Soap History: Ryan’s Hope
Working class heroes.
Looking to create something similar to their popular “General Hospital,” ABC went to the head writers of CBS’ “Love of Life” in order to solicit something that centered around an Irish family in the fictional Riverside, Manhattan, their pub and their children’s aspirations of something more. What they got was exactly that with “Ryan’s Hope,” at least for the first few years. Eventually the show was reset in the real New York community of Washington Heights with plenty of location shots as well as new characters. By the time the show ended it had been bumped from it’s longtime 12:30 PM time-slot to 12:00 PM to accommodate Agnes Nixon’s “Loving” and was cancelled not long after.
July 7, 1975 – January 13, 1989
In the beginning “Ryan’s Hope” centered around the lives of the wealthy Coleridges and the large Irish-American family, the Ryans. Father Johnny (Bernard Barrow) ran a tavern, Ryan’s, while his wife Maeve (Helen Gallagher) helped out in addition to caring for three of their five children. Lawyer Frank (Michael Hawkins) was an aspiring local politician, Pat (Malcolm Groome) was a doctor and Mary (Kate Mulgrew) was an aspiring journalist. After the show switched locations, many new characters came and went and later on the wealthy Kirklands dominated the show.
Jack Fenelli (Michael Levin) and Mary Ryan
Frank Ryan and Jillian Coleridge (Nancy Addison Altman)
Rick Hyde (Grant Show) and Ryan Fenelli (Yasmine Bleeth)
Notable guest stars:
“Ryan’s Hope” boasts a long list of notable celebrities who either got their start on the serial or stopped by once or twice throughout the course of its run. Morgan Freeman, Catherine Hicks, Joan Fontaine, Johnny Mathis, Yasmine Bleeth, Sam Coppola, Maxwell Caulfield, Fisher Stevens, Grant Show, Nell Carter, Corbin Bernsen, Robin Green, Julia Barr, Marg Helgenberger, Sylvia Sydney, Regis Philbin, Christian Slater, Julia Campbell, Angela Bassett, Mary-Louise Parker, Robin Mattson, Ron Perlman, Walt Willey and Kate Mulgrew all spent time on “Ryan’s Hope.” Earl Hindman, who played Delia’s brother Bobby, went on to co-star on “Home Improvement” as the faceless over-the-fence neighbor Wilson.
At first the show was all about cultures clashing between the blue-collar Ryans and their liberated disco-era kids. Later on, the more traditional storylines veered into off-the-wall moments and quasi-incestuous relationships. Still, the generational differences that came to light during topical storylines like abortion, rape and having children before marriage appealed to viewers.
Despite his wedding to Leigh (Felicity LaFortune), Jack wasn’t over Mary. Rae (Louise Shaffer), on her way to the Netherlands, arrived late to congratulate the couple and later, Ben (James Wlcek) pulled Lizzie (Catherine Larson) away from John (Jason Adams) and kissed her. He avoided a confrontation by telling them he was saying goodbye and heading for Australia. Nancy Don (Maria Pitillo) arrived, who was oddly also going to Australia. Chaz (Bryan McGovern) and Ryan told each other they loved each other, as did Siobhan (Barbara Blackburn) and Fenno (Casey Biggs). Later, Bobby won the lottery. There was a bit of a cliffhanger when Pat asked Faith (Karen Morris-Gowdy) if Grace was his daughter, which she only answered with a smile. The show ended with Maeve singing “Danny Boy.”
After the first two years the show began to slide in the ratings, partly due to numerous cast changes among the Ryan children. Five different actors played Frank Ryan over the course of the run and four played Pat. After Kate Mulgrew left the role of Mary, three actresses played the role over an 11 month period until they eventually killed her off. But these were not the only recasts. The role of Delia was played by four actresses, with Ilene Kristen doing it twice until she was fired for gaining weight, a side effect of medication she was taking at the time.
Ryan’s Hope trivia:
* Soon after the show ended, the last version of the Ryan’s Bar set was used on “One Life to Live” as a club in Llanview.
* “Ryan’s Hope” and “OLTL” shared more than that old bar set – they also shared a finale date. After 43 years “OLTL” concluded its run on January 13, 2012, exactly 23 years after “Ryan’s Hope” aired its finale.
* “RH” never really made it out of the middle of the ratings pack, hitting a high of seventh place in 1981 – 1982 among 14 soaps on the air at the time.
* Christian Slater played a troubled teen for a while as his real-life father Michael Hawkins played the original Frank Ryan.
* When the show was moved to its 12:00 PM time-slot in 1984 it was the only soap to air at that time and the hope was ratings would rise again. Instead, many ABC affiliates were unwilling to stop airing news at that time and many places did not air the show at all.
* Between 1975 – 1980, “Ryan’s Hope” was not owned by ABC, but rather Labine-Mayer Productions. ABC had approached Claire Labine and Paul Avila Mayer, the head writers of CBS’ “Love of Life,” about creating a new soap. Rising production costs forced them to sell to ABC five years later.
* “Ryan’s Hope” won sixteen Daytime Emmy Awards.
* SOAPnet picked up reruns of “RH” in 2000. They were one of the few daytime dramas from before 1978 to have saved all of their episodes.
Photo credit: Russ Einhorn/WENN.com; ABC
Video credit: Freeflyur
– Hollie Deese
Originally posted November 7, 2011. Refreshed by Amy Mistretta September 15, 2017.