General Hospital: Looking Back on 45 Years

(A note from Marlena:  It’s General Hospital’s 45th anniversary!  Here’s a celebration of the event by my good friend and journalistic colleague Ed Martin.  Ed and I have been happily debating General Hospital over coffee now for almost ten  years — and believe moi, we’re not always happy about the current state of the show.  Still,  Ed is clearly very sentimental about the show he once dearly loved.  Read Ed’s authoritative column TV Buzz at www.jackmyers.com.)General Hospital

By Ed Martin

General Hospital today is marking its 45th anniversary. The daily drama about the residents of fictional Port Charles, New York isn’t the oldest soap opera on television – CBS’ Guiding Light and As the World Turns have it beat – but it is still a vital and important show. It is the centerpiece of ABC’s afternoon lineup and remains the most talked about serial on daytime television – a distinction it first achieved 30 years ago this year when a young character named Laura Vining, who began on the show in 1976, moved to the center of the show’s narrative. Laura, one of the most messed-up kids in the history of soap opera, was played by Genie Francis, who was then only in her mid-teens. She had a good-guy boyfriend named Scotty Baldwin, played by Kin Shriner, and a nemesis, naughty nurse and former hooker Bobbie Spencer, played by Jaclyn Zeman.Jaclyn Zeman

It occurs to me as I write this that I am marking a GH anniversary of sorts myself. It was 30 years ago this year that I first started watching the show. I was a teenager at the time, and it was the three characters mentioned above who caught my eye and held my interest as I manually turned the channel to ABC one fateful afternoon. (The year was 1978, the pre-cable, pre-VCR and pre-remote control era.) I’ll never forget my first glimpse of life in Port Charles – it was a scene in which Laura and Scotty were sitting on a bench in a sun-splashed park. I don’t remember what they were talking about, but they were young, happy, attractive kids who were in love and would be married within a year. (The legendary Luke would not come along until the following year, and would make history with Laura shortly thereafter, first with a controversial rape sequence, then with a science fiction story about the couple’s efforts to stop a madman with a weather machine, and finally with their wedding.)Luke and Laura

I had never seen shiny happy young people on a soap opera. Indeed, I had never seen a sun-splashed park. Like most kids of my generation, my experience with soap operas before the golden years of General Hospital was pretty much confined to a brief obsession with the vampires and werewolves of Dark Shadows and glimpses of soaps my mother had watched early in my childhood. But GH in the late Seventies changed all that. Under the supervision of the late producer Gloria Monty and writer Doug Marland GH looked and played like no soap opera had before it. It was exciting, sexy and contemporary in a dizzying number of ways. Like many teenagers at the time, I knew at first glance that GH was something special. It wasn’t just another soap. It was mine!

I had no idea at the time that I would continue watching GH well into my adult life. Of course, in the late Seventies I had no idea that VCRs would come along in a few years and make it possible to continue watching the show even after I had entered the workforce. And I couldn’t have guessed that I would end up in a career that required me to watch television, including daytime dramas, giving me an excuse to follow the show as part of every job I have had over the last 20 years.General HospitalWhat a varied viewing experience it has been! Dozens of unforgettable characters. (Jessie Brewer. Heather Webber. Annie Logan. Tracy Quartermaine. Mitch Williams. Amy Vining. Tiffany Hill. Noah Drake. Blackie Parrish. Lucy Coe. Jimmy Lee Holt. Richard Simmons – as himself!) Countless classic and classy couples. (Steve and Audrey. Lee and Gail. Scotty and Laura. Laura and Luke. Luke and Holly. Holly and Robert. Robert and Anna. Anna and Duke. Frisco and Felicia. Scotty and Dominique. Rick and Leslie. Monica and Alan. Rick and Monica. Alan and Susan. Alan and Lucy. Edward and Lila. Bobbie and Tony. Sean and Tiffany. Sonny and Brenda. Ned and Lois. Robin and Stone.) Villains! (Frank Smith. Hutch the Hit Man. The Cassadines. The Jeromes.) Vampires and ghosts! (Oh, wait. That was the GH spin-off, Port Charles.) There was even an alien! (His name was Casey.)Kin Shriner

