As the final weeks of summer play out and into the fall on General Hospital, look for some intriguing storylines, and plenty of drama ahead for fans of the ABC daytime drama series. With recent casting additions, new story for beloved favorites and duos, it’s a good time to tune-in.
On-Air On-Soaps caught up with the man at the helm of the series, Emmy award-winning executive producer Frank Valentini at the ABC TCA summer cocktail reception to get his thoughts on a myriad of subjects related to the show including: bringing Valentin Cassadine to the canvas, big story for JaSam, Julexis, utilizing Genie Francis (Laura) … and, inside the construct of the show from; formulating story with the head writers, to his job of overseeing the GH machine as it churns out episode after episode, and the state of the soap genre in 2016.
In a time where the network soap has to seemingly always rein in its budgets, while still delivering compelling, and exciting content to compete in the daytime space for an audience, Valentini has continued to be an expert in balancing all the aspects for GH to march on 53 years after its beginnings. So, what’s up at GH? Here’s what Frank had to say about it.
There are so many plot points beginning to shape up, or just beginning on GH these days. How do you feel James Patrick Stuart is doing as your newest villain, Valentine Cassadine? And, why the decision to bring his story on to the canvas at this point, when it had first been talked about several years ago?
FRANK: He is wonderful, and we love having James. We didn’t bring the story back, per se. We just knew the character was out there, and that it was a character that existed that the audience has never seen. So we thought: let’s have him show up and cause some trouble, and sort of reintroduce the next generation of Cassadines.
Genie Francis was terrific in her recent scenes when she railed on Valentin for “killing” her son, Nikolas. Fans always say they want to see more of Genie. Will you be continuing to utilize her in story?
FRANK: Yup! She’s under contract. She will be working non-stop. Laura is involved with the Cassadine story, and she has her own drama with Lulu (Emme Rylan), and Dante (Dominic Zamprogna) as well; and the budding romance with Kevin (Jon Lindstrom).
This week on GH there are major developments for Jason (Billy Miller) and Sam (Kelly Monaco) and perhaps some major conflicts for the duo to contend with, too?
FRANK: I can say there is so much going on with Jason and Sam in the next couple of months, and it’s going to be pretty intense, as well.
Viewers learned on Monday’s episode that Sam is pregnant. Why the decision to go that way with the story?
FRANK: I think it’s part of a bigger story, but it’s a story that evolved out of the Cassadine Island adventure, which as the viewers will see starts to unfold for everybody, and everybody comes away from that adventure changed. It’s super fun to do adventures, and do escapades, and smaller umbrella stories, but if it doesn’t move the story on the canvas forward at-large, it doesn’t work as well.
How far ahead are you planning the stories that make it on-air, along with GH head writers Shelly Altman and Jean Passanante?
FRANK: There is an incredible amount of planning that goes into it. We have an idea of where it’s going, but we always like to keep our ear to the ground of what is airing, and sort of seeing what things are working, and are exciting. We try to capitalize on that as well, for example: the Kristina (Lexi Ainsworth) and Parker (Ashley Jones) relationship and story. I didn’t know if anybody knew that would be as interesting as it was, and that was really great. The Franco (Roger Howarth) and Liz (Rebecca Herbst) pairing is very solid, and very interesting, and so we are capitalizing on that. I feel there is a lot of romance, and a lot of adventure, a lot of potential, and a lot of really solid stories right now. I feel like the show is in a really good place.
There are a lot of moving parts for you as the executive producer of GH that you have to oversee and execute, while at the same time trying to manage and exceed audience expectations with the story. Would you agree?
FRANK: There are a lot of moving parts, and truly it is exhausting. It was interesting to be at the General Hospital Fan Club Event the past weekend. The fans were so smart. They often said, “We know how hard you work, and we know hard it is, but we appreciate everything.” We try to introduce these new sets, and we try and take the budget that we have and make the most of it, and make it visually exciting for the audience, and emotionally satisfying. I feel like the show right now is incredibly emotionally satisfying every day. We are seeing the response from the fans, and the daytime community at large.
I love that you brought Bree Williamson to GH as Claudette West. How is it working with Bree again after a few years away from your time together at One Life to Live when you were the EP of the series, and she played Jessica Buchanan?
