How Do You Define A Lead Actor or Lead Actress?

In a recent post on his official blog Trevor St. John denied online rumors that he is/was leaving One Life to Live in April. In his statement he said he didn’t know where these rumors come from.

Daytime Confidential podcast regular Tina told me that all these rumors started last fall when a spoiler leaked out that a "leading man" would be leaving One Life to Live in April. As she put it, online fans then on a variety of boards went through a process of elimination to try and identify who it was that might be leaving and came up with Trevor St. John or Michael Easton. Both of who are considered leading men by most people’s standards.

Her and my discussion of Trevor St. John’s denial led to the question. What defines a "lead" actor or "lead" actress? Is it air time? Is it their screentime guarantee? Is it how the category an actor or actress submits themselves in come Emmy nomination time?

As fans its often easy for us to consider one of our favorite actors or actresses to be a "lead" even though they may not really be. So with this in mind and to ensure that I don’t inadvertently start any other One Life to Live rumors lets take a look at General Hospital to try and figure this out.

(If you watch an CBS or NBC soap think of the following in the context of your favorite show)

Before I start, this is for discussion purposes only. This is not about me picking on anyone or bashing anyone or promoting anyone. 

"Lead" Actors:
I think it is safe to say that most General Hospital fans can agree (whether they like the characters or not) that Anthony Geary, Maurice Bernard, and Steve Burton are "lead" actors. But are they the only lead actors?  If one looks at it and tries to put all personal biases aside, are there other lead actors on General Hospital?
For example: Would you consider Tyler Christopher to be a "lead" actor? An argument could definitely be made. He’s carried most of the non mob related "leading man" type storylines on the show for several years now. Would this or does this make him a leading man?

Another Example: What about Greg Vaughn? He’s had the drug addiction storyline and he’s been apart of the giant Jason/Liz/Lucky/Sam quadrangle? If you try to set your personal biases either pro or con about him aside based on what you’ve seen of him on screen and what he’s been apart of do you consider him to be a "lead" or a "supporting" actor?

Final Example: What about Ric Hearst? Hearst is an Emmy winning actor who gets quite a bit of airtime. He has been paired with Nancy Lee Grahn, Rebecca Herbst, Kelly Monaco, and Robin Christopher. In many respects his character has been the counter balance to Sonny on the "scale" that is General Hospital. Does this make him a lead actor?

So taking these three talented actors into account. If you try to set your personal biases aside do you think that any or all of these three actors are or should be considered "lead" actors?

"Lead" Actress:
Then we come to the "lead" actress of General Hospital.  Without question, based soley on character heritage and screentime Laura Wright as Carly is a "lead" actress. On this I think we can all agree. After her things get a bit more complicated.
For Example: Nancy Lee Grahn is an amazingly talented actress who has been nominated for a Lead Actress Emmy on several occasions. A few years back was a part of or was the star of a variety of "front burner" storylines and has a fair amount of air time. Both of which could qualify her as a "lead" actress. However, more recently she’s had hardly any air time? All personal biases aside is Nancy Lee Grahn a "lead" actress?

Another example: If one considered screen time to be the sole factor in "lead" actress status Julie Marie Berman would be considered a "lead" actress. However, she is the main actress of the teen storylines. Does this, or would this disqualify her from being a "lead" actress? By Emmy standards she would be nominated in the Younger Actress category. She doesn’t or didn’t qualify for Supporting Actress. Is Julie Marie Berman a "lead" actress?

Final Example: Kelly Monaco and Kimberly McCullough. Both have had lots of air time. Both are in popular pairings. Both actress’ characters have played foil to the one "lead" actress character Carly over the years. Would either of these two, or should either of these two be considered "leads"?

So taking these four talented actresses into account. If you try to set your personal biases aside do you think that any or all of these three actors are or should be considered "lead" actors?

I guess what I am asking is if once we look past the obvious leads such as Susan Lucci, Eric Braden, Maurice Bernard, Anthony Geary, Erika Slezak, Alicia Minshew, Thorsten Kaye, etc, etc, etc, who do you consider to be "lead" actors and actresses and by what standard do you measure them to consider them as such?

For example: Is James Scott a "lead" actor? Is Allison Sweeney a "lead" actress? Do Austin Peck and Terri Colombino qualify as "leads"?

