Soap opera rapid aging syndrome
Soap opera rapid aging syndrome (SORAS) is the practice of accelerating the age of a television character (usually a child or teenager) in conflict with the timeline of a series and/or the real-world progression of time. Characters unseen on screen for a time might reappear portrayed by an actor several years older than the original. Usually coinciding with a recast, rapid aging is typically done to open up the character to a wider range of storylines, and to attract younger viewers. The process originated in (and is most commonly used in) daytime soap operas, but is also often used in prime time shows. SORAS generally refers to cases in which a character's rapid aging happens off-screen without any explanation, rather than to storylines in science fiction and fantasy in which a character ages rapidly due to technology, magic, or non-human biology. At least one whimsical effort has been made to describe the SORAS effect as time dilation due to "soap opera physics".
Coined by Soap Opera Weekly founding editor-in-chief Mimi Torchin in the early days of the magazine, the term is now widely used in the soap opera media. Torchin has jokingly called it "my one greatest contribution to the world of soap operas."
The practice of rapidly aging characters dates back to the early years of television soap opera. In As the World Turns, Tom Hughes was born on screen in 1961. By 1970 he had been to college and fought in the Vietnam War. Subsequent recasting exhibited a reverse phenomenon, keeping him in his 30s for 20 years, with Tom hitting his 40s in the 1990s. Dan Stewart, born onscreen on As the World Turns in 1958, reappeared as a 26-year-old doctor in 1966.
On the situation comedy Growing Pains, Chrissy Seaver was born on the show in late 1988. She remained a toddler for the remainder of that season and the season after, but in 1990 the character was aged to five with the role being recast with Ashley Johnson. On The Fresh Prince of Bel Air, Nicky Banks was born toward the end of the third season in February 1993. By the fifth season premiere in September 1995, Nicky had rapidly aged to a preschooler. On Step By Step, Lily Foster Lambert was born on the show's 4th season finale in 1995. She remained an infant in season 5, but was aged in season 6 and portrayed by 6-year old Emily Mae Young.
A 1993 secret history storyline on All My Children established that lead character Erica Kane had been raped immediately before the series' 1970 debut. In this retcon, Erica represses all memory of the rape until 16-year-old Kendall Hart, a child produced by it and put up for adoption, appears in 1993. Viewer reaction to the discrepancy created by Erica having a 16-year-old daughter as the product of a 24-year-old rape prompted the series to immediately adjust Kendall's age to 23.
On CSI: Crime Scene Investigation, we meet Catherine Willows' daughter, Lindsey Willows, in the pilot episode, where she is six years old. She has her seventh birthday a few episodes later in 'Crate 'n Burial'. However, in a Season 5 episode, 'Homebodies,' four years later, Lindsay is 13, hitch-hiking, and talking about stripping. In the seventh season the actress who plays Lindsey is replaced with an older actress, who, in the two-part season opener, 'Built to Kill,' is apparently 15. By the 12th season starting in 2011, Lindsey should in theory be 18 — despite the fact that she was shown to be 15 six years earlier.
Another soap where SORAS is a common condition is Neighbours. In 2001, newlyweds Libby Kennedy and Drew Kirk gave birth to son Ben. Ben returned in 2007 as an eight-year-old. The primary reason for this was that a child actor playing the part of Micky, age 11 at the time, had a younger brother whom the producers wanted to cast in the show. It was much easier for the writers to write storylines for an eight-year-old boy than a six-year-old. Now, when referenced, the show states than Ben's year of birth is 1999. Although SORAS most commonly occurs when a character is recast, the show featured a notable instance of a character being "aged" without a change of actor. When the character of Hannah Martin departed in 1999, she was said to be 15, despite having been just six when introduced in 1992 (and her parents meeting for the first time in 1985 in an earlier storyline).
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