General Hospital at 50: They’ve Only Just Begun …

Marlena says:  It’s a special time at General Hospital.  The 50th anniversary is coming up April 1 and it’s been just about a year since headwriter Ron Carlivati and executive producer executive producer Frank Valentini took over a dying show and made it must-watch TV.  Marlena’s dear friend and veteran journalist Ed Martin, who first started watching GH in the glory days of the early 80s, expresses the feelings of many avid fans at the current state of the show in this column, reprinted from his regular gig at TV Worth Watching. Ed’s been a guest columnist here many times, and I’m so happy to share his latest GH thoughts with you.

By Ed Martin

April will mark the 50th anniversary of ABC’s General Hospital. I’ll be marking my 35th anniversary as a steady GH viewer just a couple of months after that. One year ago, I was almost certain that neither anniversary would come to pass, what with the show in a death spiral after more than ten years of dreadful mob-based stories that had gutted virtually everything that had once been wonderful about it and turned it into a bargain basement version of The Sopranos. Not to mention grievous

I’m not sure what anyone who has come to the show during the last ten years might make of the tsunami of nostalgia currently washing over it, but those of us who have been around for the long haul can only be delighted.

mismanagement on the part of ABC Daytime, which had seen fit to cancel the network’s two other signature soap operas and seemed to be gunning for GH, as well. And while it was sad to see the somewhat played out All My Children go, and distressing to see the still very vital One Life to Live die, it was damn near impossible to muster up any true outrage over the seemingly inevitable end of GH because it had been so terrible for so long.

If you had told me in early 2012 that one year later I would once again be relishing GH the way I did in the ’70s and ’80s, and for much of the ’90s, I might have suggested that you were in need of a long rest. Like millions of other people, I was certain GH was a goner, and I wasn’t all that conflicted about it, since in many ways it had been dead for quite some time.

But in the last 12 months, with GH having been in the very capable hands of executive producer Frank Valentini and head writer Ron Carlivati — the two people who were largely responsible for One Life to Live being as much fun as it was during its final years on ABC — something borderline miraculous has happened: It is once again pulsing with dramatic, romantic and sometimes humorous stories about the people who work at the title institution. Their families and friends, many of whom are caught up in adventures involving larger-than-life villains, the likes of which were once a staple on the show. Refreshingly, there hasn’t been a mob-based story in months.

Much of the excitement surrounding GH at the moment has to do with the bumper crop of veteran characters that Valentini and Carlivati have brought back to the show. Almost always in grand fashion, and never with the complete disregard for the history of legacy characters shown by previous production regimes, not to mention disrespect for viewers who had invested years in their past stories. The cavalcade of returning fan favorites in advance of the show’s 50th anniversary celebration has been glorious to see. A.J. Quartermaine has returned, undoing the corrosive impact of a particularly wretched story six years ago that seemed to end with his death, and thrusting the long-sidelined Q family back into the spotlight. Felicia Jones is back, reunited with her former boyfriend Mac Scorpio and her troubled daughter, Maxie. Her secret agent ex-husband Frisco Jones is back as well, awkwardly attempting to reconnect with his ex-wife and daughter after shutting them out for almost 20 years. Duke Lavery is back from the dead (he was actually in a Turkish prison) and after a false start, courtesy of the veteran super-villain Cesar Faison, he is trying to rekindle his relationship with former super-spy Anna Devane. (The Faison fondue face-melt was an instant classic moment, the likes of which this show hasn’t delivered in decades.)

There have been appearances by Robert Scorpio, Holly Sutton, Noah Drake, Kevin Collins and Skye Quartermaine. The returns of Bobbie Spencer and Audrey Hardy are right around the corner, hopefully with Lesley Webber in tow. Murderous ’80s super-loon Heather Webber is now an integral part of the narrative, as is long-time vamp, Lucy Coe. Even the long-absent Laura Spencer has returned to town — with new fiancé Scotty Baldwin (her first husband). She was, in fact, reunited with ex-husband Luke outside the ship-turned-floating-nightclub, the Haunted Star, which they once owned. (The actors who play Luke and Laura, Anthony Geary and Genie Francis, have lost none of the chemistry that made them pop-culture superstars more than three decades ago. Interestingly, Ms. Francis and Kin Shriner, the actor who has played Scotty off-and-on since the ’70s, have still got “it,” as well.)