I would love to hear your thoughts.

8 Responses

  1. Profile photo of jeopardy

    There is a class of actors that no matter what there storyline or screen time they will always be considered lead actors. For the purpose of the Emmy’s this rule can be fudged–example: Gennie Francis winning supporting actress for a lead actress performance.

    Starting with your examples
    James Scott–Really could go either way for me. According to the confirmed pre-noms he is in the supporting category. I’m ok with that because his part in the storyline is supporting Sami.

    Allison Sweeney–No question that she is a lead. Really every scene she is in revovles around her.

    Austin Peck: He spent most of this year either supporting Maura West as Carly or Michael Park as Jack–so for sure supporting last year, but this year he has shifted into that grey area

    Teri Colombino in her recent interview with Nelson Branco said that she submitted herself in the lead category because she doesn’t like when lead actresses submit themselves in the supporting category. To me she is one of those actresses who could go either way.

    To me the only obvious choices for lead on ATWT right now are Maura West and Martha Bryne. I might add Jennifer Landon to that list, but for the purpose of the Emmy’s she is int he younger category.

    For GH this year I would consider JMB a lead.

    AS for Rick Hearst–Since there are atleast three or four other actors that would be considered lead before him I would consider him supporting.

    So I think my theory is developing as thus. Each show has about an average of three “lead” actors and three “lead” actresses. These people are basically the stars of the show and get the most screen time. Everybody else is safely considered supporting.

  2. Profile photo of Luke Kerr
    Luke Kerr

    What about say the actor that portrays Holden on As the World Turns? At one time he was most assuredly a "lead" but he hasn’t had very much airtime until the last couple of months in the last year or two. Do you still consider him a "lead"?

  3. Profile photo of jeopardy

    Jon Hensley–My gut reaction would be to say yes, but I guess I should go through my guidelines that I just made up.

    Prominate character on ATWT (at the moment)


    So if I had to chose three of these characters that are most prominately featured I would pick


    This is totally subjective. I think Craig could sub out for Holden or Paul and Will while younger is still a lead, but if I had to pick the three biggest male stars from that show with the most screen time that is who I would pick. Don Hastings is one of those legacy characters while he is giving a supporting performance would still be considered lead.

    Oh and Greg Vaughn on GH–To me he could easily fit in supporting category. Since you could say that the three most prominate males on that show are
    Tony Geary
    Steve Burton
    Maurice Benard

    So people like GV and TC could fit in either. This year I would consider TC lead and GV supporting.

    Now if we are talking about the Emmy’s it would be nice if we would have some guidelines as to what constitutes a lead vs supporting, but it is almost impossible. You can’t do it my how many days a person is on, because someone like Kate on Days could be on more days than Marlena, but Kate is a supporting role and Marlena is a lead role.

  4. Profile photo of daisyclover1938

    This is a really difficult question. I would guess that defining what is considered “lead” is based on a few different factors – Screentime, storyline prominence (and their role within that s/l), and as Jeopardy pointed out, how the character/actor fits in amongst the rest of the cast.

    The Daytime Emmy noms should be a good way of measuring what is lead/supporting, but it’s so political you really can’t take that as the final word. Judging which category an actor will be submitted for is based on the category they’re mostly likely to win, if they’re “high profile” enough to fit into the lead slot, the popularity of an actor/character, etc…

    I guess sometimes it’s just a matter of opinion. Though I love Y&R’s Christian LeBlanc, I consider him a Supporting Actor yet he’s won Lead Actor twice in the last few years. Yes, he gets a lot of screentime, but rarely does his character drive storylines the way typical leading male characters do.

    GH’s Sam/Jason/Liz/Lucky Quadrangle From H♥ll was a major s/l, with all of them having equal parts in it, but most would say SB is a “lead” and GV is “supporting” – probably because of how we interpret their “place” on the show. What’s really interesting is how people would place KeMo and RH now. In previous years (according to the Emmys) KeMo has been Lead and RH has been Supporting, but now that RH is being paired with “Lead Actor” Steven Burton and KeMo is paired with “Supporting Actor” GV does that mean that KeMo will now be switched to Supporting and RH to Lead? It’s interesting that what you’re labeled can change depending on who you’re paired with despite still having major s/l and screentime…

    I’ll probably get slammed for this, but I consider GH’s Luke/Tony Geary a Supporting Actor at this point. He gets a lot of screentime, and is obviously hugely popular, but he’s not in a prominent s/l and his character doesn’t drive story the way he has in previous years. It’s not an instult to the actor…it’s just the normal ebb and flow of a soap.

