Joe Kohen/FilmMagic
Lynette Rice
January 27, 2018 AT 02:52 PM EST

More than 20,000 fans of ABC’s General Hospital have signed a petition to reinstate Genie Francis as a series regular after the veteran soap star was dropped to recurring status.

The Soap Hub petition explains how GH laid the groundwork for Francis’ departure by having her character, Laura, “rip down her campaign posters in her quest to become Port Charles’ next mayor” and then heading to Europe to “tend to grandson, Spencer, who had broken both legs.” Last week, EW confirmed that GH had declined to extend her contract for another year but left open the possibility of having her return.

Francis will only make her way back to Port Charles if the story and timing were ideal, her agent Arthur Toretzky tells EW.

“She did not want to leave the show as a series regular,” Toretzky adds. “It was not her choice to leave.”

Besides the petitions (another one exists on Change.org), fans are hoping to appeal to the soap’s advertisers like Weight Watchers, Metamucil, and Cottonelle in hopes it will help with the cause.

Fan efforts to bring back beloved characters or shows via letters or petitions is a time-honored tradition, but technology has thrown a wrench into the process. Back when fans fought to bring back Cagney and Lacey in 1983, for example, CBS received thousands of passionate letters. Now, fans simply have to log onto their computers and add their names to a web page. “There are so many ways to influence the volume of names on a petition through artificial means,” offers one broadcast network executive. “It’s really hard to tell what’s authentic and organized.”

Besides, observes another network executive, GH may have multiple reasons for wanting to cut back on Francis’ hours. (A network spokeswoman says they traditionally do not comment on actor contracts.) It could simply be a creative decision; the most popular characters on the show — at least for now — appear to be Jason, Sam, Drew, Anna, Finn, Alexis, and Julian.

“There’s usually more to it than meets the eye,” said the observer of ABC’s decision to cut back Francis’ hours.

Francis has played Laura off and on since 1977, when she and Anthony Geary, as Luke Spencer, formed an on-screen couple that left an indelible mark on the genre. In 2013, Francis made her first triumphant return to General Hospital after spending a little over a year on The Young and the Restless. Two years later, she staged another homecoming to Port Charles just as Spencer was preparing to exit.

EW has been unable to reach the actress for comment but she tweeted her gratitude to fans last week.

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