General Hospital: Can This Show Be Saved?

By Ed Martin

Watching General Hospital these last two weeks, as the energetic efforts of One Life to Live veterans Frank Valentini and Ron Carlivati to save the show from almost certain doom begin to play out, it occurs to me that my time as a fan of this once-formidable serial has come full circle. I began watching GH in 1978, shortly after 

I’d like to see the new regime make moves as bold as those the late Gloria Monty made way back in the Seventies since, again, there is nothing to lose. The best suggestion here would be to eliminate the characters whose storylines have brought the show to its knees.

fearless executive producer Gloria Monty had been brought on board to save the show from seemingly certain cancellation. In fact, as legend has it, GH at the time had sunk so low in the ratings it was given a few months to reverse its fortunes or be cancelled failing fortunes or be cancelled.

Gl;oria  (Editor’s note: Sadly, we lost the Emmy-winning Ms. Monty, right, in 2006.)

Thirty-five years later GH is once again on life support or damn close to it – and, once again, it may very well be terminated in a few months! ABC seems to have made clear that it wants out of the soap opera business and has arranged for a new talk show starring Katie Couric to take over the GH time slot come September. It doesn’t get worse than that for a show that has gone from being the strongest network-owned program on daytime television to a ratings-challenged wreck, gutted by more than a decade of inexplicably destructive writing and reckless corporate mismanagement.

Monty had nothing to lose, and she ran with it, wisely and unapologetically changing everything about a show that simply wasn’t working — and succeeding beyond anyone’s wildest imaginings. GH is in largely the same situation right now, so one might think that Valentini, as executive producer, and Carlivati, as head writer, would take a Monty-like approach to the task at hand and change everything about a show that simply wasn’t working and is on its death march anyway. (The only chance it has of veering off that trail is if ABC puts its perfectly awful new infotainment effort The Revolution out of its misery.)

I realize we’re into only the second week of the Valentini/Carlivati period, but it’s beginning to look like nothing much is going to change on GH, and without changes and corresponding ratings increases the show’s future will remain dire at best. On the plus side, the dynamic duo (whose work on the much-missed One Life to Live I admired most of the time) has accelerated the show’s storytelling, pumped it full of tantalizing cliffhangers and given everyone in the cast scenes in which to shine (in particular Jane Elliot, Jason Thompson, Nancy Lee Grahn and John J. York). They have also brought three much-missed veteran characters back for brief story turns: Finola Hughes as Anna Devane, Tristan Rogers as Robert Scorpio and a seemingly ageless Emma Samms as Holly Sutton. (Rick Springfield, as Noah Drake, and Robin Mattson, as Heather Webber, are reportedly on their way.)

It’s the minus side that has me concerned. The GH narrative has been hyper-active since Valentini and Carlivati took over, but the big upheavals they have introduced into the story still have tiresome mobsters Sonny Corinthos (Maurice Benard) and Jason Morgan (Steve Burton) at their center. For example, belovedburning labn Dr. Robin Scorpio (Kimberly McCullough) died in a highly improbable lab explosion (a laughably bad series of silly sequences) because she simply had to put her life in danger (and potentially ruin the lives of her husband, daughter and parents) to retrieve a concoction she created to cure Jason’s terminal brain swelling before the room blew up. Meanwhile, several characters were plunged into their own dramas and traumas because Sonny once again lost his shit at a party. Then Sonny got shot for the umpteenth time, initiating a mystery about which nobody could possibly care. (Who shot him? Who cares? Been there, seen that, over it.) And then Sonny sent rival crime boss Anthony Zacchara (Bruce Weitz) scurrying for his life, which resulted in Zacchara crashing his car into one occupied by three characters that had breezed in from One Life to Live: Starr Manning (Kristen Alderson), her beleaguered boyfriend Cole Thornhart (Van Hughes) and their little girl, Hope. Starr survived, but Cole and Hope went over a cliff, seemingly meeting their violent, fiery deaths on the rocks below. Of course, characters are rarely truly dead on soap operas, so it is possible that Cole and Hope survived. (For that matter, that may not have been Robin Scorpio’s body in the burned out lab.) But for now we’re meant to believe these people are dead, and who wants to believe that? GH just killed a child (little Jake) a few months ago (in a storyline that really soiled the bed). Who told ABC that child killing is a thing the soap opera audience craves?