    Also, Susan Lucci (Erica, AMC) will probably always be considered a Lead Actress, regardless of her s/l or screentime. If I’m remembering correctly, there were plenty of times when she really didn’t have much of a story, yet got nominated for a Lead Actress Emmy anyway…

    This turned out to be a really long way of saying “I don’t know” :)

  5. Profile photo of salem2005

    For me, a lead actor is a combination of three things…the talent of the actor; how long the character has been on the show; and do they get major storylines. To be considered a lead, they should at least fulfill two of these three things.

    It’s quite obvious that the leading men on GH are Maurice Benard and Steve Burton – mainly because almost all storylines are built around them, but also because they are long term characters on the show. They fulfill two out of three. (I’ll refrain from my comments on their acting abilities).

    While Tony Geary doesn’t get a lot of lead storylines, I still consider him a lead actor because of how long he has played the role of Luke Spencer and because he does sometimes get lead storylines and when he does, he knocks them out of the park talent-wise. So he basically fulfills at least two out of the three criteria.

    Scotty? He has the years put in on the show, but talent is so-so and he never gets major storylines.

    Ric? He has the talent, but not too many years, and doesn’t get “major” storylines…he’s definitely supporting. But if they were to give him a major, leading storyline that is built around him, then it would boost him up to lead category because of his talent.

    Lucky? He has the years, but talent is so-so, and his storylines are usually an appendage to some other major character..i.e. Jason and Liz right now.

    Nik? He has the years in, his talent is so-so, but his storylines almost always spring from someone else. So I don’t really consider him a lead.

    Carly? She is definitely a lead. She has the years, she has the talent, and she always has major storylines.

    Sam? She doesn’t have too many years in, and in my opinion her talent is so-so, but she did have major storylines built around her. However, even with the major storylines, she only fulfills two of my three criteria, so I don’t consider her a lead.

    Liz? She has the years in, her talent is so-so, and she didn’t have major storylines until recently. So in the past, I wouldn’t have considered her a lead. But since she now has a major storyline, she fulfills two of my three categories so currently I think she is a lead actor on the show.

    LuLu? Grown up LuLu doesn’t really have the years in, albeit the “name” LuLu does have the years in, so that’s a tough call. Her talent is so-so. And there have been a couple of storylines that were main storylines built around her…but I just can’t see her as “leading” yet. I still put her in the supporting category because she’s still “green” in the soap world.

    Alexis? She has the years in, she has the talent, but she doesn’t get the storylines built around her. However, with two out of three, I give her the lead category.

  6. Profile photo of Camp is not a sustainable model
    Camp is not a sustainable model

    Here is the way you define Leading Actor/Actress and it is not very hard at all.

    1. Within the given year an actor must be one of the two central focused characters of a specific storyline. In many cases he/she might be the only central focus of the storyline.

    2. The storyline needs to have lasted more then between 4 to 6 months or more in that given year.

    3. There needs to be a 5 nomination rule. You can be nominated between Supporting and Leading for 5 years and then you must take a year break from being able to submit yourself.

    4. When you place yourself as a Leading or Supporting actor you need to submit a reel that correlates with the category you are in. In this an actor/actress would not be allowed to submit a reel of them doing their Leading work in a Supporting category. A panel of soap industry press would be on hand to determine if someone’s video qualifies as leading or supporting.

    5. I have always felt that a panel of soap industry press should divide each show’s actors up into specific categories each year and then have each show choose their submissions based off of the industry press making an unbiased division.

    If the soap industry press divided the actors from each show each year to the categories they belong in then the shows could break down the number of actors whom were actually leading, supporting, or younger to 2 submissions for the pre-nominations. That would be fair.

    From there the blue ribbon panel could choose the final 5.

    To qualify also you need this zinger in order to even be considered:

    1. Leading and Supporting categories only go to those actors 30 and over.

    2. The Younger Leading category is renamed Young Adult Leading Actor and Actress. Thus, you have to be 18-29 to qualify.

    3. Younger actor is a new category and applies to those under 18.

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