When soaps air their big blockbuster storylines, it's easy to forget just how much planning goes on behind the scenes to bring these moments to our screens. An early idea at a story conference can take months or even years to make it on air – with plots changing along the way for any number of creative or practical reasons.
While this mostly goes on behind closed doors without loyal fans knowing much about it, we're taking a look back at eight known examples where major storylines nearly went to completely different characters.
1. Luke Morgan's rape ordeal (Hollyoaks)
Hollyoaks broke new ground for British soap in 2000 by airing a male rape storyline for Gary Lucy's character Luke Morgan. In a controversial late-night episode, Luke was violently attacked by evil bully Mark Gibbs.
The storyline then carried over into the main 6.30pm show, exploring the emotional aftermath for Luke and culminating in Mark being convicted and sentenced for his horrific crime.
In Channel 5 show Soap's Most Controversial Storylines, Jeremy Edwards – who played Kurt Benson – revealed a big secret about the storyline. Jeremy explained that the plot was initially offered to him, but he declined to take on the challenge as he was sceptical over how it would be portrayed.
"To my shame, I turned down the male rape storyline," he said. "They offered it to me first, before Gary Lucy. This is awful for me to admit, but I didn't think we'd be able to cover it properly. Because we were a bit glossy, I thought: 'How are we going to do that?'"
2. Stacey kills Archie (EastEnders)
EastEnders aired one of its most memorable moments in 2010 when Stacey's guilt in the 'Who Killed Archie?' mystery was exposed in the show's first ever live episode – but things could have been very different.
Seven months on from that iconic 25th anniversary episode, acclaimed EastEnders scriptwriter Simon Ashdown was honest about how Stacey wasn't the original choice for Archie's killer.
Speaking at the Edinburgh TV Festival, Simon explained: "We had a list of the cast and went down it to create that 'shiver' moment. Janine could have done it but she's killed before.
"We settled on Peggy, but then we found out that Barbara Windsor had decided to leave. Like most of these ideas it just appeared as a notion.... we settled on Stacey. It gave us loads of story afterwards."
3. Maria's ordeal with Frank Foster (Coronation Street)
In late 2010, Corrie bosses announced plans for former Bill star Andrew Lancel to join the cast as businessman Frank Foster. The initial press release revealed that Frank would be introduced as a client of Carla's, before setting his sights on Michelle.
A few weeks later, Kym Marsh – who plays Michelle – took early maternity leave from Corrie, prompting a number of urgent rewrites. In a storyline not originally planned, Maria suddenly replaced Michelle as Carla's personal assistant at Underworld, paving the way for dark scenes a few weeks later.
When Maria visited Frank's home to finalise a new deal for the factory, he tried to force himself on her in disturbing scenes – showing his evil true colours for the first time. This big storyline moment had originally been planned for Michelle's character before her early departure from the cobbles.
4. Ben and Paul's relationship (EastEnders)
In 2014, EastEnders hinted at a possible romantic connection between Johnny Carter and Ben Mitchell. The storyline never really went anywhere as Sam Strike made the decision to quit EastEnders after just a year, throwing a spanner in the works for producers.
A few months after Johnny's original departure, EastEnders brought in newcomer Paul Coker as a love interest for Ben instead. Paul's presence on the Square ultimately helped Ben to be more open about his sexuality.
In a 2015 interview, Harry Reid – who played Ben at the time – hinted to Digital Spy that this storyline would have aired with Johnny instead if Sam had decided to stick around.
Harry told us: "What will be interesting for Ben – quite like what would have happened with Johnny Carter – is that Paul is an outlet for his true feelings. He can express what he really feels with Paul."
5. Lindsey as the Gloved Hand Killer (Hollyoaks)
Hollyoaks brought us one of the campest whodunits in soap history in 2015, as the Gloved Hand Killer kept bumping off patients at the local hospital. The storyline aired throughout the show's 20th anniversary year and a number of the hospital staff were cleverly signposted as suspects.
While Lindsey Butterfield was unmasked as the syringe-wielding angel of death in October that year, show boss Bryan Kirkwood told Digital Spy that another possibility had been considered at the very early stages.
"We had some big discussions at the very start," Bryan explained. "In the very early planning stages, Tegan was the other person who was considered as the killer, as it was not long after she'd lost Sam and Danny.
"There was certainly an argument for making it her, but I was keen for it to be Lindsey. It felt like the right decision from day one and it hasn't changed since the start of the story."
6. The tram crash (Coronation Street)
In an alternate soap universe somewhere, Corrie's tram crash disaster took place in 2005 with Claire Peacock as the driver. Show bosses wanted a tram to crash into the Rovers Return and planned to tie the stunt in with Claire's new job as a local driver.
Corrie chiefs eventually scrapped the storyline following objections from real-life transport officials in Manchester, who feared that the scenes would paint the local Metrolink service (which has an excellent safety record) in a poor and inaccurate light.
The storyline was resurrected for Corrie's 50th anniversary celebrations in 2010 – this time with the blessing of Metrolink, who were appeased with assurances that the tram and driver wouldn't be at fault.
7. Finn rapes John Paul (Hollyoaks)
Hollyoaks explored a male-rape storyline again in 2014, but initial plans here were also a little bit different to what eventually aired on screen. Viewers saw twisted teenager Finn O'Connor attack his teacher John Paul McQueen, but show bosses originally had a different perpetrator in mind.
Robbie Roscoe, who'd been part of John Paul's bullying ordeal at the school, was originally planned as the major villain in this storyline. However, show bosses soon decided on a redemption arc for Sandy's roguish son and gave the big storyline to Finn instead.
8. Bobby Beale as Lucy's killer (EastEnders)
Bobby Beale returned to EastEnders in 2019 and started rebuilding his life after serving his time for Lucy's murder, but original discussions for the soap's biggest ever whodunit initially had him as an innocent party.
Speaking after the much-hyped 'Who Killed Lucy?' reveal in 2015, executive producer Dominic Treadwell-Collins revealed that two other culprits had been considered in the early stages of the storyline – Cindy and Jane.
"We always said that this story had to come from the heart, and with this, it's the start of a whole big new story for the Beales," Dominic said at the time.
"My idea was Jane and then Cindy. And then [story producer] Alex Lamb said Bobby…"
Digital Spy Soap Scoop video – hit play below for all the latest EastEnders spoilers, as Sharon discovers that she's pregnant and Mick realises Linda has been lying to him.
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