The show is suddenly loaded with fresh details from past storylines that may be a bit jarring to newer viewers but have long-time fans smiling from ear to ear, like the Pickle-Lila relish with which the late Lila Quartermaine once saved the fading fortunes of ELQ, and the Ice Princess diamond that brought the Cassadine family onto the canvas and kicked off the legendary story about a weather machine that caused a blizzard to cripple Port Charles in the summer of 1981. If Luke and Laura pay a visit to Beecher’s Corners or run into Hutch, the Hit Man, the old-timers and their aging-fan base just might expire from nostalgia overload.

Even as they have thoroughly revitalized it, Valentini and Carlivati have skillfully used GH to keep alive their previous series, One Life to Live, having brought three characters (Todd Manning, John McBain and Starr Manning) from it to GH on a full-time basis and three others (Cole Thornhart, Blair Cramer and Tea Delgado) in limited capacities. With the exception of Cole, who came and went in two episodes before he was “killed,” they have all brought a great deal to what has been their new home, all the while keeping other OLTL characters alive through conversations they have with each other and the new people in their lives. This has been a bold experiment and a surprisingly satisfying one, though much of it is in jeopardy now that Prospect Park has finally reactivated OLTL (along with AMC) as an online series and is staking claim to its characters. (Prospect Park has suggested in a statement that it will agree to share the Todd, John and Starr characters with GH as scheduling permits.)

As if fixing past mistakes and making essential corrections to GH and keeping OLTL alive aren’t challenges enough, Valentini and Carlivati have also taken it upon themselves to address the madness that surrounded the 1997-2003 GH spin-off Port Charles. An epic fail of a show that in its later years added vampires and other supernatural entities to its canvas in a desperate attempt to attract new viewers, only to drive away the few it had left. Caleb Morley, the villainous vampire on that series, has resurfaced on GH, and because he was played by Michael Easton, the same actor who played Det. John McBain on OLTL and has continued the role on GH. The writers are having a field day with the old mistaken-identity-thing. It looks as if Caleb will be exposed as a serial killer who made his past crimes look like the work of a vampire, but I’m not sure how Valentini and Carlivati will explain away the near-insanity of Lucy Coe as a manic vampire slayer, or Sam McCall’s resemblance to Caleb’s lost love Livvie Locke (both played by Kelly Monaco), or the death of Scott Baldwin’s daughter Karen in some kind of supernatural scenario ten years ago.

For all the wonderful surprises they have brought to the show, and despite having once again made it an essential five-day-week viewing experience, not everything Valentini and Carlivati have done has been worth shouting about. For example, consider the strange story of Maxie Jones, which so far hasn’t worked on any level. Maxie was a surrogate for her friends Lulu and Dante, but lost their baby on New Year’s Eve, and then in her grief had sex just a few hours after her miscarriage with her ex-boyfriend Damian Spinelli. Now she’s pregnant again and trying to pass off her pregnancy as the one initiated for Dante and Lulu, ostensibly to keep everyone happy, including Spinelli, who is deeply in love with another woman. But she’s setting Dante and Lulu up for massive heartbreak down the road once the medical history of the baby’s parents inevitably comes into play, and she’s preventing sweet Spinelli from experiencing the joys of impending fatherhood. She was being blackmailed by the evil Dr. Britt Westbourne (so far a very poorly developed character), who threatened to expose her secret if Maxie didn’t do her bidding, which involved destroying the career of innocent young nurse Sabrina Santiago, but the visiting Frisco put a stop to that. Nothing about this story has been all that interesting or entertaining.

And speaking of stories that don’t feel quite right, I can’t help but wonder why there has been no mention of the late Edward Quartermaine’s illegitimate son Jimmy Lee Holt in the ongoing drama over Edward’s estate. Jimmy Lee was a big part of Edward’s life, for a while, anyway. This oversight doesn’t wash with the show’s sudden rich respect for its history. I keep waiting for Monica Quartermaine to ask, “What about Jimmy Lee?” After all, he had a torrid affair with her cousin, Lorena Sharpe.

