnificently written and played that it brought a new level of respect to daytime drama. The only downside was that it forever damaged two previously vital characters: Nurse Bobbie and her husband, Dr. Tony Jones. Bobbie fared better than Tony, who suffered an emotional breakdown, lost his family, his job and the respect of his community, was physically brutalized by mob assassin Jason Morgan  and gunned down by Carly Benson (the baby that Bobbie gave birth to during her time as a teenage prostitute and then forgot about for 20 years). Tony slowly put the pieces of his life back together only to fall victim to a fatal sweeps-induced virus.

The GH writing team, which for much of the last ten years has specialized in telling repetitive stories about local mobsters that play like a low-rent version of The Sopranos, has also during that time gone to great lengths to viciously subvert storylines and destroy characters from the show’s most creatively successful periods of the past. I haven’t been fond of those stories, but that has often been a matter of personal taste. My issues were with the stories themselves, not the way in which they were being told.

The current Death of Jake Webber disappointment is another matter entirely, and it comes at a time when soaps overall are in dire peril – and in desperate need of stories that respect their shows’ histories while reinventing them for the future. In that regard, this latest GH tale has done everything wrong: It has made viewers feel bad about the time they have invested in the Jake storyline during the last few years and killed off a character that was uniquely positioned to be at the center of dozens of compelling stories in the years to come. That’s no way to improve a show or support a dying daypart.

If the writers and producers of GH truly felt it necessary at this time to tell a story so reminiscent of the Death of BJ then they should have killed off baby Josslyn, the daughter of Carly and her current husband Jax and the recipient of one of poor little Jake’s kidneys. (One of many telling aspects of the sub-par storytelling here is that Josslyn wasn’t even sick two weeks ago and wasn’t diagnosed with a rare form of kidney cancer until the night Jake was run down by a car. In the BJ story we had watched her little cousin Maxie suffer from a weakening heart over a period of time, a compelling tale in itself even before her cousin BJ was abruptly killed in a bus crash and Maxie received her heart.)

Why should they have killed Josslyn? To begin with, it has been reported that the actor who portrays Jax will be seen less on the show, which makes his one child comparatively unimportant in the long-term. Second, if Josslyn died and Jake needed a transplant, it would have been a fine opportunity for the writers to finally humanize Carly, a frequently detestable character with the emotional stability of an ill-tempered eight-year-old. She has done all sorts of nasty things during the last 15 years, but she has never been more disturbing than in recent weeks, when she chose to focus on sabotaging her ex-husband’s wedding rather than deal with the fact that her oldest son had been raped in prison – an incarceration that she had as much to do with as anyone else (as it was her decision to remove the boy from his family, the much put-upon Quartermaines, and insist that he be raised by a dangerous mobster). It would have made for powerful drama indeed to watch Carly and Jax say goodbye to their little girl, and then to watch Carly decide to give one of Josslyn’s organs to Jake, the son of her best friend Jason Morgan and one of the countless women with whom she does not get along, Nurse Elizabeth Webber. I believe that would be the first time in the history of the character that Carly would have been motivated to behave in an entirely unselfish manner.

Why shouldn’t they have killed Jake? He’s actually a member of four core families on the canvas: The Hardys (his maternal great-grandfather is Dr. Steve Hardy, the main character when GH began), the Webbers (his maternal grandfather is Dr. Jeff Webber, the illegitimate son of Dr. Steve), the Quartermaines (his biological father Jason is the son of the late great Dr. Alan Quartermaine and the stepson of Dr. Monica Quartermaine) and the Spencers (his adoption father is Lucky Spencer, son of the legendary Luke and Laura). Jake’s true identity as Jason’s son has been kept secret in order to keep Jake safe from Jason’s mobster enemies. It isn’t too much of a stretch to assert that Jake could have been the very foundation of the show’s future.)

