Moose Says: General Hospital Can Snare … the Soon-to-be-Prized Old Guy Demographic?

Marlena says: Soap fans everywhere are cautiously optimistic that, against all odds, there’s been a hopeful turn in the heretofore bleak fortunes of soap opera. Ratings are strong and even improving for the four network soaps that survived the death watch of the past few years, and Prospect Park is said to be moving full steam ahead to bring two of the casualties back from the dead.

Is it too soon to rejoice? Skeptic that I am, I’m not ready to shoot off fireworks at my country retreat just yet. But I’ve has detected one tiny, tiny bit of anecdotal evidence that audience-building may, indeed, be possible: My recently retired husband Moose, long impervious to the many charms of soap opera that have inundated him daily for so many years, has been espied of late … actually watching General Hospital.

At the risk of frightening him away, I asked him to share with Thinking Fans, whose analytical powers are legendary, after all, what it is about GH that has finally captured his attention. He agreed. Listen and learn, GH producers. Or, at least, have a chuckle or two.

By Moose Goodfellow a.k.a. Old Ed, husband of Connie

I have joined the ranks of the Instantly Irrelevant, filling those weeks between Social Security direct deposits with such typical Old Guy activities as having morning coffee with Al Roker on the Weather Channel, getting haircuts, hauling trash to the dump, and standing in line at the pharmacy to pick up meds.

I’ve also, I am here to admit, begun watching the soap opera known as General Hospital.

Not enough yet to count myself a fan. Not enough yet to even be able to follow all the parallel storylines. (Happily, my spouse is a living soap opera encyclopedia, so I’m never left without exhaustive backstory.) But enough to be intrigued by certain characters, even to care about some, and to admire the efficient flow of the character-driven storytelling.

None of this is a big deal, since no one really cares what I think, a hallmark of my new demographic. But my wife, observing that I stay awake through almost the whole hour, thinks my new interest may portend audience growth. Well, she’s right about one thing: soon there will be a lot more of us in the Old Guy demographic.

Marriage to Marlena, delightful as it continues to be, sometimes feels like a residency in the soap opera department of the Museum of Broadcasting, complete with ongoing seminars on all things soap. Luckily for me, my wife has lovely friends, like the formidable pjs, who can discourse engagingly on the subject of soaps for hours and never repeat himself.

I’m grateful for the education, and over the years, came to appreciate many aspects of this uniquely American genre of serial drama, and respect the efforts of the industry that sustained it. But, to tell the truth, I never had any idea what the hell was going on.

I admired the durable work of those iconic actors and actresses whose skilled angsting filled so many hours. I smiled when everyone dressed to the nines and carefully accessorized in order to have arguments that went on for weeks in beautifully appointed rooms equipped with crackling fireplaces. I saluted the deft turn of phrase and the shocked close-up that created the signature cliff-hanger at the end of a scene.

At the same time, I cringed when it became evident that the networks weren’t providing diction coaches for their ill-prepared young hires, many of whom seemed to define acting dramatically as merely getting louder. And too many of the poorly staged shootouts and fight scenes were shoddy imitations of prime time and movies.

 But I’m going on and on … another characteristic of my new demographic. So I’d better get to the point now and tell you what I like about the new General Hospital.

 – Overall, I like the modern tempo, the get-on-with it style of storytelling that is the new normal. 

Teresa Castillo

 – I like the story of the young doctor, Patrick, who is succumbing to a full court press from his conniving colleague Britt, yet at the same time nursing a probably deeper yen for Nurse Sabrina. The friendship between Sabrina and his daughter Emma is heart-tugging, and I find myself rooting for Sabrina, played with sweet vulnerability by Teresa Castillo.  Marlena, soap opera’s version of Johnny Carson’s Great Carnac, predicts this will all be resolved at the Nurses’ Ball.