I also think killing off Kate/Connie’s son Trey was a mistake, as there was a lot of story to play there with his mentally ill mother and her boyfriend Sonny.

Still, these are relatively minor quibbles given the big fun that GH now provides almost every day of the week. I’m already wondering what Valentini and Carlivati will do with it once they wrap up the sweeping stories of the Nurses Ball and the return of Caleb Morley. I’m hoping they might continue to work their magic at reviving past characters and repairing the damage done to them by previous writing teams. As I have mentioned before, I would like to see them bring Emily Quartermaine and Georgie Jones back from the beyond, mainly because the serial killer storyline in which these once important characters were killed off was so bloody pointless. (Emily is a no-brainer, as she briefly returned in the form of Rebecca, an unconvincing long-lost twin nobody knew she had. Georgie might take a little more work.) Having Alan Quartermaine also return from the dead might be too much to ask for, but at least we have occasional visits from his spirit or ghost to remind us of how much he brought to the show (and how much the show lost when he left). And I would be thrilled if they could somehow correct the legendary Rick Webber mess from 2002, a storyline that left long-term viewers muttering, “WTF”?

Just thinking about everything that has happened on GH in recent months, and everything yet to come as its special anniversary storylines play out, is enough to make one’s head spin. I’m not sure what anyone who has come to the show during the last ten years might make of the tsunami of nostalgia currently washing over it, but those of us who have been around for the long haul can only be delighted. There is literally something for anyone who has watched GH during any of the last five decades, not to mention fans of OLTL and Port Charles. Talk about a long tail. GH today is the finest example of something that only broadcast television can do — that is, tell a story that lasts for 50 years and yet feels like it’s just getting started.

_________________________________________

Ed Martin writes regularly for MediaPost.com, MediaBizBloggers.com, TV Worth Watching and the Huffington Post. He’s been the programming and entertainment editor for several JackMyers Report publications since 2000, including The Myers Programming Report, The Jack Myers Entertainment Report and, at present, Ed Martin’s TV Buzz and TiVoWorthy TV on JackMyers.com. Follow Ed Martin on Twitter: www.twitter.com/PlanetEd.

Comments

  1. GH fanforyear says:

    Tracey recently mentioned Jimmy Lee – I forget who she was talking with but it was a quick mention on how Edward had disowned him. What about Celia Quartermaine??????

    • Ed Martin says:

      I guess I missed the reference to Jimmy Lee. I wish they had made a little more of it. Wouldn’t it have been more interesting had Franco been Jimmy Lee’s son rather than a mystery Jason twin Alan never knew existed? That would explain Franco’s obsession with and resentment of Jason.

    • tess says:

      I remember Celia. What was her relationship to the Quartermaines?

  2. Marilyn says:

    What a marvelous review, Mr Martin. You hit it on all cylinders! I look back and remember how Gloria Monte revolutionized soaps, and I could easily see Valentini doing that on a smaller scale. I love Ron’s sense of humor and his wonderful and surprising twists, and his respect for history. I read an interview where he said his disagreements with Frank were usually when he, Ron, wrote something too far out (as he likes to do). Frank pulls him back abit when it goes too outrageous. Have to say, thank God for Frank. (Wish they had cut the vampire thing in half at least! )

    I feel it is important to keep some of these returnees, given that some of the regulars are in stories not so great, such as Sabrina, Britt, Maxie, etc. After the anniversary, I want to see the hospital hire Kevin, Lucy start her cosmetic business in PC and Luke and Laura do some work on finding each other again. I love Anna and enjoy the police work being so much better and smarter than in Guza days! (Although they do have a serious security-escape problem) I also like that Sonny’s story is now more about his emotional life than his mob life (however, he could disappear tomorrow and I probably wouldn’t notice, so old and weary is his presence here now).

    Thank you for saying it all so well and giving present GH it the kudoos it deserves!

  3. DS0816 says:

    Dear Ed,

    A lot of though has been put into this, it’s marvelous.

    It feels like “General Hospital” is reinvesting in itself. I wonder if ABC has anything to do with it?