FRANK: I love that we brought her on GH, too! She is as good as she ever was, and in ways somewhat better, because she is older and wiser, and more beautiful. Bree is just a giant talent, and to bring someone into that triangle of Nathan/Maxie/Griffin was a little bit risky. But it has to be someone who would just jump off the screen, because Maxie (Kirsten Storms) is so exciting, and so alive. So you need sort of the counterpoint to Maxie, because she has some of the same qualities, but is underneath it all a good person, while Claudette we’re not so sure about.
Let’s talk Julexis! You gave Will deVry (Julian) and Nancy Lee Grahn (Alexis) great story, and they delivered Emmy-worthy performances. Did you decide, “Let’s break them apart” in order to have them struggle to find their way back to each other?
FRANK: Again, it was the next natural progression for the show at large. We don’t often look at the show in terms of one or two characters. It’s like having a whole family; you can’t think of just one child, you have to think of the family altogether. It turned into an umbrella story for Alexis and Julian, and Sam, and Sonny (Maurice Benard), and Carly (Laura Wright), and Carlos (Jeffrey Vincent Parise), and Molly (Haley Pullos) and Kristina, and Lucas (Ryan Carnes). It just affected so many people. So when you are thinking of doing something like that, we knew we could give it to Nancy and Will, and they could handle the acting challenge of it. That is to play two people who really love each other, but have betrayed one another … because it happens!
Who came up with the idea to have Jeffrey Vincent Parise return to GH as Carlos’ twin, Dr. Joe Rivera?
FRANK: That was me. I asked the writers to do it, because I thought it was something that could be really fun, and another little surprise. When you have actors that you love so much you try to find ways to use them.
How do you think the daytime genre is performing overall right now with your show, and the other three network daytime dramas?
FRANK: I can’t speak for the other shows, but I feel we are doing very well. The ratings are very solid, and very consistent. The audience is loving the show, and like I said at the fan club event, we received really good feedback. Overall, I think it’s a tough time in television for everyone in nighttime and daytime.
Speaking of the just concluded GHFCW, there was an amazing turnout by your cast at the main event. It was very impressive!
FRANK: There were only a few people who didn’t make it, but it was a really good turnout. I take my hat off to the actors, because they really love the fans. Right now we are in five weeks of intense production, and everybody came out on their Saturday to be with the ones who love them.
You brought fan favorite Michael Easton back to General Hospital as Dr. Hamilton Finn. What are your thoughts on how his new incarnation is working out within the framework of the show, and with the audience?
FRANK: It’s great! I think we took a big risk, but it was something we felt very strongly about doing. Michael is a personal friend of mine. So it was very challenging for me, and I wanted to make sure I gave him something that was worthy of his talents, and also something that was different than any and all of the characters he has ever played on daytime. I think he is doing a masterful job.
You are one of those executive producers who is always the floor, and on the set with their actors and crew. Are you still getting the same joy out of it when you are out there, or directing an episode, or do you want to pull your hair out everyday?
FRANK: I pull my hair out only about financial things, because that’s always very challenging to make ends meet on the show. We take our responsibility to the network that has been so good to us very seriously. We have to be on budget, because at the end of the day it’s a business. But I always get the joy being on the floor. In fact, I just directed an episode on Friday.
Earlier this year at the Daytime Emmys, General Hospital took home the award for Outstanding Drama Series, and for the first time in your career you won an Emmy as executive producer. Where did you put that Emmy?
FRANK: Yes, it’s my first executive producer Emmy, but I have four others. I have it in my apartment in Los Angeles. I have my One Life to Live Emmys in New York, and my L.A Emmys in L.A.
Speaking of One Life to Live, would you consider bringing Erika Slezak (Ex-Viki, OLTL) to the cast of GH?
FRANK: Absolutely! I love Erika. I do stay in touch with her, and I have dinner with her and her husband Brian whenever I am back in New York. I haven’t seen her in a couple of months, because I have been a little swamped lately. I would love to bring her on to GH. If the right combination of story and situation arose, we’d do it!
So, what are your thoughts on Frank Valentini’s sentiments on the Valentin story, JaSam, Laura, Fizz, Dr. Hamilton Finn, Bree Williamson, the state of GH, and perhaps one day bringing Erika Slezak to Port Charles? Comment below!