– Patrick isn’t the only male on General Hospital who doesn’t know which end is up. Spinelli, the neo-Shakespearean oddball who used to speak of himself in the third person, also vacillates between two women, and is forever doing the Wrong Thing while claiming to try to do the Right Thing. Bradford Anderson has wrung out just about all the sympathy the character has to offer, which, I gather, is the idea. The New Year’s Eve on the Roof device borrowed from the several versions of An Affair to Remember is one of those writerly “Holy crap!” ideas that sound good at first, but is hard to make work. This one didn’t. The resolution – an encounter and medically unlikely impregnation of Maxie by Spinelli – might have sunk the whole story. But the nimble team in the GH writers’ room got past it, giving us a wrenching human dilemma: does Maxie live with her big lie, and go on letting Dante and Lulu think the baby she is carrying is theirs? Again Ms. Carnac advises, Maxie won’t keep the secret for long.

 – Every time I’ve seen Tony Geary on the screen, he’s been bludgeoned, smacked around, burned, shot, hung, tied and gaged, sliced, diced and full of bruises and scabs. This actor is soaps’ Rock of Gibralter. He’s been doing this for years, and always makes it work. This time he’s been in a crummy Turkish prison, where he wound up in his quest for the real Duke Lavary, a favorite character of Marlena’s. Seems some cretin named Faison, the Moriarty of this melodrama, was posing as Duke. There was an unmasking at one point – they kind of lost me on this one – in which the real Faison was exposed, looking exactly like Macavity in Cats. Both Geary’s Luke and the real Duke, it turns out, are in love with Anna, the local sheriff, of all things. Will Luke duke it out with Duke? Don’t tell me.

– Then there’s Todd, inexplicably the object of uncontrollable ardor by any number of excellent women, each of whom could have her pick of the good men on this or any other soap.  Evidently this Todd business was transferred from anther soap. Now he’s in jail, in a cell across from the taunting Johnny, another miscreant who committed double vehicular homicide a while back, says my wife. Thinking Fans, who have long complained that on GH, no bad deed goes punished, home the new, smarter regime will mete out some justice. 

Kelly Sullivan

– Intriguing as these characters are, the best of the lot for my money is Kelly Sullivan as the split personality Connie and Kate. It was Ms. Sullivan’s vivid, operatic (in a very good way) performance that caught my eye in the first place and made me sit down and watch. Her acting is big and expressive and crystal clear, all eyes and sneers and frowns, swinging from peevish adolescent meanness to tearful desperation in a heartbeat. Yet – pay attention, young’uns – it all comes from deep within. She is modern soap opera’s Claire Trevor. (Memo to youth: go to YouTube, look up Key Largo.)So that’s it, one Old Guy’s take on the soap opera that seems to be altering the previously accepted belief that soaps are all dead shows walking.

I’ll be back soon, because I know how much producers and writers love to listen to fans tell them how to run their shows. In my next essay, I’ll do about 5,000 words on ways the already winning General Hospital can capture the soon-to-be-prized but now neglected Old Guy demographic.

A preview (spoiler alert): With pitchers and catchers just around the corner, why doesn’t Port Charles have a baseball team? … How about having Luke win over Anna by taking her to a classic car show in his 1966 Mustang? … And how about a new musical soundtrack: Kassie DePaiva singing the Julie London Songbook?

 Is this better than hanging around construction sites giving advice? I’ll say!

Comments

  1. James says:

    “The role of Marlena de laCroix is temporarily being played by Moose Goodfellow.”

    Welcome aboard Moose. Glad to have you here sharing your ideas. Always interesting to hear how a newbie gets into a show and starts fitting all the pieces together. You seem to be right on track and are no doubt adding to your understanding of the complexities of Port Charles every week.

    I agree that Kelly Sullivan is doing a great job as Connie. Don’t especially care for her interpretation of Kate (which was previously played by a different actress, one more suited for the job of a Devil Wears Prada-esque version of a fashion magazine editor). But Kelly’s Connie has heart and I enjoy her. Hope they keep Connie around and pair her with someone like Ned, who has a thing for those Bensonhurst girls.

    Also really enjoying Teresa Castillo as Sabrina pining away for Patrick. I’m sure there will be an Ugly Betty transformation for her somewhere down the road (perhaps at the Nurses Ball), but I’m loving the character, especially since Felix has come aboard as her talk-to (ask Marlena to explain the term).