    I know Jacklyn Zeman coming back will be a positive for many who have missed Bobbie. Rick Springfeld making a return as Noah is a good connection. I’ve wondered about Sharon Wyatt as Tiffany and John Reilly as Sean. Yes, it would be good to bring back Quartermaines who never should have been killed off, particularly as you mention with Emily (Natalia Livingston) and Alan (Stuart Damon).

    I don’t know how much can be done, in all of this, because the deaths of the beloved characters was damaging to a point it could make the audience feel they were toyed with. Then again, it may be worth it anyway. There is such feeling of rejuvenation, there’s a lot to be said for the positive feelings that come from likewise positive results.

  4. James says:

    Wonderful review. Thanks for putting everything so succinctly.

    Tracey did make passing reference to Jimmy Lee Holt being disinherited, while Luke made reference to Scotty murdering Rick Weber. So, sounds like Ron C doesn’t intend to deal with either of those plot possibilities, at least right now. But I, too, would especially love the Rick Weber murder to be undone.

    The vampire story was sort of cute at first, but it dragged on too long. And it ate time away from all the other stories. While I am loving seeing all the vets back, there’s just so much story going on right now, I kinda feel short changed on emotional stuff. Would have loved for a longer Luke and Laura reunion scene before they were distracted by the Ice Princess replica. And now that the real Duke is back, they’ve barely even given Duke and Anna any scenes. Perhaps they’re waiting for Robert to get out of his coma, which presumably won’t happen until Kimberly McCullock is ready to film more scenes as Robin.

    Bring back Leslie Weber! Bring back Victor Cassadine! He wasn’t killed on the Island like Mikos and Andre were. And Jeff Weber would be nice too if only to see Richard Dean Anderson and Robin Matson share a few scenes.

    Ahh, yes, the 50th is getting exciting. So glad its actually happening.

  5. Beth CP says:

    While the overall quality of the show from production values to the de-emphasis of the mob has been a welcome sight I would hardly call the hi jacking of the Lulu and Dante baby story a minor quibble. Yes, the characters involved are (save for Spinelli and Ellie), members of GH legacy families. But where there could have been a sensitive and beautifully played out story of female friendship (Lulu and Maxie), and a deeply in love couple (Lulu and Dante), beginning their family via a route that can be fraught with uncertainty and angst, the writer has resorted to the grotesque in having “grief sex” right after a miscarriage. Not only is this insensitive to those who have had their own difficulties having children but it seems to mock the idea of surrogacy itself, especially when the character of Maxie is portrayed in such a careless, thoughtless way. Talk about one step forward, two steps back in the maturation process. i don’t have a problem per se, with suspending “rules” when it comes to stretching medical truths and the like. In this genre, there has to be a particular amount of leeway given, artistic license if you will, in order to propel a story forward. But this whole arc, despite some initial, rich and beautifuly detailed work by Julie Marie Berman and Dominic Zamprogna and wonderfully written dialogue by Kate Hall, Elizabeth Page and Katherine Shock has become less about Lulu and Dante’s journey to parenthood and more about tawdry shock value and to a degree, insulting the viewers intelligence. And it has relegated the aforementioned Miss Berman and Mr. Zamprogna, two of GH’s strongest, most consistent actors, to being bystanders in their own story.

    I don’t pretend to know or understand what is in RC’s mind and heart, and I truly want to believe he hasn’t set out to purposely hurt and wound people emotionally with the direction this story has taken. My true disappointment is for the actors who have to perform this material when I believe they may be thinking there had to have been a better scenario that might’ve played out. That they have all been excellent speaks to their training and professionalism, for which I am grateful. Sadly, Miss Berman has elected to leave the role of Lulu and I, for one, will miss her terribly, as she has been a shining, vivid example of talent rising above the mundane, dare I say, shlock that this has turned into. That she and Mr. Zamprogna continue to elevate it beyond what it actually is, gives me reason not to fast forward their scenes. Only time will tell if this detour plays out with any sort of believability. It’s already been skating close to the edge of incredulity. Yes this is only one story in the entire GH tapestry, but it involves characters that should be a touchstone couple for the GH of the future. That in and of itself is why it’s execution has been less than encouraging. But that’s just me…

  6. tess says:

    GENERAL HOSPITAL has improved immeasurably but everybody goes on and on about how great the show was in the eighties. GENERAL HOSPITAL existed before the 80′s and some wonderful stories were told pre eighties. Audrey March, played by the magnificent Rachel Ames drove lots of story back in the day. Audrey was married to Tom Baldwin, who was mercurial, intense and controlling. Tom married Audrey knowing that she still carried a blazing torch for Steve Hardy,portrayed by the late John Beradino. Audrey’s passionate love for Steve incensed Tom, who wanted to make love to Audrey, who invented excuses to avoid intimacy with her husband.

