To recast or not to recast; that is the question everyone soap opera producer has wrestled with.
There are many reasons that a soap opera character has to be recast.
If an actor decides to leave a show, the producer must decide if the character is too important to write off. Peter Reckell left the pivotal role of Bo Brady on Days of our Lives left in the middle of a hot story. Robert Kelker Kelly was brought in. While he was good, he was no Reckell. Reckell eventually returned and is still with the show. The actor once told me he had advice for the young actors on the show who want to leave. "Don't do it. You can be on the show and do other projects. I worked after leaving Days, but not as much as I thought I would."
When Roger Howarth, who played Todd on One Life to Live, left the show for Hollywood, OLTL knew they had to recast, as Todd was integral to the show. Trevor St. John was hired. Howarth played Todd as flawed and brooding. St John's interpretation has Todd as sinister and cunning. Both interpretations work. Under each of the layers, there is a Todd who wants to be better, he just can't do it. As for Howarth, he now plays Paul on As the World Turns. Howarth is the first adult actor to last as Paul.
Another reason for recasting is that the producers are spinning a character in a different direction. One Life to Live's Karen Wolek was originally played by the lithe bouncy blondes, Kathryn Breech and Julia Duffy. In the long soap opera tradition, the writers decided to reinvent Karen. I call it the "we're taking the character in a different direction" blues. Judith Light was cast as Karen. She is not a bouncy blonde, but a woman to be reckoned with. Light, who has gone on to primetime shows, had one of the most amazing scenes on a soap. She was on the witness stand and had to reveal she was a prostitute. It has to be one of the most riveting scenes ever done in daytime. Light's masterful performance had me crying and trembling.
One of the best soap opera recasts had me nervous. When General Hospital decided to recast Carly, their choice, Laura Wright, seemed risky. Wright was great as Guiding Light's Cassie but did not seem right for Carly. Wright is magnificent as Carly. In fact, while those before her were excellent, no one can match what Wright has brought to the character. I used to find Carly annoying. When the character came on, I turned off. Not so with Wright. Carly's still a drama queen. I like her even when she is acting like a self-indulgent, scheming witch.
Sometimes a producer has to replace an actor due to illness. Such was the case with the phenomenal actor Michael Zaslow (Roger Thorpe, GL). Zaslow was diagnosed with ALS, a degenerative nerve condition. I had an uncle with that ailment. It is a difficult road and, at present, there is no cure. The folks at GL decided they had to let Michael go. With Roger so pivotal to the show, the producers eventually brought back the character. Dennis Parlato, a fine actor, was not able to make viewers forget Zaslow. Zaslow was re-hired by One Life to Live to reprise the role of classical pianist David Rinaldi. In the new scenario, Rinaldi was diagnosed with ALS.
Years ago Chris Bernau played Alan Spaulding on GL. When Bernau took ill, Ron Raines was brought in. These two actors have nothing in common. Bernau was urbane. Raines is rough and tumble. The casting of Raines, a musical star on Broadway, seemed out there. It was a great recast.
Another reason for an actor being replaced can be bad behavior off the set or bad behavior on the set.
Brenda Dickson was the original Jill on The Young and the Restless. One day, Bill Bell, creator and head writer of the show, was on the set. Dickson was throwing a hissy fit. Bell was so angry, he went to producers and said he wanted her gone. Jess Walton took over and has done a splendid job.
Producers will only take so much from a difficult actor. If an actor is too big a problem on or off the set, it may take awhile, but he will be gone. A favored actor can get away with a lot. Even producers have only so much patience. They won't tolerate an actor who causes havoc on the set. Another World's George Riehholt (Steven Frame) was a major star at the time he posed nude for a centerfold in Playgirl Magazine. That was enough to enact the inappropriate behavior clause.
That was not the real reason. It was his behavior on the set. Riehholt was notorious for his hot temper. George once threw a chair. He said it was at the wall. Still not a good workplace move. Someone with the show claims it was at a person. For a short time, the brilliant David Canary took over. In fact, in an interview, Canary told me he loved doing soap. "I can do this for the rest of my life, if I want to." Three month later, Steve Frame was killed off. Canary then got the soap gig of a lifetime, playing Adam/Stuart on AMC, a role which won him five Emmys so far. It was the role he did until he retired. Canary was so good in the role that when he decided to leave, Stuart was killed off. Adam rode off into the sunset with his former wife, Brooke.
Nathanial Marston (Michael) was given many chances on One Life to Live to get his act together. The actor was arrested more than once for disorderly conduct. One time it was for slugging an ATM machine that would not give him money. We have all wanted to do that, but usually refrain from doing so. He was replaced by Michael Stack, who brought a very likable quality to the character. Sadly, producers decided to write out Michael and his wife, Marcie.
There are actors who have been let go due to drug use. When an actor has a drug problem, the show offers treatment and gives the actor a chance. It is a three strikes, you're out situation.
There are some select actors who cannot be replaced. All My Children's Susan Lucci (Erica) can never be replaced. Michael E. Knight (Tad, AMC) is also on the list. Tony Geary, General Hospital's Luke, is so integral to the show and the role that he has a contract that lets him take off several weeks a year. GH did try to re-cast Laura by brining in Janine Turner to be a Laura once. It did not work. Genie Francis owns that role. So whenever Laura comes back, Genie has to play her. When Eric Braeden considered leaving The Young and The Restless, there was never a thought of a recast.
Perhaps the weirdest recast occurred on Days of Our Lives. Wayne Northroup decided to exit the role of Roman Brady. Northroup is a redhead and not tall. The show brought in Drake Hogestyn, who looks a lot like the late singer Ricky Nelson. Hogestyn is dark-haired and tall. The excuse for the different look was the old "he had plastic surgery" scam. They must have put him on a medieval stretching rack. To make it even stranger, it turned out Roman wasn't Roman but John Black. Josh Taylor, who once played Chris Kostechek on the show, took over as Roman. At one point, Northroup came back to DAYS to play an unsavory character. Soap fans, being accepting, bought the casting twists and turns.
An actor who is a recast has a lot to deal with. He is working with actors who had worked with the previous actor. Bonds are made. While actors are used to having castmates change, it can be difficult to adjust to the different face staring at you across the kitchen table. Fans can be brutal to the replacement. Just look on the Internet. So when a part is recast, give the performer a break. He may be the best thing that ever happened to the show. Remember, though some producers may not believe it, actors are people too.