This week on General Hospital, the four-episode Nurses Ball 2014 came to its conclusion! There were memorable performances, laughter and antics, and heartbreak and drama all rolled into one. But before we turn the page on the big event, On-Air On-Soaps chatted with GH head writer Ron Carlivati to get his thoughts … after the ball!
While GH viewers anxiously awaited to see what surprises were in store for them, when they sat down in front of a television or computer screen to check out the festivities, what they end up seeing doesn’t necessarily all just fall into place without some hurdles… but sometimes it does! And out of some very creative ideas for some of the characters on the canvas by the writing team, the production is mounted.
In this special interview Ron shares: how the opening number, “Willkommen” came to the minds of the writing team to feature the talents of Kathleen Gati (Liesl Obrecht), how he tried to keep just who former B&B favorite Ronn Moss was playing a secret before this Monday’s episode aired, why the team scripted the Blackie Parrish no-show, the challenges and concerns to tackle the Nurses Ball again after the 50th anniversary event of last year, and the utilizing of the heart-tugging ending song of “You’re Not Alone”. As fans know, the ball finale featured a moment with Patrick (Jason Thompson) and Sabrina’s (Teresa Castillo) friends joining them in a show of support in the NICU after the ball was over as they watched over their little baby boy. So, here we go! Take a very short trip with us back to the episodes of the 2014 Nurses Ball with Ron.
It would be very interesting to be a fly on the writers’ room wall, and listen to how you construct the Nurses Ball! For example, how it came about that Liesl Obrecht (Kathleen Gati) would perform “Willkommen? And what is the process you and your team go through to map out the story within the ball and the entertainment portions?
RON: It was one of those things that you know where you have the Nurses Ball, and you go through your roster and see who knows how to sing or dance, or knows how to perform, and then you want the story to pull it all together. Last year, it was Patrick (Jason Thompson) and Sabrina (Teresa Castillo) that tied it together. This year it was more about the outing of Lucy’s (Lynn Herring) affair with Scott (Kin Shriner) and also Luke (Anthony Geary) being hounded by Ned (Wally Kurth), and all of that. So you take your story stuff, and try to pair it with the music stuff, and think, who’s story are we telling? As for Dr. Obrecht, she is such a polarizing force at the hospital. We thought it would be amazing if she could crash the Nurses Ball, plus we had her sing before and that went over very well with the audience when she sang at the Floating Rib, and on Christmas when she sang in the jail cell. We just thought this woman has to crash the ball!
When Dr. Obrecht performed “Willkommen” and hijacked the ball, it was so unexpected. It was kind of a dark twist to what is usually a sweet and sugary opening tune. Who came up with the brilliant idea for the song?
RON: I think it was Chris Van Etten and one of our other writers while in the writers’ room who first said that song. It was one of those things were we said, “Wouldn’t it be hilarious if she sang this?” And then you go, “Wait a minute! That’s perfect!” And then you go down the road of … can we get the rights to this song and can we afford it? It builds that way. So I will go to Frank Valentini (executive producer GH) with a song and he will go, “That song costs $50,000!” And then we would go, “Well, how about this song?” It then becomes about which songs are more important, so we put more money towards those. But it often changes as you go along. The thing of it was, once we decided Obrecht would sing “Welcome to the Nurses Ball” instead of “Welcome to the Cabaret”, we thought it absolutely has to be this. It’s one of those moments where you don’t want to get your heart set on something, because if you don’t have that song, the whole ball is ruined! (Laughs) Once you picture it, and imagine it, and it’s so perfect with her accent, and it’s also saying “Welcome”. We just realized it was our dream opening. Luckily Frank and Paul Glass, (GH music director) were able to get the rights. Once we got that one, we were so thrilled, and then we sort of built around it.
Later in the ball, you had Kathleen Gati as Dr. O, turn around and give a tender rendition of “Always On My Mind”!
RON: That came from another one of my writers Anna Cascio, when we were kicking around another song for Obrecht. Anna said, “What about a song about her children?” I think the first song she threw out was “Always On My Mind” and again it was that perfect! But can we get it? And how much does it cost? That one was so unbelievably touching and what amazed me was the emotion behind it. Kathleen also has to still be putting on that accent. She sang it beautifully, and then as the character having to put on that accent, and still breaking your heart. I loved the scene with Britt (Kelly Thiebaud) and Nathan (Ryan Paevey). I thought Kelly and Ryan played that brilliantly because they don’t want to love this woman. That one took me by surprise. In my mind I knew it would be great, and then when I watched it. Kathleen really broke my heart.
Was there a moment in the process where you questioned, why are we going to tackle the Nurses Ball again this year, when GH just came off the extravaganza of the 50th anniversary and resurrecting the Nurses Ball last year? Did the thought cross your mind of, “How are we going to top ourselves after the big story we told last year that unfolded at the ball?”
RON: The thing was that there was such an arc last year. It was the return of the Nurses Ball and the coming together of Patrick and Sabrina was the over-arching thing, but we also had some other stories with Mac, Felicia and Frisco, etc. It had such drive, because we were gearing up for it so early, because we were bringing it back to GH after all those years. And this year, we had so much story going on and we dropped in that the Nurses Ball was coming, but we did not have a lot of time to build to it. It didn’t have that big emotional hook of … Will Sabrina be transformed? How will Patrick react when he sees for the first time? So if we are going to do the Nurses Ball again, we needed something to hook it on. We started talking about Luke, and the Scotty/Lucy/Kevin story and that coming out. Patrick, Emma (Brooklyn Rae Silzer), and Sabrina were really the heart of the Nurses Ball story last year and now they are at the hospital. How is this going to work? We can’t have Patrick and Sabrina on stage while their child is fighting for his life. Our challenge was in front of us, but then we thought how we can tie in the hospital story to bring it together in the end and have that emotional payoff. So the more you talk about it, you realize it can have powerful moments like last year and some payoffs. And then you think, “Well, who doesn’t want to see Magic Milo again?” (Laughs) In the end, I thought it came together in a big way. But yes, we were concerned if we could match it or top it.