    I distinctly recall Tom telling Audrey that cute nurses and candy stripers were batting their eyelashes at him, extending luncheon invitations to him. He knew he could have them just for the asking. Audrey seemed indifferent and unfazed, which enraged Tom. He was trying to make her jealous and she didn’t care that other women flirted with him.

    One night Tom angrily raped Audrey, who decided to divorce him. She told her sister, Lucille that she was going to speak to Lee Baldwin about her plans to end her marriage to Tom. Lucille told her that Lee wouldn’t help her because Tom was his brother. “Audrey, surely, you don’t expect Lee to go against his own brother,” said Lucille. “It would be a conflict of interest. That’s what Lee will tell you if you ask him to represent you.”

    Audrey discovered that she was pregnant, but she decided to keep that little tidbit to herself. She figured that she would never be free of Tom if she had his child, She took a nursing job in another town and led her family and friends to believe that she was overseas taking care of sick children.

    Audrey gave birth to a baby boy and she hired an older woman to take care of the baby while she worked. Her plan was to eventually return to town cradling the baby claiming that she had adopted him. Somehow the babysitter discovered that Tom Baldwin was the child’s biological father and she threatened to reveal this if Audrey didn’t pay her five hundred smackers. And they spoke like that was a whopping sum of money. “Five hundred dollars! I don’t have that kind of money,” Audrey said in an incredulous tone. Nowadays, the blackmailer would have demanded millions or a seat on the board or voting shares in some big company.

    GH told lots of highly entertaining stories prior to the eighties. If I recall correctly, during the Audrey hiding her pregnancy story, GENERAL HOSPITAL zoomed to number two in the ratings, trouncing time slot competitors, ANOTHER WORLD and THE SECRET STORM.

    Don’t get me wrong. I LOVE the modern GH. It has improved immensely. But I wish people would cease asking the writers to resurrect dead characters and rewrite history, undoing so-called mistakes made by previous production regimes, most notably Jill Farren Phelps and Bob Guza, Jr. I think the current scribes should let the past stay in the past and move the story forward with new characters and conflicts. And please spare us stories about these infernal lookalikes. John McBain has a dead ringer in Caleb Morley or whatever the hell his name is and Sam Morgan just so happens to bear a striking resemblance to Caleb’s Morley’s dead wife.

    For the love of God give us a break. Laugh out loud. Seriously, this is not fresh, imaginative writing. I think it makes many viewers sigh and roll their eyes. But yes, Valentini and Carlivati have revived the show and made it watchable.

  7. Eric Henwood-Greer says:

    A great guest article–and a pleasure to read, despite the fact that I am not nearly so won ovger

    This was a pleasure to read, thanks! I say that–despite the fact that I can’t agree nearly so fully. I don’t think the show’s current “renaissance” holds up to the best the show has been, or even the “very good” the show has been–and much of my enjoyment is down to the fact that in the current era of soaps on tv, with slim pickings and so much network interference, I’m thankful just to get something that I enjoy watching every day.

    One thing I have to address is the Port Charles stuff. OK, it may be too soon to say anything–but knowing the way Ron C writes (here and on One Life,) I have a feeling that, despite seeing his ring glow, this story is basically over now, the way other supervillain stories, such as Faison, were quickly finished with no real follow up. If that’s the case, I find the story to have been fun, but also lazily written– So… what was the point again? We saw Lucy within a month go from a glamorous exec to a mental patient? If Caleb was meant to have been a crazy rock star all these years, how was all of Port Charles hypnotized by him again? Why did ghost Alison come to tell Lucy and her son that he was a vampire, somehow miraculously give her a cross bow, tell her son he was her father (did he hypnotize her too?), etc?