I can’t imagine the last 30 years without General Hospital, even if I haven’t always liked the direction its storytelling has taken, especially in recent years. I haven’t always been a daily viewer (or even a weekly viewer) but I have always known that it was there and I have always been able to drop back into it, figure out what was going on and resume the ride. I’m glad I found it when I did, and that it was there for me when it was. Other than soaps, to which they no longer have any special loyalty, I have to wonder what specific entertainments kids are enjoying today that they will continue to enjoy over the next several decades of their lives. Video games? Internet programs? The sweeping drama of their own online social networking? Surely, that will get old.

I am second to none in my respect for the sheer amount of work required to produce five episodes of daytime drama almost every week of the year without benefit of a refreshing rerun cycle. That said, I wish I could express more enthusiasm for General Hospital on this significant occasion. I am among the legion of long-time viewers who have been put off in recent years by the show’s depressing darkness and violence, its focus on murderous mobsters and the pushy women who love them and its ill-advised disposal of so-many beloved legacy characters. (By disposal I mean the killing of. The GH canvas, once bursting with life, is now brimming with mothers of dead children! The quarreling Quartermaine family, once the most popular in daytime drama, has been utterly, unforgivably decimated.)Quartermains

In the spirit of celebration for a remarkable achievement spanning five decades, not to mention personal gratitude for 30 years of entertainment, I’ll close this column with a suggestion as to how General Hospital might right the many wrongs it has inflicted on fans during the last couple of years. Laura – the character who started it all for myself and millions of other fans back in 1978 – suffered a mental breakdown in 2002 and has been unresponsive ever since (except for a brief awakening in 2006 on the occasion of the 25th anniversary of her wedding to Luke). With apologies to Pamela Ewing, I think Laura should wake up, look at Luke and utter the words, “I just had the strangest dream.” And then we could learn that most of what has transpired during the last six years has been as much of a nightmare for her as it has been for us.

If you can think of a better way to bring A.J. Quartermaine, Justus Ward, Alan Quartermaine, Emily Quartermaine and Georgie Jones back to life and get GH back on track, please let me know.

Comments

  1. Chris says:

    Ed, your “Looking Back 45 Years” GH nostalgia piece brought a good ‘ole fashioned tear to my eye as I also recalled the GH of yesteryear … your mention of the (often missed — I do! –I miss mine!) VCR caused me to open up my bedroom closet and glance at my hundreds of “classic” GH tapes from 1980-1985. Thank God for them — and for this show!
    Superb column!:)

  2. Tony says:

    Thanks for printing this great tribute. I also am a longtime GH fan. I started watching during the Luke and Laura period when I felt like GH was TV’s version of Indiana Jones and James Bond. That appealed to me as a teenager. I grew to enjoy the characters and stories too and watched steadily for many years until life got too busy. I started watching again in 2006 when I read Tristan Rogers was coming back. I imagined great new storylines for Luke and Robert reminscent of the old days. Boy, was I wrong. It seemed like the writers didn’t know what to do with the character. I kept watching though because I enjoyed some of the other characters as well, especially the ones I grew up with. Of course, many of them are now dead too.

    I tape the show now and fast forward through the ‘boring parts.’ I still enjoy good chunks of the show but agree that the writers could get rid of characters by simply having them move out of town or get kidnapped by a Cassadine instead of just killing everyone. I just don’t get the need for all the murder. But still I watch.

    Anyway, thanks to you, Ed and Marlena, for writing/publishing this great look back at a very enjoyable show.

  3. horselover says:

    Thanks for remembering the good old days of GH. You know, back when GH was #1 and was a cultural phenomenon. Too bad today’s GH couldn’t be bothered with remembering characters like Robert, Holly, Frisco, Felicia, Duke, Anna, Lucy, Lesley, Rick, the Qs, Heather, Tiffany, Blackie and on and on and on. RIP, RealGH. It’s now just General Mobspital.

