General Hospital Review

Now and Then: Stephen Nichols Has Left the Building
by Matthew Weaver

"Stephen Nichols Joining GH."

I still remember the day in early 1996 that I was shopping at a Target store in Spokane and spied the headline on the latest issue of Soap Opera Weekly. "Stephen Nichols Joining General Hospital."

I'd never seen Nichols in his quintessential soap part, Steven Earl "Patch" Johnson on Days of Our Lives. And I'd only caught a minute or two of his performance as Skylar Gates (or Skyler Gates, depending on what magazine you read; although I like the name "Skylar" better) on Santa Barbara.

But I was still excited. This was big news. Stephen Nichols joining GH! Patch was coming to Port Charles! Skylar was hitting town! The soap opera guy (Brock Storm) from The Nanny was going to shake things up.

My excitement was mirrored by the industry, as gossip intensified over who Nichols would play. I don't think there can be anything more mysterious and intriguing than the announcement of "character name unavailable at press time." It leaves all doors wide open, but usually soap operas end the secrecy early and reveal that Michael Sabatino is in fact playing Anthony Armando on The Bold and the Beautiful, Marcy Walker is Tangie Hill on Guiding Light, Roscoe Born is Jim (Myers) Thomasen on All My Children. In most of those cases, the characters played by big-name actors turn out to be as successful and memorable as Anthony, Tangie and Jim. (In other words, not.)

GH didn't do that. Instead, it kept Nichols's role a secret for months, fostering all sorts of speculation as to his character and storyline. One thing was pretty certain from the get-go, or so it seemed; Nichols would be reunited with Mary Beth Evans (Katherine), who was Kayla to his Steve on DAYS--together, they formed a supercouple that rivaled Luke and Laura. GH had missed the chance to re-pair them three years earlier, when Nichols turned down the chance to play Damian Smith.

The character he would play was more of a mystery. The likeliest scenario seemed to be Nichols playing Jerry Jacks, roguish brother of new Aussie hunk Jax. Other names bandied about included Jeff Webber, especially after reading Head Writer Bob Guza's comments in Soap Opera Weekly that "the Stephen Nichols character very clearly relates to the show's history," and considering that ex-Patch brother Matthew Ashford was playing Jeff's brother Tom Hardy; a recast Robert Scorpio (perish the thought, although Nichols and Tristan Rogers have some similarities) and who knows who else.

The mystery remained even after Nichols first appeared on screen as a hand, although it narrowed the speculation some. That ring looked suspiciously like something a…gasp…Cassadine would wear. And that phone chat with "Lasha," where she said he was dead? Could this be Stavros revived?

In the end, no. But it didn't matter. In Stefan Cassadine we were well pleased for the first few months, as I was reminded by recent "Remembering Stefan" posts on SoapZone's GH message board. That meeting with Laura on the docks of Wyndemere, consoling a tear-stricken Bobbie on the steps of the Brownstone and then delivering news of Mercy Hospital's threat to struggling GH to Alan, Monica and Luke; the scene in the broom closet with Bobbie where he revealed that Stavros had died in this room…the possibilities for Stefan Cassadine were endless, especially in that he, and not his evil older brother, was Nikolas's father. It was the best introduction in GH history. The best.

GH had set the stage for years of conflict. Stefan was the father of Laura's long lost son, he was married to Luke's sister Bobbie, he had rescued the hospital, he had a cousin named Alexis, he was involved in something shady called "Timoria," and there was the small matter of the rumored return of Denise Alexander as Lesley Webber to consider as well.

So what went wrong? How did such a great and viable character veer off into a writingless mess?

In my opinion, Stefan Cassadine's downfall was his shooting of and subsequent falling for Katherine Bell. This storyline held promise in the reunion of Nichols and Evans, but it lost something in the delivery. GH rushed through a Stefan-Bobbie divorce, and then pushed the DAYS refugee angle hard. So hard, it was destined to fail. Stefan and Katherine were not as interesting as Stefan had been on his own, or in the storylines listed above.

Part of this was probably Bob Guza's departure to Sunset Beach and Richard Culliton taking over the head writing reins. The swap in writers left Stefan hurting, and it looked like things might pick up when Guza returned in 1997, but the damage had already been done. Never again would Stefan be written so well so consistently, although there would be brief reminders of those days (Helena's return, Stefan and Helena on the yacht before she "killed" him) that only made this poorly written gargoyle before us even more painful.

So is it any wonder Nichols has decided to leave for greener pastures? I suspect that the idea of Stefan, and the character's potential, kept him around longer than he would have been had he known that Stefan would be in the state he is now: backburnered, a struggling hero rather than the love struck villain he arrived as, heartbroken and alone. Once Stavros died again (the storyline could have delved so much into the Cassadine psyche--blame the writing; Stavros never even called Laura "Lasha"), there was no reason to stay. The Cassadine/Spencer feud is over (although I liked the scenes with Luke and Stefan drinking together on the docks), and, from what I understand, Stefan will simply leave town, perhaps on some Cassadine business.

Already, the soap opera industry is buzzing with speculation over where Nichols will turn up next. New York theater? A return to Days of Our Lives? (Perish the thought.) As the World Turns, where Mary Beth Evans now plays Sierra Montgomery? (My vote, and either let Nichols keep his "S" name and play Scott Eldridge, or else recast him as Kirk Anderson, so Evans and Nichols can still be S&K.) Passions, as a warlock for Tabitha? (I want so bad for Tabitha to find love with a warlock.)

And what of GH? It started off incredible, but due to poor storytelling and writing, that star seems to have fizzled out for the time being. Stefan Cassadine didn't die the day they tried to make him Patch, but he did suffer a major life threatening injury.

However, it's something that can quite easily be fixed. Stefan could find himself in Bensonhurst, and transfixed by a beguiling and endangered brunette with a Nanny-ish accent, super-length fingernails and an ex-husband in Ned Ashton to boot. A Stefan/Lois/Ned/Alexis romantic quadrangle could have at least three beloved veterans on the front burner in a smart, history-laden plot (four, if Rena Sofer would return as Lois) and it would get Alexis away from the Mobster that Ate Port Charles.

Or else it can eventually be revealed that Stefan has teamed up with a certain longhaired Dane with a penchant for cigars to wreak vengeance upon Helena, and obtain the Ice Princess in the process. And if you can't get that dastardly Dane, why not let him run into Marco Dane and let the comedic hijinks ensue? Stefan and Marco, GH's newest superhero comedy buddy team…

What do you know? There's potential in him still…

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