The only good thing I can think of to say about this story is that it has been a showcase for several actors on the show, especially the incomparable Jonathan Jackson, who plays Lucky. I haven’t seen a performance of such emotional intensity on a daytime drama since Judith Light’s still unsurpassed work as a tortured former prostitute forced to tell all in court on One Life to Live. Similarly, Steve Burton, the actor who plays Jason, hasn’t been this good since the story of Monica’s breast cancer, and Rebecca Herbst, arguably the most popular female actor in the GH cast, has never been better as Elizabeth. (ABC recently reduced Herbst to “recurring status,” apparently unaware of her legion of fans. Their collective outrage moved the network to briskly rehire her.)

There is so much else to complain about here that the mind boggles. I’ll begin by noting that Jake has never been anything but a plot point. Viewers never had the chance to get to know the poor little guy, so the sense of loss here has been lessened. (BJ, on the other hand, had been a significant part of GH, and viewers had seen her grow up over the years. The same is true of her cousin Maxie, who remains on the canvas to this day.) Further, it is inconceivable that a number of legacy characters with strong ties to this story haven’t even been seen in the background of the drama. Elizabeth’s grandmother Audrey, who has taken care of Jake since he was born, has mysteriously disappeared. (Rachel Ames, the actress who played Audrey for more than 40 years, has retired, but if she wasn’t able to return for a day or two then couldn’t the character have been recast?) Jason’s stepmother Monica, who never even knew Jake was her grandson, has also been absent, as has Carly’s mother Bobbie, even though they both work in the hospital. Lucky’s mother Laura is currently receiving medical treatment in France, but we could have seen Luke or Lucky talking with her on the phone. Laura’s mother and Lucky’s grandmother Leslie hasn’t been around, either. Brief appearances by characters that viewers have known for decades always enhance stories of families in crisis. Not to have seen any of these people at a time of such searing tragedy is not simply annoying. It’s unrealistic and irresponsible.

It is also unfortunate that the GH writers chose to muck up the emotionally dismantling drama of it all with an absurd subplot that found six characters driving at night on the dark road where Elizabeth lives at the very time that Jake toddled out the front door and into the path of an oncoming car. As of this writing we have been lead to believe that Lucky’s boozy father Luke hit the boy, but I’m guessing the real culprit is the driver of a mysterious black town car (license plate obscured on traffic camera footage) that was also speeding along that same road at the same time. Shouldn’t the death of one child and the near-death of another have been enough drama for this storyline? If it had to be told in the first place, why build in so silly a distraction? Further, if Luke really is to blame, is that an experience we really want to attach to a character that has been crucially important to an entire programming genre for more than thirty years? As creative decisions go, this one is perfectly wretched.

The ruination of Luke Spencer is just the latest assault on the GH audience. The writers of this show have during the last decade-plus destroyed fond memories of Dr. Rick Webber and Scott Baldwin by reworking their long-ago histories (in the process revealing a complete lack of respect for soap opera viewers); destroyed the marriage of Luke and Laura and then sent Laura spiraling into madness (another character development nobody wanted to see); killed off good-girl Georgie Jones (who was conceived during the Death of BJ storyline and was the perfect foil for her wild sister Maxie) and, most distressingly, killed off most of the hugely popular Quartermaine family, including the all-important Alan (who should have been allowed to retire with Monica), bad-seed AJ (like Jake a character that could have driven plot for years), adopted daughter Emily (a much-loved character who touchingly came onto the canvas when Monica was battling breast cancer), lawyer Justus (Edward Quartermaine’s illegitimate grandson and one of the few African American characters on the canvas) and now poor Jake.

I’ll never understand the wisdom of continually killing or otherwise destroying characters that matter to millions of viewers, especially at a time when a show is struggling to hold onto its audience. The overriding issue for those involved in daytime drama is this: As in any other business, if you don’t give people what they want they are going to go away. If you give them what they don’t want they will leave even faster.

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Ed Martin is a veteran television journalist who writes for many national publications and websites, including the Huffington Post, where this essay originally appeared. He blogs regularly at mediabizblogger.com

Comments

  1. Nick says:

    Mr. Martin,

    You summed up the unbearable GH beautifully! I just hope the recent rumors of Bob Guza’s ouster turn out to be true! GH is an unbearable, violent, insulting show, apparently written and produced on the whim of the male powers that be at ABC versus the long time loyal fans and viewers!

