Nearly 20 years ago, Luke and Laura of “General Hospital” became daytime television’s most popular couple after the show romanticized Luke’s “seduction” of Laura.
The writers glossed over how it really happened: Luke raped Laura on the floor of a closed disco late one night.
Now “General Hospital” is revisiting that episode from its past, in part to illustrate how attitudes toward date rape have changed since 1979 and to make clear that the story wouldn’t be handled the same way today.
“My first reaction was that it was a big can of worms that could eat us alive. I was terrified, basically,” said Anthony Geary, the actor who plays Luke Spencer.
In the original story line, Luke was tormented by his lust for Laura. Feeling he had nothing to lose upon learning the mob had a contract out on his life, he forced himself upon her.
Much to the show’s surprise, the two characters were a big hit with viewers. So the writers had them run off together, fall in love and get married. “General Hospital” subsequently referred to the disco incident as a seduction, angering many women.
Luke and Laura are still together and have a 16-year-old son, Lucky.
In Friday’s episode, Lucky is told that his father once raped his mother.
Complicating matters even further - remember, this is a soap opera - Lucky learns about this from his arch-enemy, the illicit offspring of his mother and a man with whom she had an affair.
“For us, it was a great opportunity,” said Wendy Riche, executive producer. “We didn’t approach it as ‘let’s make amends.’ We didn’t feel guilty or felt like we had to.”
But Riche acknowledged that the same story line - a woman falling in love with her rapist - wouldn’t pass muster with viewers today.
“It would be different,” she said. “The times are different. What the audience perceives and what they expect is very different from what it was 20 years ago. They are more conscious date rape is unacceptable.”
In future episodes, Lucky will confront his father, who tries to explain it.
“We are going to say, certainly, that the son is dealing with rape in a much better way, a much more appropriate way, and a much healthier way, than the father did,” said Robert Guza, head writer for the show.
“General Hospital” has aired since 1963. The most popular daytime drama during the 1980s, it has slipped to No. 3 in the ratings but last week was voted the favorite show by readers of “Soap Opera Digest.”
Carolyn Hinsey, the magazine’s executive editor, likes the new story line.
“All of us grew up watching this and wondering, ‘Is this what dating is like?”’ she said. “Now that we’re in our 30s, this is a good way to wrap this up.”
Riche said the story line’s message to longtime viewers is this: “It was not acceptable then, no matter what the town said or the press said. It is not acceptable to take control over another person’s body under any circumstance.”