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Growing Old Together: Following As the World Turns' Tom Hughes Through the Years, Part IV of VI


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This post was originally published on the MIT Convergence Culture Consortium Weblog on July 04, 2007.

Childhood and Adolescence--The SORASing of Tom Hughes

Tom Hughes was immediately a central focus on ATWT because he was born to the central couple of the show at the time, Bob and Lisa. The show's writers recognized that only a minimal amount of storytelling could be accomplished with Tom as a young child.

Therefore, Tom became one of the first victims of SORAS, a disease that now regularly strikes children in soap opera towns. SORAS, which stands for Soap Opera Rapid Aging Syndrome, is a term popularized in the soap opera press and in online fan communities, in response to the trend to age soap opera characters, almost always children, much more rapidly than real time would allow.

The early development of Tommy Hughes is one of the most blatant examples of SORASing, as the character was born in 1961 and, by the end of the decade, was in Vietnam. The character's birth and early existence was largely as a plot device in the dissolution of Bob and Lisa's marriage.

Bob, workaholic doctor and son of the featured family of ATWT, and Lisa, the ambitious social climber, separated, with young Tommy stuck in between. He was quickly aged so that he could become an active part of the divorce storyline, with young Tommy acting out because he was resentful of his father's devotion to work. The storyline was one of daytime's earliest nuanced looks at the social effects of divorce at a time when such issues were becoming prevalent in the social consciousness. Tom grew up in the midst of this struggle between Bob and Lisa, spending periods of time with both parents and also in military school.

Tom Hughes was SORASed through these constant shifts in actor, allowing the baby in 1961 to be in college and then to return from Vietnam by the decade's end. The SORASing actually moved his birth date, if one were to try to hold fictional Oakdale, Illinois, to a realistic standard of time and aging, from 1961 back to the late 1940s, meaning that he gained over an extra decade of life by the time he had been on the screen for nine years.

SORASing has become an accepted part of soap opera storytelling. ATWT's current head writer pointed out to me in an interview that all soap writers realize that, while fans may sometimes complain about this aging phenomenon, they almost always accept and even desire it, as aging characters helps create more compelling stories.

Fans complain about SORASing most when the aging process is either too drastic--as in this case with Tom Hughes--or when one younger character is aged while others are not, especially when younger characters get aged so that, as adults, they become older than characters actually born before them. With Tom, the SORASing was later reversed to a degree, so that the actor playing Tom Hughes for the past two decades, Scott Holmes, was born in 1952.

Vietnam and Drug Dependence

Tom continued to be aged rapidly throughout the 1960s so that writers could use his relationship with Bob and Lisa to examine the contemporary generational divide that defined the decade. Tom was frustrated both at his father's place in "the establishment," emphasizing career over family, and at his mother's obsession of maintaining and elevating her class status. In his somewhat justified frustration, however, Tom befriended his college roommate, who soon got him addicted to speed and involved in several illegal activities.

With his grades failing, Tom revealed to his familythat he was thinking of joining the Army and going for a tour in Vietnam. He eventually did, returning from the war with self-inflicted injuries and an even worse drug dependency. That drug dependency led to Tom being wrongly convicted for the murder of an ex-stepfather, although he was later exonerated.

This period saw the solidification of the Tom Hughes character, growing from being a plot device in Bob and Lisa's story to having a story of his own. By the end of the 1960s, Tom was established as a permanent part of the show's canvas.

With ATWT's focus on current social issues, Hughes became an outlet through which the writers could examine aspects of the current political climate: the Vietnam War, the driving motives for young adults willing to sign up for combat, the social consequences for soldiers returning from a tour of Vietnam, generational conflicts, and a growing visible drug culture in American society.

These issues are addressed through a primary character linked to the central family in Oakdale, the son of two of the show's most heavily featured characters.

Career and Marriage

Tom began the 1970s as a matured young adult, portrayed by Peter Galman from 1969 until 1973. While earlier quick shifts in actors facilitated both the rapid aging and the sense of a fractured or shifting character identification for Hughes, the relatively longer portrayal of Hughes by Galman demonstrated the character's newfound consistency.

Viewers may have been reassured to see that the effects of the Vietnam War, the generational divide, the rebellious spirit, and the drug culture that Tom Hughes represented in the late 1960s still resulted in a responsible and productive young adult, as Tom moved into a different phase of storytelling in the 1970s--personal drama and the search for love.