So that’s one doctor, one reformed bad boy and one little girl killed off within the first two weeks of the new regime. I’m particularly dismayed by the way Robin was disposed of — in a meaningless accident that came about partly because she wanted to save the life of a murderer. I remember watching the day Robin first appeared on the canvas as the surprise daughter of super-agent Robert Scorpio.kKimberly McCullough She was seven years old at the time. I was still watching ten years later when Robin contracted HIV from her first sexual encounter with her first boyfriend, Stone Cates. She wasn’t the first television character to become HIV-positive in the mid-Nineties, but she was the first to illustrate that HIV isn’t a death sentence and that with proper care and medical treatment a person with HIV can lead a long, happy and productive life. There is no understating how impactful this storyline was when it began seventeen years ago. The character and her story were too important to too many people for too long to be brought to so pointless and poorly produced an end, even if her death is a grand way to galvanize so many characters.

I’d like to see the new regime make moves as bold as those Monty made way back in the Seventies since, again, there is nothing to lose. They could begin by finding a way to bring Alan Quartermaine (Stuart Damon) back onto the canvas. It wouldn’t hurt if his son A.J. came along, too. GH> has sucked gas (and continuously lost viewers) ever since it gutted the Q family.

The best suggestion here would be to eliminate the characters whose storylines have brought the show to its knees. Specifically, I’m talking about Sonny, Jason and mobster-hopping bitch-on-wheels Carly Jacks (Laura Wright). Carly might be interesting if Nurse Bobbie Spencer (Jacklyn Zeman) came back to town and held her daughter accountable for her atrocious behavior over the years, and I could deal with Jason if his brain problems of late resulted in the return of the mild-mannered Jason from the good old days. (How would that Jason deal with the memories of all the lives he took during the last 15 years?) maurice benardBut Sonny has got to go, preferably in a violent manner that would stir up every character on the canvas and send them reeling. Imagine the stories that could be told! I’d also like to see the miserable wretch that was once Luke Spencer (Anthony Geary) go away and stay away. The utter destruction of this once uniquely captivating character has been terrible to watch. He’s beyond repair, and it’s best to simply send him on his way. Let him go visit Laura and explain his thoughts about drinking, drunk driving and having sex with Holly during their marriage.

On a final note – for now, anyway – I think it’s time to bring the Cassadine story to a close. Mad granny Helena isn’t nearly as interesting as she used to be. Sadly, she’s devolved into a ridiculous cartoon character. I blame everyone who has written the character in recent years, rather than Constance Towers, the wonderful actress who portrays her. Helena’s recent scenes with Luke, Ethan (Nathan Parsons), Holly and the Woman in White (who was improbably revealed to be Helena’s own daughter) were so poorly written and directed they were difficult to watch. She has done so many terrible things to so many people there is simply no reason for Luke not to kill the nasty old bat. Her storyline began thirty years ago. It’s time to move on.

Then again, if soap opera writers weren’t so afraid to move on, the genre wouldn’t be breathing its last, would it?

_______________________________________

Ed Martin is a veteran television journalist who writes for many national publications and websites, including the Huffington Post. He blogs regularly at TV Worth Watching,  http://www.tvworthwatching.com/contributors/martin.shtml

Comments

  1. SteveS says:

    Thank you, Ed, for pointing out what needs to happen to salvage this once great show!

    I had long ago stopped watching GH due to the mob taking over and being portrayed as the heroes of Port Charles rather than the villains they were in the 1980s. Getting rid of Sonny and Luke, imo two of the most self-centered and boring antiheroes on soaps, would be a great way to reinvigorate this show and get back to the characters who work at the hospital. Refocusing on the Quartermaines would be an excellent start!

    At this point, it seems obvious that Carlivati, whose campy work on OLTL I always found overrated, is planning to pair Sonny’s son Michael with Starr Manning and have their fathers duke it out. Having never cared for the murderer/rapist Todd, bringing him onto GH to me is must-miss TV. GH has gone down the mobster vendetta path too many times, no matter who Sonny’s newest nemesis is.

  2. JONNYSBRO says:

    Ed unfortunately I think there really is nothing to save GH. U have to understand in the 70′s the soap genre was huge and they were more willing to keep a show. ABC since the horrible Black Thursday aka April 14, 2011 the day that will live infamy was ABC’s pretty much done with SOAPS period. I think ABC has completely made up their minds. They don’t promote GH, don’t include GH in press releases anymore, Paul Lee won’t even talk about GH. Unforunately GH is doing less viewers then the Chew which is a much cheaper show. ABC IMO has thrown in the towel on this genre and unfortunately no matter how great Frank/Ron’s efforts are that we have to be really be prepared for the worst which it will be cancelled. I think there is absolutely nothing that will save GH because ABC wants out of this biz. Its unprofitable, expensive, and to them a complete waste of time. They rather put on cheaper programming that will yeild bigger financial results. Its sad GH needed an overhaul five years ago, its now just too LATE.

  3. Coggie says:

    This is the best column I’ve read about current GH in a long time. Nothing more to add, other than ITA.

