Believe it or not, there was a time in soap opera history when your favorite daytime dramas — like General Hospital — were not constricted by their early morning to late afternoon timeslots and they did, in fact, extend their sudsy offerings into primetime television hours.
That’s right folks, the same lying and scheming, romancing, and screaming that you watched earlier in the day were sometimes seen at night — but produced on a much healthier budget.
Stunning revelations, shocking murders, and wild cliffhangers dominated these special episodes that producers hoped would entice viewers who otherwise never watched a soap to tune in the next weekday and follow the story in the show’s normal timeslot.
After seeing the immense success that its fellow networks were having with these dips into the evening, ABC decided it was time that one of their shows had the chance to shine and chose to spotlight General Hospital – then the top-rated soap on that network.
General Hospital: Twist of Fate
Airdate: December 14, 1996
The Build-Up: Sonny loved Brenda. Brenda loved Sonny. And yet they both found themselves married to other people. He wed Lily Rivera as part of a business arrangement with her father, Hernando, a fellow mafioso. On the rebound, Brenda became enamored with Jasper “Jax” Jacks and exchanged vows with him aboard his luxury yacht.
When Mrs. Jacks returned with her new spouse, she was disheartened to learn that Lily had died (the result of a bomb meant to kill Sonny) but she remained resolute to make a go at her new normal. However, Sonny tracked down Miranda Jameson – Jax’s first wife whom he believed had been killed in an explosion – and presented her as a gift to the newlyweds.
Meanwhile, little Lesley-Lu Spencer became deathly ill and the doctors at General Hospital diagnosed her illness as aplastic anemia. The only certain cure was a bone marrow transplant but neither her parents – Luke and Laura – nor her elder brother Lucky was compatible.
Desperate to save her dying daughter, Laura revealed to her husband that during her years of captivity on Cassadine Island, she had given birth to a son and handed him over to Helena and Stavros (the biological father).
Laura made contact with the boy’s uncle – Stefan – and implored him to arrange a visit to Port Charles. There she and her son, Nikolas, reunited for the first time in 15 years. Nikolas allowed himself to be tested and when a match was found, he submitted to the extraction procedure.
Despite Luke’s protests, Stefan (and Nikolas) remained in Port Charles and the elder Cassadine romanced Bobbie Spencer – all the while nursing a grudge against the entire Spencer clan for the deaths of his father and brother.
Stefan also had a revelation of his own to share with Laura: Helena had ordered the murder of Lesley Webber (Laura’s mother) in retaliation for Laura trying to make contact with baby Nikolas in the early 1980s. However, in an even more shocking claim, Stefan said he did NOT follow through with the plan and had instead hidden Lesley away in a room situated at the top of a tower.
He led Laura to said tower and when Mrs. Spencer entered the structure, it erupted in a fireball killing both women instantly!
On a crisp December morning, the residents of Port Charles who had known and loved Laura arrived at the cemetery to lay her to rest. Luke took the opportunity as eulogist to launch into a diatribe against Stefan, whom he warned would destroy every last member of the mourning party.
Commissioner Mac Scorpio confiscated the gun Luke had concealed in his belt and warned him not to take matters into his own hands. Later, Mac returned to the apartment that he shared with Katherine Bell and found her comforting a distraught Nikolas whom Luke had banned from the funeral.
Sonny was summoned to the hospital under the pretense that Brenda had been injured but he was instead rendered unconscious and returned to his apartment where the mystery attacker injected him with a large dose of heroin.
Concerned that Sonny had missed Laura’s funeral, Brenda made her way to his abode and found him in his drug-addled state. She dialed 9-1-1 and did her best to keep him lucid until the paramedics arrived. She rode in the ambulance to General Hospital with Sonny and stayed with him until they reached the emergency room. Before being wheeled away, Sonny professed his love to her.
Luke confronted Stefan on the lawn at Wyndemere and held him at gunpoint. However, Lucky intervened and talked Luke into handing over the gun before the situation could escalate. Tossing the weapon aside, father and son walked off the property.
In a “twist of fate” the confrontation – and indeed the entire day’s events – were revealed to have been elaborately staged. Both Laura and Lesley were alive and well and sitting in a nearby van waiting for Luke and Lucky to spirit them away from Port Charles and the Cassadines’ malignant influence.
Meanwhile, a jumpy Stefan picked up the discarded gun and – after hearing rustling in the bushes and fearing Luke had returned to finish the job – fired it. Only instead of shooting Luke, he hit Katherine, who had arrived at Wyndemere to check on Nikolas!
General Hospital Trivia
Twist of Fate was the highest-rated program to be shown on ABC the night it aired. Amongst the many pallbearers who escorted Laura’s coffin from the hearse to the grave were Alan Quartermaine, his father Edward, and Tom Hardy, who was clued in on the Spencers’ deception.
Tony Jones, another pallbearer, revealed to Nikolas that daisies were Laura’s favorite type of flower. General Hospital airs weekdays on ABC. Check your local listings for airtimes.