  4. Bryon says:

    Thanks for this great article. It sounds like I fell in love with GH the same time you did. You’re a voice for MANY unhappy GH fans.

    As for the Pamela Ewing Scenario, I’ll take anything if it would bring back the departed. Heck, I’d even settle for them all secretly living on a secret tropical island, mirroring Port Charles ala Days of Our Lives.

  5. Charles says:

    Add my name to those who currently despair at GH’s current state, overrun with mobsters and characters without much character. Just to think little over a decade you had Claire Labine writing marvelous stories and the skilled Wendy Riche as producer. Unlike Jill Farren Phelps, Wendy respected GH’s vast history: for the 30th Anniversary she even brought Jana Taylor back in the story as original GH patient Angie Cosstello as she and Dr. Hardy reminisced about the old days, complete with B/W kinescope excerpts from the first episode! When John Beradino passed away in 1996, she made sure both he and Steve Hardy got a great send-off.

    Seeing the ‘retrospective’ from yesterday’s show seemed to more or less self-congratulatory for the excessive violence and sleaze of the past decade. In fact, the OLDEST clip shown was from Luke & Laura’s 1981 wedding, and nary a clip of past characters like Jessie Brewer, Mary Mae Ward, Peter & Diana Taylor, Frisco Jones, Holly Sutton, or Sean Donely! Simply too much gunplay and Sonny in that clip segment.

    Now we get to the root of the problem. Twenty five years ago some complained that the show was too much Luke Spencer. The fact that so many characters had their own stories without Luke in in back in the early 80s disproves this. But now, GH has become, thanks to head hack Bob Guza “The Sonny & Jason Show”. The stories have been so slanted to favor these two sleazeballs it is frightening. Heaven help the character who DARES to disagree with either or both characters- look what happened to A.J. Quartermaine, easily one of the more complex and interesting characters ever in the show’s history. He could have been to GH what John Dixon was to ATWT- a multifaceted personwho was always stirring the pot, and you either loved or loathed him. In Guza’s mind, A.J. was the designated ‘whipping boy’ and all-time loser to a manic-depressive hoodlum and his brain-damaged sidekick. Now, the same thing is happeninmg with Lucky Spencer: not only does he have to lose to Jason every time, he’s stuck with a Jason castoff like Sam McCall! How long will it be before Lucky winds up on a meathook like A.J.?

    The current writers glorify crime and have no respect for law and order. And back at the hospital, why is loudmouth Epiphany given more airtime over veteran Bobbie Spencer? In the past year her former fiance Jerry Jacks returned to town, and we have yet to see the two together!! Likewise with another former lover, Noah Drake. Why put him with Anna for a dumb story when the Noah-Bobbie romance could be easily rekindled? (There’s a ton of old episodes to be used for flashback purposes for that couple!).

    Even worse yet, Guza and company have emasculated Luke Spencer! That heart attack might as well have been a castration as far as I’m concerned! The old Luke would have found a way to fight back and keep Tracy down.

    As for the female characters- most are repulsive tramps whose morals have gone out the window. What happened to ‘nice’ girls? Instead you’ve got the slutty Claudia/Maxie/Sam/Carly/Leyla, and the almost-sullied beyond recognition Lulu and Elizabeth. In my eyes, Elizabeth Webber is ‘damaged goods’ for her immoral behavior- and the producers/writers think SHE is a romantic herione! Not in my book!

    The ONLY story worth watching right now is the Patrick-Robin story, I FF everything else on my DVR.

    If I had my way, it would be out with the sleazy mobsters, and in with traditional families, morally upright charcters, restoration of longtime characters to their rightful place (give Monica Chief of staff AND a new love interest, reunite Noah & Bobbie, rebuild the Quartermaines), while bringing past favorites back (and I do mean LAURA, as well as bring A.J. back from the dead and returning Sean & Tiffany to Port Charles, along with some Hardys and Webbers). For GH to survive, we need more “ER” and “Ozzie & Harriet”, and less “Sopranos” and “Miami Vice”. Let’s hope by the 50th Anniversary there will be major changes made for the better.