    I’m curious to know what you think of Lucy Coe and Heather Webber. Will also be interested to know what you think of Laura when she returns in two weeks.

    Keep enjoying the show.

    Moose says: Thanks, James. Thinking Fans who know their stuff as well as you do — and care as much as you do — ought to be prized by the soap opera industry. Surely your contributions are prized here.

  2. wvfan says:

    As an old fart in training (54) who grew up with soaps on the periphery at lunch hours (yep, I actually walked home for lunch in grade school and junior high), school vacations and summers. I know what it is to pick up soaps by osmosis. My first crush was a toss up between Julie Newmar as Catwoman on the first Batman series and Victoria Winters on Dark Shadows. Serious love followed for Kate Mulgrew as the original Mary Ryan, and a later Tara on All My Children (dark hair, huge brown eyes), and of course the original show stopper over the top (but in a strangely nuanced way) Karen on One Life to Live. My mom kept me in touch with favorite characters during the twenty years that I did not have TV reception before her death in 1997.
    I still don’t get TV but the internet put me back in touch with One Life to Live and, when it met an untimely end, following its production team to General Hospital where Connie/Kate throws me back more to Karen than other famous DID cases in that if she ever integrates, she might have that unique combination of vulnerability and toughness that Judith Light provided (and that I don’t think I have really seen in movies since Shirley MacLaine in The Apartment).
    So, its great to have you as a near peer/old guy role model–and I’ll be happy to join you for coffee at Hardy’s (where old guys gather in my town) to talk about our shows.

    Moose says: Well said, wvfan. And welcome to the neglected Old Guy demographic, though you aren’t yet old enough. Our cohort’s theme song could be “Thanks for the Memories.”

  3. DS0816 says:

    Dear Ed,

    Ed writes, “None of this is a big deal, since no one really cares what I think, a hallmark of my new demographic.”

    I should introduce you to my father. (He’s 80.) His advice would be to enjoy being retired. Enjoy time for yourself. (And, of course, for your wife. But, again, for yourself.)

    I wish you the best with retirement.

    —DS0816

    Moose says: Thanks for the good wishes, DSO.

  4. Patrick Erwin says:

    Very interesting to hear Ed’s comments too – both as a soap newbie and as a writer and editor.

    And of course Ed likes Connie – the on screen one as well as the real life one!

    And now, all kidding aside, a slight tangent.

    It’s well past due for TV networks and advertisers to realize that we’re in the 21st century. The old adages about older viewers being unwilling to switch brands or try new things became obsolete around the time of rotary dial phones, but that conventional wisdom still exists.

    I’m sure GH’s surge isn’t all seventeen year old girls dying to watch Duke and Anna. (Though cross generational viewers are most welcome.) It’s mature viewers, men and women. And they all have dollars to spend on advertiser products.

    Money talks in business – so here’s hoping that GH’s rise in the ratings will encourage more stories with multiple generations.

    Moose says: Good to hear from you, Patrick. Of course I agree completely with your point about producers of entertainment broadening their notion of who’s watching, who might be attracted to watch, and who can and will support advertisers. It’s not all young’uns. Thanks for weighing in.

    • tess says:

      I too agree with Patrick. I’m in my fifties. I’m not in the age group that networks and advertisers desire. But when Frank Valentini and Ron Carlivati took over GH, I decided to give it a try because for the most part, I enjoyed their rendition of ONE LIFE TO LIVE. So I figured that GH would be worth my time.

      Also, I ‘ve been watching DAYS OF OUR LIVES steadily since last year because they are doing more traditional soap fare, which I prefer. No offense to Joe Mascolo, but I never enjoyed Stefano’s cartoon villainy and I’m loving the more earthly stories that are currently be showcased. on DAYS.

  5. Gianni says:

    Interesting post and I think Marlena. I think Moose is right on the money. I was NEVER a GH, having been a Guiding Light fan, and I even hated GH a little because it and not my beloved AMC and OLTL survived but I am finding myself unable to miss a second of GH. Like you, these days I am finding myself slightly more optimistic about the genre I love so much.

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