  4. janet says:

    ITA. You hit the nail on the head. So much mobsters,what have they now. So few viewers. They don’t care if we watch or not, I don’t care if I ever watch ABC.

  5. Dee says:

    Once again, Mr. Martin, you hit it on the head when it comes to GH. Personally, I think it’ll be cancelled later this month or in April, but with Valentini and Carlivati at the helm, maybe, just maybe, it still has a shot. I agree, they really screwed up the Robin exit storyline (They should’ve just left the door a slight bit open, just in case KMac did want to come back), and killing off little Hope was just scummy as hell just after they killed off poor Jake, but maybe something good could come out of this, I don’t know.

    But the addition of the Mannings (albeit the addition of McPain) could be the thing that shakes this deal up. Just imagine the scenes with Roger Howarth and Maurice Benard together, I mean, the possibilities are totally endless with these two Emmy winners on screen together. Just simply fun, fun,fun. Plus, the returns of Anna, Robert, Holly, and Noah could spice things up as well.

    I look at this with a pessimistic-optimistic view, but I still believe there’s hope that ABC will come around and keep this show on the air. I mean, look at Days. It’s the only show on the NBC daytime lineup, and it still continues to thrive, under a really strong creative team and a good management team. If Days can do it, so can GH.

  6. James says:

    If nothing else, Ron and Frank now have people talking about GH once again. Yes, the deaths were shocking, but people are also talking. And perhaps that will translate into increased viewership.

    Frank and Ron have to do everything they can to stay off the executioner, something JFP and Garin Wolf didn’t seem to understand.

    Frank and Ron have to shake things up, even if it means killing off some characters. I wasn’t watching GH when Gloria Monty took over, but I believe she killed off a passel of characters quickly.

    If bringing Robert, Anna and Holly back also lures back some lapsed viewers, then that might just increase the rating enough to save the show. If moving the popular Starr over from OLTL brings in some new OLTL viewers, that too might increase ratings.

    I’ve enjoyed GH more in the past two weeks than I have in years. Dialogue seems sharper and the individual scenes seem more genuine and heartfelt. I hope Ron and Frank will gradually move the mob away from the foreground, let them be the villains again.

    And if it is the end for GH, they seem like they will give longtime viewers the farewell the show deserves.

  7. Dee says:

    I have 10 suggestions for Carlivati and Valentini to save GH: 1) Tell the TIIC at ABC Daytime to butt out, and write and produce the show their way. Maybe if the IIC had butted out of previous regimes, maybe we still would have a three-soap lineup, and GH would once again be a good show. 2) I’ve been saying this forever and ever, as has every other viewer: GET RID OF THE MOB!!!! Period, point blank. 3) Ed, I disagree with you on this, but please start up the Spencers and Cassadines story again. It was one of the bedrock stories that made this show great, and I think it would make it great again, but with a new generation of Spencers vs Cassadines. I would’ve loved to seen Jake go up against the Cassadines with his father and grandfather, but, unfortunately, that won’t happen. and where’s the long-awaited Valentin? I’d love him to come on and shake the Spencers’ foundation up. But the mob was just too important for him.

    Third, another thing that I’ve been shouting from the rooftops for a while, and that is stop making female characters weak, spineless, and crazy, a la Kate/Connie/whomever she is, and bitchy, and give them a voice and make them more strong and independent. Fourth, once again, STOP KILLING KIDS!!! God, it’s worse than freaking Days of our Lives, and it has a worse record of killing off children, and all this crap is is all about going for shock value, and at the end of the day, viewers don’t care about shock value, they just want a good story, well-written and well-acted.

    Fifth, if you are still planning to keep ridiculous characters like Spinelli on, give them a meaningful storyline. The Jackal, PI story meant well, but it fell flat on its face, and Spinelli did and said a lot of out-of-character stuff. I mean, Bradford Anderson is a good actor, give him a story that matches his talent and doesn’t insult our intelligence. Sixth, if you plan on crossing over more characters from OLTL to GH, also plan on crossing over characters from AMC, like Erica Kane and Dr. David Hayward. Imagine Dr. Dave mixng it up with the likes of Sonny and causing all kinds of trouble. OLTL wasn’t the only ABC show, AMC was, too. I mean, AMC is getting so disrespected, it’s not funny.