  6. Dede says:

    You hit it on every note with what is wrong with the once great General Hospital, Charles. At this rate there might not be a 50th Anniversary and if there is how many fans will be left to watch or much less care.

  7. cilla says:

    Charles hit the nail on the head. The current characters seem insulated from each other and I don’t have a sense of connection with anyone on screen. Viewers know not to root for a couple because Guza writes sex not romance. Viewers know he will deconstruct every character and never redeem them. Viewers know that a couple will meet, become an item and separate in a 6 month story arc. No build up; no tension, no investment by the viewer. I’ve no interest in Jason and Liz, Sam and Lucky, Kate and Sonny (or for that matter anything to do with Sonny or Jason). I like Jax but he, too has no real story and nothing to do except prop up Sonny and Carly. Sebastian Roche is a fabulous actor but I’m sorry he is not Jerry Jacks. Jill Farren Phelps has proven over and over that she does not care what fans want and has a real hatred for the vets viewers have watched over years and have emotional ties to.

    The worst offense of all is the way Genie Francis has been treated by JFP. Genie carries a torch of humanity, history, and compassion in her portrayal of Laura. She is a pillar in the history of the show and has never been treated like the equal half of the power of the Luke and Luke legacy on this show. Luke has been deconstructed to the point I don’t recognize him: he wanders around with nothing to do except drink and be a lapdog and gigolo to Tracy. I don’t buy this “mature” marriage which is more deconstruction of the LnL legacy. Tracy also has been reduced to an overbearing wife who follows Luke around and nags. Break these two up and and have them as adversaries or working together on some plot. Their comedy routine was amusing but now they are boring. Until the moral compass of the show is more balanced, meaning Sonny and Jason are not the saviors of Pt Charles–smarter than anyone else including the police–the show will continue its decline. As long as Guza and Phelps continue their love fest with Jason, Carly, Liz and Sonny, nothing will change. This “Lucky” is not LnL’s son. Think of the rich story Lulu could have with her mother rather than this ridiculous story of Lulu as a fashionista. Totally absurd as is the show.

  8. Daniel says:

    The Nurses Ball may have been goofy but it was what this show was all about: heart, family, community. This show has no heart, and if it seems that someone on the show is representing the heart, they are killed off. It is just so depressing when I think back to when Lucy Coe would come on screen and light it up. I miss the fun, sunny, happy moments.

  9. indydavid says:

    Great post, Charles. You expressed exactly what my problem with GH is and what I wish it could be again.

    How I so wish that Guza and Phelps would get the boot and someone who really cares about the show, its rich history and devoted fans, would come aboard and get it back to its glory.

  10. GH would have to fire GUZA... says:

    in order for them to do a “dallas” redo! And I don’t see that happening anytime soon do you? :(

    The last 6 years has all been GUZA! HE has decimated the Q’s down to three people! He has focused the show on 4 people…and I believe most of them were characters HE invented. Coincidence? Me thinks not.

    I watched the show from 1967 with my mother who said she only watched to see how many time Jessie Brewer would get married. LOL. I fell in love with the show when Leslie Faulkner made her appearance! I absolutely LOVED Leslie and Rick as a couple. And when Denise Alexander left the show …so did I.

    When I returned in 1998…sporadically…I didn’t even recognize most of the cast. I knew Monica and Alan, Luke and laura. The others were all new characters I’d never heard of…and I must say I didn’t like them much even then.

    I returned for good…or so I thought…the day that Skye Chandler walked into the Quartermaine mansion and announced that she was Alan’s daughter! Again …unfortunately…I have had to leave and quit watching the show! I left because Robin Christopher left and there are NO characters left that I have ANY interest in.

    I doubt a long ago viewer would even recognize the show now…and that’s sad. And again…unfortunately…that 45th anniversary montage only highlighted the show since the 90′s! It did NOT pay respect to the characters who MADE the show before the 90′s! It basically showcased GUZA’s work and very little else.

