At yesterday’s ABC Summer Press Tour for the Television Critics Association, General Hospital was given a show of faith, and great opportunity at promoting the enduring soap opera by ABC, when executive producer Frank Valentini and a host of top talent from the series were invited to the panel discussions.
Lead by Frank Valentini, the reporters and journalists in the room, including On-Air On-Soaps fired questions to the cast and the EP. On stage along with Valentni were: Tony Geary, Jane Elliot, Jason Thompson, Nancy Lee Grahn, Maurice Benard, Steve Burton, Kelly Monaco, Michael Easton and Laura Wright.
From it’s upcoming time slot change and upcoming surprises, to it’s survival to stay on the air, to Kimberly McCullough’s (Robin) “visits” and what that all means, and so much more, read below the quotes to some of the most revealing, concerning, and entertaining questions from the panel!
Frank, if Genie Francis (Ex-Laura, GH) were to become available from Y&R, would you bring her back to General Hospital?
FRANK: I would just say that there is rich history that General Hospital has and there are many wonderful characters on the show right now, and in addition some people we are interested in bringing back. At this point unfortunately contracts forbid us to talk about things like that, but all I will say is we are big fans of Genie, I wish her the best, but I think we are pretty solid right now.
To Tony Geary on being very emotional on his recent win for Outstanding Leas Actor at the Daytime Emmys. Were you so moved during your speech because GH had survived cancellation to live another day?
TONY: I would say it was a little of both. We were pretty shaky about a year ago, before Frank came on board. We were living on death row. I think we were all thrilled, and emotional and excited about being honored for the hard work, and the storyline that I got the award for was really important to me. I love when the character goes to the dark side, and that was one of the darkest I have been able to go. So it meant a lot to me to be acknowledged.
To the panel: GH had been living on deaths door, what would you say to people as to why it important that we have soaps on the air as part of daytime programming?
NANCY: I think everyone seems to enjoy cutting edge things or something that is the newest thing, but there is something to really be valued about tradition and something that is familiar, and something that makes people feel comfortable, and something that is generational, and that is exclusive. Some of these people have watched GH for nearly 50 years. I think it’s important to remember this audience paid for television for a long time. I think they are very valuable and extremely loyal.
FRANK: It’s also an original American art form, I think it’s not only about tradition, but about storytelling and the family, and the fantasy of romance, love, and friendship and those are the bedrocks of what this country is all about. I don’t want to sound too patriotic about it, but I think people look to these shows as touchstones, in which to explore life and experience life, as well as being entertained by it.
JASON: To me, I have been on the show for seven years. I look down this line and I see people who have been in this business for a really long time and there is something to be said about that, let alone, GH being on for 50 years soon. I think storytelling has changed. Everyone is sort of into this faster pace, and also what Frank said, we believe in the stories that we tell. We are an extended family. And even talking about my storyline with the character of Robin, we did a storyline talking about HIV in daytime before anyone else was touching it. And there have been many stories like that during GH’s time, and as we go forward we are constantly thinking and doing new things to bring TV to a new level. People see us in their living rooms every single day, and they get attached to you, and it is something we should celebrate!
JANE: I have a different viewpoint on this. For 50 years we have been telling stories 5 days a week 52 weeks a year. We are in people’s home during the day. We are part of people’s touchstones when they are in the hospital with a sick parent, or when they are pregnant and they bring their new babies home. It’s people who work at night like athletes and musicians, who watch. What I like about it is that it has stayed the same, that it is this same kind of cultural anomaly. We are there family and they are family because of it
STEVE: This show is the same, but we do a lot more work in a lot less time. When I started on the show in 1991, we did 21 scenes a day we would shoot. Yesterday we did 78 scenes. So you guys are welcome to come down and check out what we do, because it is truly amazing. I think a lot of credit goes to our crew who works so hard. The one thing that the wrecking ball or being on death row has done for all of us is that we are united, which is great as cast. I think it makes the work better. Everyone is working towards the same goal. So is the crew. As bad as it has been, it’s been a great experience because everybody has a new energy to work and to keep the show on the air. GH is such an iconic brand. We are not ready to let it go.
