General Hospital Update: Understanding Itself, Misunderstanding Viewers

By Ed Martin

It’s been two months since executive producer Frank Valentini and head writer Ron Carlivati took control of ABC’s General Hospital – long enough by any measure for a creative team to make its mark on a soap opera and make clear what they intend to do with it.

Now, I don’t want to start right in with the complaints, because entirely too many people who have read my previous columns about GH think that I’ve been too hard on the show, or that I want to see it die. So let me make clear that nobody wants GH to survive and thrive more than I do. I’ve been a loyal viewer since 1978, and I have supported this show in the television and advertising businesses for more than half

General Hospital today doesn’t play like a show that is fighting for its life. Just because ABC has cancelled The Revolution and extended GH’s stay of execution doesn’t mean that anyone should assume the show is out of danger.

of that time. We can all agree that GH in particular and the soap genre overall has been crippled by the involvement over the last ten-plus years of executives, producers and writers who either didn’t care or simply didn’t care to care. One thing is certain: They rarely listened to fans. If they did, a number of recently cancelled soap operas might still be with us and as vital as they once were, and GH wouldn’t have been allowed to deteriorate in the way it did since before the turn of the millennium. (This begs the question: Why are sports fans and sci-fi fans marketed to and catered to in ways that swell their ranks and make billions for relevant franchises, while soap fans, an equally enthusiastic and devoted group, are all-too-often spit upon? I resent it. Do you? Discuss.)

Anyway, let’s begin with some compliments. Valentini and Carlivati have demonstrated a knowledge of and laudable respect for the history of GH (something that many previous producing and writing regimes largely ignored). Port Charles feels like a community again, just as Llanview did on their previous gig, One Life to Live. The return of Finola Hughesfinola hughes as Anna Devane has been a godsend. (I would like to see Hughes have more scenes with Jane Elliott and Nancy Lee Grahn, two of the best actresses in the history of daytime drama, yet both grievously underutilized on this show.) Similarly, the return of Robin Mattson as moon-bat Heather Webber, a character who was at center stage when I first started watching GH, has been big fun. (Heather at that time was portrayed by Cher’s sister, Georgianne LaPierre!)

Meantime, two veteran cast members who never made much of an impression are turning in outstanding performances under the new regime: Jason Thompson as grief-stricken Dr. Patrick Drake, who hasn’t had much to do since saying goodbye to the wife he thinks is dead, and Brandon Barash as mobster Johnny Zacchara, also in an emotional tailspin after learning that his late sister was actually his mother. Suddenly, Johnny is multi-dimensional, oddly sympathetic, dangerously sexy and infinitely more interesting than any of the other criminals on the GH canvas.

Michael Easton as Lt. John McBain, one of the many characters from One Life to Live that have been brought onto the GH canvas, has left all of the other male actors on GH in the dust (with the exceptions of Thompson and Barash.) His chemistry with Finola Hughes, Jane Elliott and especially Kelly Monaco has been [Read more...]