    I was as disappointed in the very short montage as I have been with the show since Robert Guza was hired back 6 years ago!

    Helen

  11. lynne says:

    All these comments are right on the money. Everywhere I look on the internet, I find these same comments. Apparently, only literate, articulate viewers who invest their precious time in this show and care about it feel this way. These are the viewers that tptb are deaf, dumb and blind to. They listen to teeny boppers or the dreaded focus groups, and base their violent stories on them. No one that I know that watches likes Carly or Sonny — some like Jason and hope for his pre-brain damage self to come back. Lulu has turned into Carly Jr., Sonny is doing and saying the same things he did years ago, Claudia looks and acts like a man in women’s clothing and they have made her so whorey that it is difficult to watch without cringing.

    I love Monica, Alexis, Edward, and even kinda like Liz, Luke and Tracy. But I am getting sick of the same old tired conversations that Robin and Patrick go thru. There is some rich history and story for Monica, Alexis, Edward Tracy and Robin, but the writers have no idea on how to write for them. So, they just kill them off.

    And really, they don’t know how to write for the mobsters either. Same old Same old.

    Ed, you reminded me of Dominique. She was one of my most hated characters, but somehow the writers turned her around to one of my favorites — and when she died, I had tears! Today’s writers cannot inspire that kind of emotion. How sad.

    lynne

  12. Mike says:

    Great article. Loved the pics of Luke and Laura and Robert and Holly—GH’s first 2 supercouples. Robert and Holly are my all time favorite. I find the show unwatchable now and I would love it if Laura could wake up from this bad nightmare and several years were all a dream. Then all the terrible ways they have written the vets (like Robert and Holly in 2006) could be erased. GH needs to get a whole new regime before I will think of giving it the time of day again. The show as it is now is completely unappealing to me.

  13. katiya says:

    Wow from all the boards I read or post on it’s the same overall general opinion. Apparently Guza/Frons/Phelps haven’t gotten the memo yet or don’t care really. It’s pretty bad on GH if you aren’t Sonny/Carly/Jason/Liz, really. I’m about ready to give up GH myself. Can’t take much more, especially if they make Maxie out to be a loser in the fashion storyline. That will nail the coffin for me. Plus with super rare JLex, what’s the point?

    Marlena says: What is “super rare JLex?”

  14. MrsM says:

    I’m not one to blog, but someone forwarded me this link. Thank you, Ed, for acknowledging GH’s rich history. It’s just a shame the show hasn’t done that.

    I don’t understand the appeal of the show any longer. I came back in early 2006 when the show advertised the return of the popular veterans Tristan Rogers and Emma Samms — only to be disappointed. I was horrified at what the show did to two wonderful characters that were considered a “supercouple.” I turned off the TV after Luke and Laura’s 25th Anniversary and haven’t watched since.

    Where is the romance? The love? The adventure? There isn’t even a single happily married couple on the show. I don’t want to see violence and mobsters. I want to escape for an hour like I did back when Luke and Laura danced through Wyndhams, when Robert and Holly had their fabulous townhouse and were solving cases — and then Duke Lavery walking into Anna Devane’s life with his brogue and kilt. We had the quirky Quartermaines and scheming Scott and Lucy. Monica’s breast cancer storyline, Alan’s drug addiction, etc., etc. These stories kept the audience glued. There was a CAST. An integrated cast that was woven together and connected with each plot.

    We had characters that were compelling and memorable. Storylines that we still talk about today. We had great villains like Oliva Jerome and Grant Putnam, we had love stories and angst and passion that didn’t mean a one-night-stand or week long marriage. We had “must see TV”.

  15. Deborah Burnham says:

    Boy, have you guys got it down pat … I have not watched GH (or any other soap) for three weeks, I just read the updates. So far I have missed nothing I wanted to watch. Michael being shot by Ian was the last straw … think I will read books … these network idiots are so worried about getting “new and improved” viewers they are loosing the ones who have watched for the past 45 years … all of the soaps have gotten just as bad … but GH has fallen the farthest … until Guza and company (mob inc.) are gone, I am.

