General Hospital

Not again! The trouble-plagued city of Port Charles has seen many epic disasters in recent years — a killer virus, a towering inferno, colliding passenger trains — and now it's time to put the kiddies in some holiday jeopardy. ABC's General Hospital will kick off the new year by sending its young ones — ranging in age from tots to teenagers — on a Christmas vacation bus trip to snow country. That bus is forced to take an unplanned route due to weather trouble and will skid on black ice and flip over during the December 29 cliffhanger. When the show returns January 3, the bus will plummet down a steep ravine, thanks to some cool CGI tricks.

"Every once in a while we like to put the opera back in soap opera," says exec producer Jill Farren Phelps. "It's a dangerous and terrifying incident and the emotional ramifications will roll out for some time to come because this affects every family in town." Kids involved include Michael, Kristina, Molly, Morgan, Hunter and Cameron, many of them sired by mob kingpin Sonny Corinthos or closely connected to him. But Phelps swears this is no revenge crime. Nor is it the work of the show's mysterious arch-villain The Balkan, if that's what you're thinking.

"This is simply nature taking its course — a chance to give the show a bigger sense of life and death," says Phelps. "And there will be death. In fact, two people die — one immediately and one later on as a result of an injury." Yeah, but will we GH nuts give a hoot about the victims? Or are we talking about the day-player bus driver? Says Phelps with a laugh: "Well, the characters involved in the accident will certainly care!"

The crash is made worse because the kids aren't wearing seatbelts. "In many states there's no law requiring them," Phelps says. "We'll look at that controversy."

Of course, it wouldn't be a suds tragedy if love didn't bloom in the midst of all the trauma. "One couple will get closer and one couple gets started," hints Phelps. You do the math: The adult chaperones on the doomed bus include Matt and Maxie and Steve and Olivia. Expect lots of sturm und drang from the freaked-out parents of Port Chuck, plus lots o' guilt.

"Carly was supposed to be a chaperone but she got too busy and, at the last minute, asked Olivia to fill in for her," Phelps says. "So not only is Carly not there when her kids need her most, Olivia is one of the most seriously injured."

On the upside, the hospital's chief of staff just happens to be onboard. "I'm the only doctor around, so this is my chance to shine!" says fan fave Scott Reeves, who plays Steve Webber. "Bodies are falling and there's a lot of carnage but it's also a lot of fun. It felt like we were making a movie — a chance to feel like an action hero!"

Reeves believes viewers dig this stuff because "they get to see what the characters they love are really all about. It's not the usual 'I hate you!'/'I love you!' sort of drama. It's a situation that could actually happen and because it involves kids there's a much greater urgency and poignancy." Adds the actor: "It can't get more real than when you're on the brink of death. All bets are off, authenticity shines through and the audience likes that!"

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