Casting and re-casting is often a mystery to soap opera viewers. Lately, there is a lot of it going around. We are most stunned by the sudden departures of both Billy Miller (Billy Abbott, "The Young and the Restless") and Chandler Massey (Will Horton, "Days of our Lives").
Massey's departure was a given; its timing was the surprise. The actor had decided not to renew his contract. So, it was a given the show had to recast, but it chose to do so before Massey's planned date of departure. Whether or not there is bad blood between the two parties is up for debate. The show's writers appear to have a major story in store for Will, and it could possibly be jarring to switch gears with a different actor midstream. Still, losing this incredibly popular actor unnecessarily early is not likely to endear the show to the fans.
Taking over the Horton role is soap newbie Guy Wilson, who reportedly has amazing chemistry with Freddie Smith, who plays Will's lover, Sonny. Chemistry or not, casting Wilson to replace Massey gives the newbie an uphill battle.
Miller's circumstances are a bit different. The actor and the "Y&R" brass could not come to terms. The dispute was not over money. Reportedly, Miller was more interested in being able to work on other projects while retaining the role. Miller's co-star Amelia Heinle made no secret of her wanting him to stay. And Miller is an incredible actor. To the show's credit, the writers have given him a hell of a swan song, with his dealing with the grief and guilt over Delia's death. The show has cast David Tom, who has previously played Billy, but was last seen in the role more than a decade ago. Tom is no slouch, but he's not Miller. Bringing back an actor who once played the role could be a brilliant move -- or not. The Billy of today is not the Billy who Tom left in 2002. Tom's trying to blend the Billy of old with the new Billy will be a huge challenge for the actor. Make no mistake, he was a skilled thespian then, so we do not doubt his talent. But it may be hard for longtime viewers to absorb.
The soap canvas is littered with re-casts that never worked. Yet, we need to remember that Peter Bergman's Jack Abbott on "Y&R" is one that did. At the time, Bergman came from "All My Children," where he played a too-good-to-be-true hero (Cliff Warner). We were sure that casting him in the role previously played to perfection by Terry Lester would be a huge mistake. There was no range in the role he played on "AMC." Although he was wildly popular on that show, we had no clue what Bergman could do. We scoffed in print at this ridiculous re-cast. Needless to say, we have long since eaten our words.
We have great trepidation about these re-casts. Yet every time we watch Peter Bergman work his magic, we want to believe that our fears will be like Henny Penny announcing that the sky is falling.