  16. Gene says:

    I so agree with Marlena and the comments on the board. The show has been so dismal and the ratings are falling faster than you know what. Most of the characters are destroyed for plot purposes or to build Sonny and Jason to be saints that I just can’t take it anymore. The TIIC isn’t listening to the fans and the actors who are saying the show is worse than it’s ever been before. The violence is out of control and the glorication of the mob is tuning everyone out. This isnt The Sopronos. It is GH. it is about the hospital and the lives of PC. The show did mob s/l in the past, but it was short and the villians were evil and the good guys won. Now the supposed “good guys” are Sonny and Jason and the fans are sick of it. I say to ABC, fire Guza JPF, and Frons and get some new headwriters who respect the show and its history.

  17. Matthew J Cormier says:

    What a thoughtful article. All i can say is that GH has been a mess the last several years—it’s hard to watch this and think that the same show that once wrote Robin’s HIV story or the romances of Lucy and Kevin and Luke and Laura is now doing yet another story about violent mobsters and death…. i just can’t watch it anymore. I think that ABC needs to get rid of Guza, Frons and Jill Farren Phelps. Let’s try and get Wendy Riche and Claire Labaine back—it’s insulting to see ratings slip so far and yet nobody gets fired…. Angela Shapiro would have fixed things by now instead of letting things get worse and worse as Fronz has.

  18. Mary says:

    I like the mob , but it has become to violent in the last two years, I spent 2 yrs watching for the coupling of Liz and Jason , but the writers are not writing for them so I have stopped watching, The mob, Carly ,Claudia, Jolu and skate have taken over the show.
    It has not really been enjoyable to watch since before the Metro court story, after that the whole show went to hell IMHO. I think when Sara Brown’s character emerged and all the deaths of vets and the back and fourth with Liz and Jason has made the show unbearable. The writers need to calm the mob stuff down, and give Jason and Liz a chance as a couple.

  19. Tammy says:

    I think that the mob still has a place on the show. I just feel it has taken over the show. It use to be intertaining now it is just depressing. It has taken the place of romance and family and the hospital storylines as well. I was so jazzed about Liz and Jason being a couple, but all we get is angst and it is to dangerous. I am sick of hearing it is too dangerous.

    Them shooting Michael and taking Sonny’s kids away after all these years seems pointless. It is also pointless to have Jason staying away from his child, yet he can still be around Carly and her boys. It is also getting old watching Carly obsess over Jason, as it is tiring watching Lulu playing who do I choose. The show needs writers bad,ly what we have been gettin on our screens as far as storylines is ridiculous. The mob can stay IMO it just needs to be toned down and not be the focus of the show.

  20. kinfan says:

    I agree, I couldn’t imagine not seeing Kin on GH. He’s my favorite.

  21. Lyndsey Jones says:

    I watch three soaps currently and I have been very pleased with OLTL and extremely disappointed with GH. I agree that this show is not the Sopranos, the writters kill or destroy fan fav’s and I am becoming too busy to watch all three. I think it’s time for GH to be deleted from my almighty DVR. I would hope ABC would hire different writters before taking GH off the air (that is where the show is heading) because the show has a lot of potential. I also want Georgie Jones back!!!! The Spinelli/Georgie romance was keeping me watching and now Spenelli/Maxie romance is just not cutting it.

  22. Robert says:

    I remember how disappointed I’d be if my favorites, The Quartermaines weren’t on in the old days, but back then at least if your faves weren’t on an episode you knew they would be in a day or two because they had a story.
    There has always been a mob element in Port Charles, so although it’s not my thing the mob story is fine, but it’s the only story they tell. We’ve been getting more robin/Patrick of late, but aside from that the entire show is the mob story!
    It’s ridiculous. I would so not watch if my favorite Jane Elliot wasn’t back, but they’ve reduced her to someone who takes crap from everyone. Tracy’s main personality trait is gone. She takes no prisoners and she doesn’t even seem to care about money now that she’s with Luke. Not care about money?! Now how is this our Tracy?

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