General Hospital just pulled off the casting coup of the decade. Ex-The Young and the Restless leading lady Michelle Stafford has joined the ABC sudser as Nina, presumed dead wife of Dr. Silas Clay (Michael Easton), daughter of Madeline Reeves (Donna Mills), niece of Dr. Liesl Obrecht (Kathleen Gati), sister/cousin of Detective Nathan West (Ryan Paevey) and sworn enemy of Ava Jerome (Maura West).
We caught up with head writer Ron Carlivati to find out how he and showrunner Frank Valentini managed to pull this off. The scribe reveals how it was Valentini's idea to sneak the soap superstar in to tape the top secret scene that aired today.
Just how much of a game-changer is The Staff's arrival for the 51-year-old daytime drama? A cryptic Carlivati spills the tea in this Daytime Confidential exclusive.
Daytime Confidential: The moment pictures of Michelle Stafford partying it up with executive producer Frank Valentini at last year's General Hospital Daytime Emmy party hit the web, people began buzzing about her possibly joining GH. Did you guys know you wanted her way back then?
Ron Carlivati: No. I mean, when you hear that an actress of Michelle's caliber and popularity might potentially be available, of course you can't help but think, "What if?" But I was there when those pictures were taken, and all you're seeing is a bunch of people having fun at an industry party. Although I must admit that my memory of that evening is a little fuzzy. I vaguely remember a tequila shot or two...
DC: Stafford has been brought on as Nina, the wife Dr. Silas Clay cheated on with Ava Jerome 20 years ago. Currently, Silas is hot and heavy with P.I. Sam McCall (Kelly Monaco); while Ava has her finger in just about every pie at Kelly's Diner. Will we see a long dormant Ava/Nina/Silas triangle erupt?
RC: It's a little early to talk in terms of triangles, but certainly the issue of Silas's affair with Ava during his marriage to Nina is going to be addressed. And why are you counting Sam out of the mix? Maybe you should have asked me about a quadrangle...
DC: Stafford and West are two of the most powerful soap actresses in the genre's history. Have you already written their first on screen battle royale?
RC: We actually have not written it yet. But I can promise you it is coming and it will be epic. With those two going head-to-head, how could it not be?
DC: Some fans and critics will likely poo-poo Nina being a dreaded "newbie" character. Was there any discussion of casting Stafford as someone from Port Charles' past?
RC: How do you know Nina's not someone from Port Charles's past? Just kidding. Maybe. Look, bottom line, Michelle was so perfect for Nina, we never seriously considered any other role for her. And personally I think that newbies get a bad rap. Sonny Corinthos was a newbie once.
DC: When Stafford left The Young and the Restless, she expressed a desire to do more comedy. She even invented her own hilarious web series, The Stafford Project. We know the GH writing team has a wicked sense of humor. Will Nina have one as well?
RC: I've watched all the episodes and agree; The Stafford Project is hilarious. And you're right that we love to write comedy at GH. But Nina may not be in the jokiest mood after awakening from a decades-long coma. That said, we plan to take full advantage of all of Michelle's strengths and talents. Just give us time!
DC: Nina has a ready-made family in fictional Port Charles, New York. There's her murderous mother Madeline, equally-lethal aunt Liesl and cousins Britt (Kelly Thiebaud) and Nathan, the latter of whom grew up believing he was her brother! Is GH creating a new central family?
RC: We didn't necessarily set out to do that, but it certainly seems like there's a family taking shape here. And what a family! Who wouldn't want to be invited to that Thanksgiving dinner?
DC: We know Nina shares a past with Silas, but what other men might catch her eye? Ned Ashton (Wally Kurth) hasn't been laid since Bush was in the White House, and Kevin Collins (Jon Lindstrom) has been made a cuckold!
RC: I could definitely see Nina turning either one of their heads, but why stop there? There are plenty of eligible—and not so eligible—men wandering around Port Charles. After walking in on Ava and Sonny post-cryptsex, it seems like Morgan (Bryan Craig) might be back on the market...
DC: While rumors of her joining GH ran rampant for almost an entire year, you actually managed to sneak Stafford's casting in under the radar. How did you manage to accomplish that?
RC:GH has been on hiatus for the past two weeks and Michelle doesn't really start taping until we resume. But we realized that as soon as she did, the news would be out there long before her episodes began airing. It was actually Frank's idea to try to slip her into an earlier show that had already been written and shot, so we could take everyone by surprise. So he snuck her into the studio recently, at the end of the day, to tape the one scene you just saw. That was inserted after the fact. We've been sweating it out ever since that it would stay under wraps!
DC: Why do you think it's so important for soaps to be able to pull off such surprises?
RC: I'm a big TV watcher and I love to be surprised, so I avoid spoilers like the plague. There is no greater satisfaction to me than when I hear a fan say, "I did NOT see that coming!" Which is so hard to pull off in this age of the Internet. Look at what they did on The Good Wife. If you already knew that Will was going to die, or even just that the actor was leaving the show, it would not have had the same impact. I think we should all be striving to have that kind of impact.
Additional reporting by Jamey Giddens