  2. horselover says:

    Loved it! Thanks for this mainstream critique of this long running show. Many of us long time viewers have felt this way for years. It was nice to see some of our frustrations in print.

  3. Dee says:

    Ed, I read this column in the Huffington Post yesterday, and you really hit it on the head, that this storyline is the most stupidest storyline ever, and that GH has really gone downhill. The morons at GH are destroying this once-proud franchise (Hell, JFP almost destroyed another former favorite ABC show of mine, One Life To Live, which has still yet to recover), and this storyline of killing off Jake Webber is just an indication of it. It’s becoming nothing more than a mob-propping, James Franco and Vanessa Marcil-buttkissing, kid-murdering, woman-hating mess of a soap opera. They talk about canning All My Children; they should kill off this show, which is pretty much what these jackasses are doing.

    We understand that it is a fictional show, but the storyline about the death of a child, let alone a kid THAT HAD CORE TIES TO ALMOST EVERYONE ON THE SHOW, is sick, demented, and the most despicable thing ever dreamed up on a soap opera. Plus, blaming it on an iconic character like Luke Spencer, making him look like an irresponsible idiot who would maliciously kill his own grandchild, is absolutely stupid. C’mon, people, are you kidding me, seriously? Everyone is going to find out that eventually that it was the TIIC’s boy, Franco, that did it. Did anyone see the last few minutes of Friday’s show with him on the phone to Carly, saying that everyone was going to blame him for everything and so on. Like that wasn’t so obvious.

  4. Indydavid says:

    I concur. This essay sums up my feelings about GH perfectly. I just soooo wish the network execs would get a clue about Guza and Phelps and fire them. I see and read more fan disappointment about this show but somehow it never seems to make any difference to the powers-that-be.

  5. Monica G says:

    Dear Sir:

    You left out the character assassinations of Brenda and Sonny.

    Brenda was a strong, independent, insecure and passionate girl when she came on canvas as Julia Barrett’s sister in 1992. Now I recognize her only because of the acting talents of Vanessa Marcil Giovinazzo. The writing of Brenda’s character, however, is deplorable.

    Sonny was a flawed, angry mobster whose best side came out in the most endearing way when Brenda was around. Now he’s just a megalomaniacal, male chauvinist pig who gets away with shooting a cop.

    Please add them to your list of historical characters that have gone through the ringer with the latest production and writing team at GH.

    I miss the days of Wendy Riche and Claire Labine.

  6. tess says:

    What a terrific essay that brilliantly explores what is wrong with GENERAL HOSPITAL. Admittedly, I don’t watch as much as I once did, but I see it enough to know that the storytelling is seriously flawed.

    And I hate what they did to the veterans–Audrey, Bobbi, Monica. They essentially ejected them from the canvas, which was unnecessary. After all, Audrey is Elizabeth’s grandmother and Bobbi is Carly’s mom. Liz and Carly are two active characters in the story, so Audrey and Bobbi could have had some function in the narrative.

    The show is horrible.

  7. David C says:

    But you failed to mention one of the major sets of fingerprints that are clearly all over this storyline: Jill Farren Phelps.
    She has a long, grim history of insisting on killing off major characters who have a strong emotional link to many other characters on a show and to the audience as well.
    Now this little boy was not a major character but of course this tragedy does alter many relationships on the show. But Phelps’ insistence on killing off both the moral compass of Guiding Light-Maureen Bauer and then the fan-favorite Frankie Winthrop on Another World completely alienated a substantial chunk of the audience and neither show ever really recovered.
    Is Phelp’s simply carrying out secret instructions from the soap-hating powers that be at ABC Daytime or do they seriously think that the ugly death of a child is something an audience wants to see?
    Either way, this story says much more about ABC Daytime than I think we realize.

  8. kimsonfan says:

    The problem with GH is soley ALL ABOUT MOB MOB MOB there is NO LOVE in the afternoon. I only watch to get me 3 mins a week of patrick and robin truly theeeee only loving couple on the show . and Jason T and Kimberly M rock their scenes. but GH HW is a MOB lover.

