Despite having been raped by a drunken Luke, Laura falls in love with him. Originally, critics of the soap opera genre panned the choice of having a rape victim fall in love with her rapist, an example of forced seduction. The unlikely pairing became popular in spite of Luke's past misdeed when the story shifted to focus on love and redemption.
The couple wed at the end of the hour-long show on November 16, 1981; the event was watched by 30 million viewers and remains the highest-rated hour in American soap opera history. Viewers watched as the show followed their marriage through two decades and gave them two children. Today, their union still has a presence in fictional town Port Charles. In 1996, TV Guide included the wedding of Luke and Laura as part of its "100 Most Memorable Moments in TV History," ranking it number 35. On Internet message boards, the couple is often referred to as "L&L" or "LnL" (for Luke and Laura).
In 1978, General Hospital was close to cancellation owing to low viewership. At that time, they were ranked lowest in the Nielsen ratings. To save the show, ABC executive Jackie Smith hired Gloria Monty as the show's executive producer and Douglas Marland as head writer. Monty wanted to attract a youth-based audience as a way of garnering higher ratings. To do this, she and Marland brought troubled teenager Laura Vining (Genie Francis) to the forefront of the series. The character went from appearing a couple of times a week to having fifty pages of script a day. "Gloria put sex and romance into Laura's life," Francis said, "and it bowled me over. Here I was doing things in front of 20 million people that I had never done in my life." Her early stories included killing her older lover, David Hamilton, for cheating on her with her mother and a popular romance with Scott "Scotty" Baldwin. In response, General Hospital's ratings rose as younger viewers began watching for Laura. Teenagers connected with her because she was their age and experienced some of the same problems they did, yet also lived "the life of a 28 year old".
Anthony Geary joined the cast in 1978 in what was meant to be a 13-week stint as Luke Spencer. His sister, Bobbie Spencer, brought him to town to help her break up Laura's relationship with Scotty. By the end of Geary's contract, Luke was supposed to be killed off. Like Laura, Luke appealed to teenage viewers because of his "edgy volatility." Since viewers expressed interest in Luke and Laura, the writers decided to have Luke die in Laura's arms, after which she would reunite with Scotty. Owing to the positive viewer response, the story moved towards a romance between Luke and Laura.
Pat Falken Smith replaced Marland as head writer of General Hospital in 1979 since he wanted to go slower with Luke and Laura's story than Monty had. Smith wrote a controversial rape storyline between Luke and Laura. To prepare for the story, Geary and Francis both met with a social worker before taping the rape scenes. Originally intended to be a brutal attack, Monty rechoreographed the scene's blocking in order for the encounter to come off as a seduction. She also took strong language and violence out of the scenes. General Hospital's music director at the time, Jill Farren Phelps, chose to use the song "Rise", written by Randy "Badazz" Alpert and Andy Armer, performed by trumpeter Herb Alpert during the rape scene and ensuing scenes that recalled the rape. "Every time Laura thought of the terrible rape by Luke, it was played to evoke that memory," Phelps said. "Consequently, we used it constantly for a while. Then we turned the story around so that he was no longer the rapist and that was no longer the appropriate piece of music." The song already ranked on the Billboard Hot 100, but the exposure "Rise" gained from appearing on General Hospital helped bring it to number one. After the story aired in October 1979, it was looked back on as a rape and Laura was shown getting rape counseling. However, the writers decided to have the characters look back on the incident as a seduction instead of a rape because the pairing resonated with the audience. "From that point on, we played regret and his total devastation," Geary said. "That's a story nobody wants to tell—that the rapist's life is as devastated as the person he rapes. His great love and regret and guilt are what caught the audience so off guard."
The rape was revisited in 1998 when Luke and Laura's son, Lucky, finds out about the incident. This time, the writers scripted it as rape instead of a seduction. Lucky struggled to come to terms with the revelation while Luke and Laura dealt with the unresolved issues surrounding the rape. In a 2000 interview with Soap Opera Digest, Geary said, for the taping of the scenes, "Alan Pultz, who had directed the rape originally, used his original notes and directed me that day to recall all of that. I was able to finally put out what I think is Luke's definitive statement: that it was rape, it was ugly, he'd probably never recover." He added, "I was grateful that the directors and the writers were interested in what Luke's experience was and didn't try to spin it for audience control."
After the rape storyline, the focus of General Hospital began to center on Luke and Laura's romance. Before, the show revolved around hospital stories, including alcoholism, obesity, mental disorders, and cancer. Luke and Laura's adventure based plots took the show away from the hospital. In 1980, the couple spent the summer on the run, an "unprecedented" type of storyline at the time. Monty imbued that plot with elements of Frank Capra's 1934 film It Happened One Night and the 1941 Humphrey Bogart film The Maltese Falcon. She later used Dr. No and Tarzan as the inspiration for their plot to stop Mikkos Cassadine from taking over the world. As the show became laden with "comic-book fantasies," ratings remained high, but the viewer demographics became younger.