Nov. 14, 2006 — -- Few things get couch potatoes as misty as a TV wedding. We shared in the joy when Monica and Chandler became more than "Friends." And everyone was just a little curious to see how the Bradys became a bunch.
But when Luke and Laura tied the knot 25 years ago on "General Hospital," it was a cultural phenomenon that still reverberates through American society. And it's more than the fact that 30 million Americans -- the most ever for a daytime drama -- watched the event.
"'Today, we've really seen the soap-ification of prime time TV," says Marc Berman, TV critic at Mediaweek.
"Shows like 'Grey's Anatomy,' 'The O.C.,' 'The Sopranos,' they're all modern versions of soap operas, and in many ways, "General Hospital" paved the way in the early '80s, when they added younger stars, hipper storylines and better production.
"And it all culminated with that big wedding."
Over the years, many TV critics have predicted the end of the daytime soap opera -- and they had good reason to be pessimistic.
Shows like "General Hospital," "All My Children," and "Guiding Light" could be seen as dinosaurs. These daytime staples have now been on the air for decades. "Guiding Light" started on TV in 1952, and had been on the radio as far back as 1937.
Moreover, through the years, these shows have been largely supported by an adult female audience, who are more apt to be working during the day, when the soaps air.
In fact, by late 1978, low ratings had brought "General Hospital" to the brink of cancellation. That's when executive producer Gloria Monty took the helm of the ABC show and transformed it into the No. 1 daytime drama.
"Suddenly, it became more hip for a high school girl to watch 'General Hospital' when she came home from school," says Lynn Leahey, editorial director of Soap Opera Digest.
"Luke and Laura really pointed the way that those shows would go. It reconfigured TV history."
Part of "General Hospital's" new appeal was an influx of young stars. In the early 1980s, the show catapulted Rick Springfield -- better known as Dr. Noah Drake -- to pop stardom. Demi Moore got her start on the show. And Elizabeth Taylor was such a fan, she signed on for a cameo.
"I never realized how big it was when it was happening, and I'm constantly amazed, as the years go by -- and certainly 25 years have gone by -- that people still care," says Genie Francis, the 44-year-old actress who has returned for a brief stint on the show.
For those of you who haven't been watching "General Hospital" religiously, Luke and Laura divorced after nearly 20 years of marriage in 2001. They were about to get back together when she killed Rick -- her mother's ex-husband -- and the shock left her in a state of "psychomotor disassociation."
Now, with an experimental drug, Laura has emerged from this near-vegetative state, and she'll exchange vows once again this Thursday with her TV beloved.
"Twenty-five years ago, there's no way I would ever believe that we'd be standing here," says Anthony Geary, 59, who plays Luke.
"If someone would have told me that, I'd think they're crazy."
"General Hospital" producers are hoping that the special Thursday broadcast will attract "lapsed" viewers who "haven't watched the show as often or in a while."
Still, nobody is expecting the earth-shaking ratings of 1981.
"The trend is for lower ratings. But that's true not just for daytime dramas, but for primetime," says Leahey. "The spread of cable, the Internet, DVDs, and digital recorders have given the public so many options."
Interestingly, Luke and Laura's 1981 wedding came along before most homes had cable TV or video tape players.
Though the audiences are smaller, the major soaps are in no danger of fading away. In fact, with wireless platforms and Web sites like SoapNet.com, daytime dramas are not just for daytime anymore.
"It's interesting that soaps -- one of the oldest forms of TV -- translate so well into the new medias," says Berman. "Nobody is predicting the end of the soap opera today."As we celebrate Luke and Laura's remarriage, here's a look at how some other notable TV marriages turned out:
Carol & Mike -- The Bradys became one big happy family on the first episode of the show. Mike and Carol's newly-blended family of six kids and a wacky maid created predictable chaos. Tiger the pooch knocked over the wedding cake, covering the groom's tuxedo in frosting. Still, the happy couple brought their army of squeaky clean kids on the honeymoon, and stayed married through five seasons of primetime.
Rhoda & Joe -- More than 60 million were watching in October, 1974, when Rhoda Morgenstern (Valerie Harper) finally made her mother happy after years of disaster dates. The bride had to run through the streets of Manhattan in her gown to reach the ceremony, but that's Rhoda. At the time, this episode of "Rhoda" was the second-highest rated hour of any TV show, behind the birth of little Ricky on "I Love Lucy." Too bad Rhoda and Joe broke up two years later.
Mork & Mindy -- In 1981, just weeks before Luke and Laura exchanged vows, intergalactic sparks were flying in "Mork & Mindy." As a space alien, Mork (Robin Williams) had to struggle with his disapproving father -- and the fact that marriage was outlawed on planet Ork. The couple ended up having a son, Mearth (Jonathan Winters), who, like his dad, aged backwards.
Monica & Chandler -- Monica Geller (Courteney Cox) finally took Chandler (Matthew Perry) as her husband in 2001, at the end of season seven, when viewers were left wondering if Monica and Rachel were pregnant. The Bings, of course, became the parents of twins and eventually moved out to the suburbs.
Dr. Mike & Sully -- Dr. Quinn (Jane Seymour) became a married medicine woman in 1995, when dreamboat Sully popped the question. They managed to keep it together through the show's remaining three seasons, perhaps because of her healing touch.
Trista & Ryan -- Most reality show marriages have a predictably short shelf life. Remember Darva Conger's lightning fast marriage to Rick Rockwell on "Who Wants to Marry a Millionaire?" But it was a different story for "Bachelorette" Trista Rehn and Ryan Sutter, the groom she chose from a bevy of would-be suitors. Not only did the couple receive $1 million for letting their nuptials be broadcast, they're still married.
"General Hospital" airs on ABC TV, a division of The Walt Disney Company, which is also the parent company of ABC News.