  9. Dee says:

    I have a great idea: The Quartermaines have already been killed off, the Scorpios are nowhere to be seen, so you know what, the writers need to get this over with and totally get rid of the Spencers/Webbers/Cassadines as a whole. I mean, they were ready to get rid of Liz, they killed off Jake, Nikolas has been fired, so why not make Liz crazy and get rid of her, like they originally planned, make Luke a drunk and send him off, never to return, have Lucky marry Liz and send them off, and make this show all about Sonny, Carly, Jason, and their minions and rename this The Mob Hour? I mean, this is what they’re doing right now, so why not go wholesale and do it? The death of Jake was just the beginning, so do it and put the loyal fans out of our misery. We’ve suffered long enough.

  10. Marilyn Henry says:

    Re: The announcement that OLTL and AMC are canceled….

    My soapy heart is broken. I fell in love with soaps about 30 years ago…stayed faithful, stayed entertained…stayed even after not-so-entertained…and now this…

    I was so happy with OLTL, so glad I still had a good soap to watch, one that involved me and touched me and made me anticipate tomorrow…which GH has been unable to do for ages now. I was ready to move on to OLTL as ‘my’ soap, because I’d grown so weary of waiting for GH to change and get better. It isn’t going to change or get better…the mob is permanent and character assassination will continue as long as TPTB remain there and GH is on air. And that, I figure, should be about another year and a half…then the new announcement will be that GH is canceled. I do not see how it can stay on longer than that, as badly written and conceived as it is. It just seems to go from bad to worse, from downbeat to downright depressing.

    But where will I be able to see all my favorite actors now? All those superb actors out of work–the Jerry verDorns and the Erika Slezaks, the Robin Strassers, Nancy Grahns, Jonathan Jacksons, Susan Haskells, Hillary Smiths and oh, so many others, all those vivid characters I’ve come to love…

    Oh, I really REALLY REALLY HATE this…

  11. Johnny says:

    Connie/Marlena, this article you typed almost capsulized the damage that GH has done to itself with this Jake Death storyline. You suggested killing off Josslyn….NO. The character of Jax has been badly abused enough by the JFP regime. Brenda LOVED him! He was her world and her saviour and she felt safe with him. Now, with JFP and Guza’s re-writing, Brenda is a mindless mob moll who thinks everything Sonny does is right, she even apolgizes to him when he applies his mob logic. Jax deserves his child, even if it is from that disgsting obnoxious harridan Carly.

    I do NOT advocate killing kids, but if they were going to, why not Elizabeth’s first son from…who? Oh yeah, Xander, who had NO ties to anyone. This could have been a story that COMPLETELY focused on the hospital, and NOT on the mob.

    Trying to duplicarte a Claire Labine story that is LEGENDARY in daytime and will go down in history is RISKY at best….but to do SUCH a terrible job of it? That’s unforgivable! Bj’s story was bracing, shocking, uplifting, rewarding, different, and inspirational.

    This show couldn’t even rope in the players who made the first sory so memorable…Bobbie…..who would have naturally been there. If GH is firmly against hiring Jackie Zeman even for cameo appearances, then make a mention that Bobbie moved away to Florida or Antarctica or something!!!! For viewers not aware of soap opera budgets, it makes NO sense why Bobbie is not there.

    Monica, Edward, MAxie…where were the people who played such a vital role in GH’s FIRST telling of this story? Well, most of them are dead, killed off by the JFP and Guza regime.

    Sorry, murderer for hire Jason does not wash as a hero, despte what Sam tells him. He’s a cold-blooded murderer, he CHOSE that life, and has had COUNTLESS opportunities to stop. The death of his sister Emily, his friend Georgie, and all the other deaths, now with his son Jake, he still CHOOSES to be a murderer. IS there ANY wonder why soaps are dying??????????????

    People want to root for heroes!!!!! Good over evil. But that’s not so on GH. The mobsters and the villains are heroes. The people with ANY type of morality are pushed aside as losers. Keep writing ta=hat way GH. You’ll be the next one cancelled.

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