    Seventh, please end this Franco stuff, and end it now!!!
    All it is is that James Franco is using this as a vanity project and an ego boost, and he kind of seems not too serious about this, in a way. Eighth, please feature some light, funny stories to counteract the dark stuff on this show, and this show is WAY too dark, with stories of gruesome deaths, violence, and misogny. Ninth, now that Grady Foley, Jr. (aka Ethan) is going off the air, end this paternity nonsense once and for all. If he’s Luke’s son, he’s Luke’s, if he’s Robert’s, he’s Robert’s.
    Pick one thing and stick to it, no flip-flopping!!! This nonsense has gone on for too long and really has destroyed Luke beyond recognition ( that is, if Jake’s death didn’t achieve that). Tenth, and more importantly, more focus on love, romance, and family. That’s the three important tenets of a successful show, not death, destruction, and dysfunction, which GH wants to be about.

    • Amanda A says:

      Who are U? Show gangsta luv!. Every show is about love, romance and family. GH has that and more. Love that we have it all. Bad boy mob hotties who make the love and family stories. What life doesnt have crime and dysfuntion. This soap started with mobster like Frank Smith and Sonny. Dont make this soap fake with vampiers and little boring stories. Keep the Mob and make this soap last for ever. Who does not love Spinelli? Mabe you should watch Disney or Lifetime, because GH aint for you.

  8. Dee Edwards says:

    What happened to this once great show? Well, for the most part, total mismanagement of this show, that’s what happened, and network interference played a role, too. Plus, add on the most horrible stories, destruction of once-loved characters, and just the most wretched writing, and you got one hot mess. And this show is a hot mess right now.

    Everyone, from Hinsey in Soap Opera Digest to even this site, tells me that we need to stay positive and give this show a chance, but it seems we’ve given this our last chance, to be honest. We’ve waited to long for this show to improve, but every chance we’ve given it to make it better, it just can’t. We’ve held out hope, now GH needs to do its part. Give us what we want, not what we DON’T want, plain and simple.

  9. Val says:

    I disagree with most of what has been said here–the mob stories, and all the crazy characters, are what makes GH entertaining. There are plenty of other shows on tv that are “realistic” so I enjoy GH as it is, for the most part, because it is NOT like the other soaps.
    However, I do agree with a couple of points here–especially the lack of strong women who have both good and bad sides. Besides the “destruction” of Luke, the character of Carly has become the most annoying thing on GH. She has no redeeming qualities, which is unfortunate since she is a major character, and she has become unbearable.
    I love all the OLTL characters who are on, as they are probably the most interesting ones from that missed soap.
    Also–I read the actress who plays Robin wanted to leave the show to direct and stayed on longer than she wanted to be. Perhaps that was why her “death” was rushed and yes, ridiculous (even for GH). But true–no one dies on soaps. I am looking forward to Cole coming back to life just when Starr falls in love with Michael.
    But I hope GH makes whatever changes are needed to stay on–it is the only daytime tv I tune in to besides news. Everything else is unwatchable.

  10. Dee says:

    Val, you could be right, but it’s just the stuff that you talk about that has made this show a mess. Too much mob, characters that were beloved now made unrecognizable, the writers’ waffling about who should Jason be with: Sam or Elizabeth (looks like they’re gonna do it again, even with this new regime), and too much darkness has ruined the fabric of this great show. Plus, I feel this show has catered too much to Maurice Benard and especially Steve Burton, even though they are great actors, portraying their mobster characters as the moral center is way ridiculous.

    It’s been only a couple of weeks, but already I see no clear improvement, even with the OLTL people. Hell, they even shortened the opening theme music and fired the long-time music director and hired OLTL’s music guy. Seems to me that they’re trying to make this into OLTL 2.0.

  11. horselover says:

    Bravo Ed!

  12. lin says:

    Great Post but please give GH another chance….

    Make sure that GH maintains an ABC timeslot in the future: WATCH GH Daily!

    DO NOT fast forward thru commercials via Tivo/DVR even if you do not have a Nielsen box. (TiVo keeps aggregate data of how many people are watching a given show. Watch it the DAY it airs, or within 3 days at the most!) Finally, do not watch any show that airs in a former soap slot. If your DVR/TiVO fails to record, watch GH later here: ABC.com

    Also now that General Hospital has been Extended…

    Lets not take it for granted. The 9 week run of “GMA in the Afternoon” beginning in July (see News) could be a test for GH’s ultimate replacement next year so boycott it! Continue to boycott “The Ch*w”. Meanwhile, lets help boost GH’s ratings even more. Watch live, and watch your recorded TiVo’s/DVR’s the same day or w/in 24 hours, AND at the ABC.com site and SOAPnet!

  13. Amanda A says:

    I love GH and I love the stories. Yes the MOB to. No GH without Sonny and Jason. The mob makes gh one of a kind. I love how they are bringing back all the old gh cast. I have been watching gh since I was 12 years old and now I am 33. GH is a part of my life. I hope it stays on and I hope one day Robin and Jason come back to the show.

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