Several romances led to eventual marriage of Tom and the demur Carol Deming. Meanwhile, Tom had gained control of his life and had decided to use his knowledge of the court system, both through his being wrongfully accused of murder and through his parents' divorce in childhood, to become a lawyer. Tom's career choice was also meaningful to his family because his grandfather and the show's patriarch, Chris Hughes, was a lawyer in Oakdale.

However, career and marriage came into conflict, as Tom's focus on law school caused a rift between he and Carol--another of the similarities between Tom and his father. This common genre theme of work/love conflict came to a head for Tom when he fell for a client and divorced Carol, becoming one of the divorce statistics he had idealistically hoped to combat when he began law school. In fact, one of the recurring ironies in Tom's story during the 1970s was the many ways in which he became the very person he was rebelling against the decade before, a social consequence in American society as hippies became yuppies.

With the shift to David Colson playing Tom, the character's relationship with his new love--Natalie Bannon--led to a second marriage, which also ended in divorce due to Natalie's infidelity. Colson's portrayal of Hughes played out these personal conflicts juxtaposed with Hughes' role as young lawyer, an important fixture in a town with as many controversial characters as Oakdale. During Tom Tammi's brief stint as Tom and the transition to Justin Deas, Tom almost married a third time--but this bride-to-be, Barbara Ryan, dumped him at the altar in favor of an old flame.

Viewers followed Tom through the decade as he built a law practice for himself and endured several failed relationships and two failed marriages. But, with Justin Deas now portraying Tom, the creation of a soap supercouple was underway.

Another central aspect of soap storytelling, the supercouple is what every soap opera producer dreams of--the partnership that viewers can't get enough of, a love story and ongoing relationship that drives ratings and fan reaction. In the late 1950s, ATWT had created the first soap supercouple with Tom Hughes' aunt Penny and her boyfriend and husband Jeff Baker. For Tom, however, it was Margo Montgomery who would become the love of his life and currently ATWT's longest lasting marriage and supercouple.

As soaps entered the height of their fantasy phase in the early 1980s, Tom and Margo's love story became one of the greatest examples of the action-adventure and fantasy romance of soaps during this time period. His relationship with Margo developed around a story arc that spread across the show, in which a drug king pen named Mr. Big became involved in the lives of several Oakdale residents, including Margo. Tom had hired Margo as his assistant, but she had become personally involved in the controversy with Mr. Big. The adventure with Big led Tom and Margo across the world in a series of action stories, with their romance developing through their adventures together.

Tom had been dating Margo's aunt, but the adventures he and Margo went through caused the couple to fall for each other, in spite of all the social forces that would keep them apart--Margo had been involved in recent controversy in Oakdale and was also resistant to falling for her aunt's boyfriend. The popularity of this supercouple was driven by the soap press' revelation that the actors playing Tom and Margo had fallen in love.

Tom and Margo's adventures became the major story of ATWT in 1982. At the height of this escapist storyline, the supercouple ended up in Europe, at Mr. Big's mercy, in a death trap with the only way out being clues from classic literature. Tom and Margo survived because of their knowledge of a Robert Browning sonnet and moving through a reenactment of a scene from Alice in Wonderland.

The couple's escape to France and their fanciful adventures there led to an engagement and eventual marriage when they returned home and Margo's career as a police detective. The couple was married in 1983, in a come-as-you-are spontaneous wedding, with Tom and Margo arriving on a motorcycle. Deas and Colin soon left the roles of Tom and Margo, with Hillary Bailey Smith taking over the role of Margo, while a short run by Jason Kincaid as Tom in 1984 led to Gregg Marx taking the role for almost three years.

During much of this time, Tom and Margo were on the backburner compared to Deas and Colin's versions of the characters in 1982 and 1983. However, 1986 introduced a complication in Tom and Margo's marriage, as a shift in creative forces at ATWT had led to a strong focus on family and workplace drama once again. Tom and former fiancee Barbara Ryan began working with each other, with Tom acting as Barbara's business manager. After a work night when both were drinking, Barbara convinced Tom that they had slept together. This led to Tom and Margo becoming separated and Margo's eventual affair with fellow detective Hal Munson.

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