NANCY: We were kind of like the walking dead for awhile heading toward the iceberg, saying, “I just need somebody to do something!” And they did. ABC did. They changed everything. I will say Frank had made an enormous difference and at ABC there is new marketing and publicity. I have done so much already and Vicki Dummer (SR VP ABC Daytime) seems to be a pretty great broad from what I can tell. We are now a “Yes sir. No sir,” crew. For some jaded group here, some of us, we are invigorated, and we are willing and ready to win and stay on the air.
Frank, you came in from OLTL and began rebuilding GH. Can you explain how you took it from where it was to the amazing place it is today?
FRANK: Maybe not rebuilding, but maybe remodeling. Being an outsider it is easier to come in and see things as opposed to someone who is already there. I think the show was in terrific shape, but there needed to be some tweaks. I think it’s also my taste and sensibilities for the show to go a little bit faster. I felt there were some key characters missing. Not in terms of who they were, but certainly archetypes that I think were important to bring on the show. Bringing in some of the cast members from One Life to Live was a way to honor that audience, and also to create story that was good for the current cast.
Michael Easton, how was it coming over from One Life to Live to General Hospital, and how did you former cast mates feel about it?
MICHAEL: I t was bittersweet, but at the same time it’s been exciting to come over to GH and work with these guys and it has been a new energy for me. We were pretty aware for a year there that the wrecking ball was right outside the door at OLTL. We all worked at a very high pace to try to make that work. And its’ been interesting to come over here and have the same feeling. I think the only way we are going to be able to advance is to have great storytelling, and to try to recapture the audience we may have lost and bring some things that are exciting and different. It woke me up for sure coming here. I think I was in a stupor for the last year and I feel very fortunate. I think the GH audience has been very kind to let the OLTL characters in. I think they realize there is a bit of synchronicity with all the other fans of soap opera and they understand. If it went the other way, we would love having them. I think it’s nice of them to be accepting. I think some of the One Life people are slowly coming over and they are excited to see Roger Howarth and Kassie DePaiva and some of the other people.
Frank, Kimberly McCullough just returned or visited GH, and there was a bombshell that she is alive and receiving electro-shock therapy. What are the plans for her and status with the show?
FRANK: She is back for a little bit. It’s always challenging when actors want to pursue different avenues in their personal and professional life. I think Kimberly McCullough had made a decision to leave the show. Having worked with her for six or eight weeks before she left, she is a really bright woman. She has been exposed to so many aspects of the business in a very short amount of time. She is interest in being a director and so we kind of connected and bonded, because I am interested in being a director as well. I said to her “This is such a wonderful thing you have created. Let’s try to keep it alive.” She is open to it and we are going to try to work together. It’s also good because she lives in Los Angeles.
Frank, has ABC given you indication what matrix you have for survival? Since they have been clearly looking to put on cheaper programming with the cancellation of One Life to Live and All My Children? Do you see the audience numbers significantly change?
FRANK: I don’t think it will change in the near future that the television market that exists in the United States will ever be anything other than challenging. All I can say is that ABC invited us here to me, that is a great sign, and the network is behind us 100%. They are very excited about the show’s 50th anniversary. We will be laying some things out between now and April. I feel you just need to watch the show to catch the energy and the momentum we have.
Frank, GH is moving to its new time slot on September 10th. How do you feel about the change? And, what is the show going to do to enhance tune-in and to gain more notice for the switch? Is their a big umbrella story coming up?
FRANK: I think the time slot change will be great. I think it will shake-up the lineup a bit. I like the way we are being positioned and the shows that will be surrounding us. I know the network is doing a big push to inform the audience of the time change, and yes, we are doing a big umbrella story with lots of fun surprises. We have a lot of terrific stuff coming up!
Tony, you walked off the shot and out of frame, in the end of the very famous GH opening title sequence which featured all the men o f GH. Was that planned?
TONY: That was not planned. I just sort of “had it”. I walked off and they loved it. What I say is you sort of live two lives and I flip in to Luke Spencer at a moments notice as I know how he feels etc. And when I’m threatened or uncomfortable he takes over, and he took over and said, “I have had enough” I was delighted that it was kept in the opening for as long as it did. I was surprised. I said to them, “Why did you keep it? And they said, “It’s because it’s the perfect end.”
So after reading the comments from Frank Valentini and several members of the cast of GH from the panel, what do you think of GH and where it is today? Are you excited about its future and what feels like a significant nod by ABC to promote it and carry it through to its 50th anniversary? Let us know1