General Hospital's Steve Burton on Jason's Life or Death Surgery
The mother of all soap-amnesia plots — the woeful tale of Jason on General Hospital — is about to take a curious turn. Long story short: Back in 1995, rich, wholesome preppy Jason Quartermaine (played by Steve Burton) was left mentally damaged and memory-free after a car accident and split from his family to become underworld hit man Jason Morgan. Now he's been seriously injured in yet another crash and will require life-or-death brain surgery. During the intense procedure (airing August 26 and 29), the women in Jason's life — fiancée Sam (Kelly Monaco), mom Monica (Leslie Charleson), ex-lover Liz (Rebecca Herbst) and BFF Carly (Laura Wright) — will fantasize about how their relationships with him would be different if he hadn't turned mobster. TV Guide Magazine spoke with the Emmy-winning Burton about these "What If...?" scenarios and that even bigger question hanging over everyone at GH. Will the show be cancelled?
TV Guide Magazine: These fantasy sequences sound like real fan-pleasers, especially for the Liz and Jason nuts who have never given up — or shut up — about a "Liason" reunion.
Burton: They have a real passion for seeing Elizabeth and Jason together and this is only going to make it worse! But that's a good thing. [Laughs] Liz's fantasy is going to drive the fans crazy! I think this idea has always been in the viewers' minds. What if Jason got in another accident? How would he wake up? Would he return to his old self? So we're doing some cool stuff with that. With the exception of Sam, who doesn't want Jason to change at all, everyone wants him to be somebody else. Monica wants her son back. Carly still has that little glimmer of hope that it might work out romantically for her and Jason. Their fantasies were a chance for me, after many, many years, to lighten up and loosen up and have fun playing a few different Jasons.
TV Guide Magazine: Plus, we get Stuart Damon back on the show!
Burton: It was awesome to be back with the Quartermaines having a good ole Quartermaine argument in the Quartermaine living room. I grew up in that room! And to have Stuart back as Alan — even for just a day — was just so cool. I really miss all that. It brought back a lot of memories to be working with Leslie and Stuart, and Jane Elliot [Tracy] and John Ingle [Edward]. There's some big history there, but when the Qs got to quarrelling, it's like no time had passed at all. We got right back into the swing of it.
TV Guide Magazine: Now you don't wear anything but black. Did they make you wear Jason's infamous Christmas reindeer sweater in Monica's fantasy?
Burton: No sweater, dude! The producers every once in a while threaten me when I get out of line. "You better shape up or you'll be back in that sweater and we'll make you grow your gold mullet back out!"
TV Guide Magazine: And you'll have to smile!
Burton: Right! "And we're gonna make you smile... a lot!" Which they know I hate. Before Jason's brain damage, they had him wearing sweaters and serving tea to his grandma Lila [Anna Lee]. It drove me crazy! I owe everything to that accident.
TV Guide Magazine: How come no Sonny [Maurice Benard] fantasy? It'd be a hoot to see what his life's like without his precious hit man.
Burton: [Laughs] Are you kidding? Without Jason, Sonny would be homeless pushing a cart down the street. We already have plenty of scenes on the show where he's talking to himself. He'd be lost without me! He'd have to do the work himself, and he couldn't do it.
TV Guide Magazine: Since you haven't been fired, I guess we can safely assume Jason survives the surgery. What are your thoughts on his engagement to Sam?
Burton: It's a huge step for Jason but it's time they take this relationship to the next level whatever that is — marriage, kids, dealing with real life. Don't you feel it's time?
TV Guide Magazine: Uh, yeah, considering Sam doesn't give a hoot what Jason does for a living. He might wanna grab this one.
Burton: Exactly! Who else but Sam wants to be with a serial killer? That's why this relationship works and needs to move forward. Will we hit a few hurdles on the way to the marriage? Sure. Will we have a kid?
TV Guide Magazine: And, if they do, will Sam turn into another Brenda, who was fine with Sonny's mob life until she had a child of her own?
Burton: No matter what happens, Jason cannot get out of the business. We've seen that. He can't. It doesn't work. So who knows? Maybe he and Sam will have a problem with that. I don't ask what's coming up. I saw [new GH head writer] Garin Wolf on the set one day and he said, "Has [exec producer] Jill Phelps told you what we'll be doing with your character?" I said, "No. She's tried to but I don't really want to know." He's, like, "You don't? But I have story for the next four months!" Sorry, nope. I read my script the night before and I report for work and do it. I don't want to fight anything, like I used to do when I was young. I want to be a team player. I really trust Garin. I love [former head writer] Bob Guza and will forever be grateful for the opportunities he gave me, but he's an action and event guy. Garin slows down a little more and really highlights relationships. It's a big change for me, but I'm rolling with it.
TV Guide Magazine: Are you going to be popping up on Kelly Monaco's new E! reality show Dirty Soap? Are her roving cams in your face?
Burton: No. I'm not going to fault her if she wants to do a reality show and make extra money, but it's really not my thing. I hate cameras. I've been at GH so long — I'm in my 20th year! — that the studio is like my home. I'm comfortable there and OK with those cameras, but when I see other cameras on the set I get weird. I go all Sonny on people.
TV Guide Magazine: You're a businessman in your own right. What are your thoughts on All My Children and One Life to Live going to the internet?
Burton: Personally, I think it's gonna work. I've been learning a lot about marketing on the internet and how advertising works. If Prospect Park has the right business plan, it could be a big success. Twenty percent of America now watches TV via the internet. That's an insane number! I go on ESPN.com and I have to watch a 15-second commercial before I can watch an interview with Peyton Manning. There's no getting around it. You have my attention for 15 seconds. With TiVo, you don't. Advertisers will get more for their buck on the internet and these Prospect Park people can use that to their advantage. But we'd obviously prefer to stay on ABC.
TV Guide Magazine: What's been the mood around the studio since the network announced that Katie Couric's talk show will take over the GH time slot in September, 2012?
Burton: After AMC and OLTL got cancelled, everybody was like, "It's the end of the world! The sky is falling!" And it got worse after [the Couric announcement]. But ABC has made some big changes at our show by making Garin the head writer. Jill is trying to do everything humanly possible to keep this show on the air. I gotta give her credit for that. It's hard to make moves and make decisions right now but she's doing everything she can. The mood is, "Let's come together and do our best." We're hand-in-hand in this situation. We're a show that wants to survive. Morale was pretty low after the cancellations. Now it's pretty high. There are so many variables. If Katie Couric's taking our slot, do we get the slot of one of these new reality shows if they don't work out? What's the likelihood of both of them being a hit? All we can do is focus on what we need to do to keep the ratings up and the budget down. We don't want ABC looking at us going, "Do we want GH or this Chew show?" We want our numbers to be so good they can't even think about getting rid of us.
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