    I’m all for leaving a story like this a bit open ended–you know, “Was that really a vampire or not? You decide!” but for me, tis came off as just lazy and has actually opened more holes in the whole Port Charles nonsense rather than being a fun way to address how crazy it was that GH had a spin-off set in the same city with vampires and angels.

    I have this problem with the way RC addresses the past all the time–he did the same on OLTL. He brings back a past character, or has a new character turn out to be connected to a past favorite–all soap opera tropes that when done well fans love. But more of ten than not he seems to then drop them and leave the character or story floundering, and I’m left with a feeling of “Why did they bother?” And now we’re already all set to revisit the Ice Princess story (at leats that’s my suspicion from Lulu’s “gift”) which I get is being done for the 50th Anniversary, but it just seems like these are all piled up one on top of the other, given a too quick conclusion and then swiftly something else is moved on.

    In general I find story beats are played too quickly. I loved having Rafe and his love for his dead mom, and looking after Danny be what triggered Heather into partial sanity and made her realize all she had done. But this is a soap opera! It happened over *two* scenes! I wouldn’t have minded having Heather kidnap Rafe (or *something*) and to have her revlation and epiphany happen over at last 2 episodes. I guess that’s my frustration–stories and characters that I think work, or at least I find interesting seem to be dealt with too quickly, while others I don’t enjoy seem to be stretched out past the breaking point.

    And I agree about allthe lookalikes and back from the dead characters… A well known soap writer once said that back from the dead, and other unrealistic storylines work when the emotions are dealt with honestly and realistically, even if the plot isn’t, and *also* when they aren’t taken for granted. Yes, I get this is a way to bring back favorite characters, etc, but when we have 4-5 double storylines or back from the dead storylines happening within a year, or less, it becomes hard to have any emotional investment.

  8. Kevin says:

    I’m dying to read an interview with show killer Jill Farren Phelps and see what she thinks about “General Hospital” being the best soap on TV right now. Doubt she cares. The witch did everything she could to make the show a complete nightmare from 2001 to 2011.

    And she is working her “magic” over at “Young and the Restless” right now. Those poor Genoa City people.

  9. janet says:

    I AM ENJOYING THE show somewhat!
    except Todd giving away Sam’s baby then keeping his mouth shut when he found out how much she wanted him. . Todd is Victor from Y&R. never pays.
    How can you root for someone who never pays for their sins.
    Sonny had a shootout with the cops, and the cops were blamed for it? I shut the show off for years that day.

    I watch the evil play out but if they don’t pay ? what’s the sense? You cannot get into a story if its going to be the same.

  10. Johnny says:

    Heather Webber uttered one of the most hilarious lines I can ever recall on a soap. Lol. When talking to Todd…she said, and I quote “Well, I must admit. My credibility has taken a bit of a hit in the last couple months.“ um…YA THINK???? LOL. Only Mattson could pull off such a ridiculous absurd understatement and believe it! I laughed so hard. I really hope that GH hasn‘t gone too far over the edge with Heather as she was once a viable character in spite of her psychoses. The show seems to have forgotten a lot of her history…including dalliances with Scotty and the mysteriously forgotten Jimmy Lee Holt (Quartermaine). Heather could have given birth to all kinds of Quartermaine heirs before she became Gina on Santa Barbara and Jimmy Lee (Steve Bond) played her brother. I have much more to type, so later!

  11. William says:

    Right now is the perfect time for disenchanted “Young and the Restless” fans (aka, 90% of them) to check out “General Hospital.”

    Yes, I know what you’re thinking: “But ‘GH’ is too fast-paced and full of over-the-top storylines!”

    Yes, that is true. But it beats the day to day boring monotony that is Sharon telling Adam she loves him but must be free of him for the 200th time yet to appear in his home later that night while hiding from Chelsea. And don’t get me started on how completely dull Victor and Nikki have become. Ugh!

    Or the onslaught of newbie actors who can’t act their way out of a paper bag.

    I began watching “Y&R” in 1981 and didn’t add “GH” to my viewing schedule until 1992 so you’d think I would have more “loyalty” to “Y&R” but nope, it’s not about that, it’s about the better soap at the moment and right now “GH” wins that award by a landslide.

Speak Your Mind