One of the very cute and surprising performances at the ball was that of Brad (Parry Shen) serenading Lucas (Ryan Carnes) with “Brokenhearted”! I thought Parry did a great job. How did that number come about?
RON: He was really great. I wrote to Parry and I asked him if he sang. And he wrote back, “Well, I sang at my wedding, and I don’t think I embarrassed myself that much.” So I took that as a “yes.” (Laughs) So we had Brad perform. But a lot of the ball was fun and games, and then we hit you with the emotional punch at the end.
You ended the Nurses ball once again with the tune “You’re Not Alone” which last year was sung by Sabrina and Patrick, but this year kicked-off by Epiphany’s solo. Next, you transitioned back to Sabrina and Patrick in 2014 outside the NICU and they sang a refrain of the tune. Were you at all concerned how this would look on camera, so that it had the emotional pull you hoped for?
RON: I was saying it on Twitter and I was being very literal. I could not get through act six without crying. It’s really powerful. We can conceive of the ending and then it gets massaged at the script level, and then the production level. Bill Ludell directed that and he provided some ideas for it. He said, “How do we transition from the stage to Patrick and Sabrina singing in the NICU?” We had talked about a version where they were all in the NICU singing. Bill came up with a beautiful way of doing it where the song is going on, but the ball is actually over and the music continues.
It was like you’re “We Are the World” hand-holding moment for 2014, which you first utilized at last year’s Nurses Ball finale. There were a few intended hankie moments in there.
RON: There were so many nice moments such as Britt and Nathan giving Dr. Obrecht a ride home. Then having Mac (John J. York) and Kevin (Jon Lindstrom), and Felicia (Kristina Wagner) being there for Lucy. We just thought of the song title and what it means, “You’re not Alone”. Emma’s little hand reaching out to Patrick. That is the moment that gets me. It’s unexpected. I don’t think people saw that coming and that those characters would show up at the end of the ball at the hospital. And that is the thing about the Nurses Ball, you can have Epiphany (Sony Eddy) on one hand smashing a dummy to smithereens and then breaking your heart with a song.
Many fans were a bit up and arms over the killing of Mr. Marbles! It was a bone of contention, that although it was great that Epiphany spoke for the audience at home, and those on the Port Charles canvas attending the Nurses Ball, over how bad Mac’s ventriloquist act really was … some people did not like the choice of Nurse Epiphany Johnson being the “murderer” of Mr. Marbles. (Laughs)
RON: I will let you in on one little secret: we considered it being a two second moment where Richard Simmons would come in out of the wings, out of nowhere, and take a bat to Mr. Marbles, take a bow and leave. And then it evolved. So since it’s not going to be Richard Simmons, who on our canvas would do that? We even talked about Felicia doing it, but then we thought that was too mean. We thought, who is somebody the audience would love to see do that? We came up with Epiphany. We thought it was also a really fun way to add a little something with her and Milo (Drew Cheetwood). Milo was impressed by what she did! (Laughs)
There was also the edited out scene that ABC.com posted between Epiphany and Milo. You had teased that they were kind of “attracted” to one another?
RON: Yes. Here’s what that was: Epiphany was congratulating Milo on his number, and he was congratulating her on smashing Marbles, and then we had a scene together that would tie it together in the end. With everything going on this was something that got cut. I was glad we could put it online so people could see it. It also teased some type of romantic future for Milo and Epiphany. (Laughs)
Back to the drama of the killing of Mr. Marbles … (Laughs) …. I read that some people were very upset that the writer’s killed Mac’s little friend!
RON: That is so funny! Marbles was so reviled, and I did see a lot of people feeling bad for Mr. Marbles and Mac! I love that people are so invested. If Britt can survive killing baby Ariel, then Epiphany can survive killing Mr. Marbles.
This year, General Hospital had a sponsor for the Nurses Ball, Yoplait Greek! Would the ball have even been possible, if there had not been a sponsor to help offset some of the production costs?
RON: I think the ball would have happened either way, but by having the sponsor it did open a lot of possibilities for us. When you start talking about the production of the ball, Frank said, “I don’t know how many real songs we are going to be able to pay for.” We have people that can write original songs, but sometimes it’s much more fun when you can hear songs that people know. But it is an expense. One day, Frank called me and said, “Good news. I have a sponsor for the ball which is going to really help us here and it was Yoplait Greek. They were great. They were on the set and really supportive.
Let’s talk about the Blackie Parrish moment that was teased last Friday for this Monday’s episode. What happened there? There was no Blackie … and no Stamos.
RON: The Blackie thing was honestly originally conceived like a little beat within an episode. I did not know it would be in the “On the next General Hospital” promo that would leave people hanging the whole weekend that way. It actually was meant to be a nice nod to Blackie. It wasn’t meant to be any kind of bait and switch. It was just a moment that would throw the ball into chaos for a bit, and to have some fun with the Yogurt, because John Stamos represents another Yogurt company. But the way it timed out being on the promo on Friday, people were getting their hopes up where you would see John.
Over the past weekend, people were thinking since it’s probably was not going to be John Stamos returning as Blackie, and that you had recast Blackie with Ronn Moss!
RON: That was the other thing, that again, I did not want that to misdirect people. It was such a big moment when Spencer (Nicolas Bechtel) got Player to perform that I think in a way it helped that people got confused. I didn’t want people to guess Ronn was playing himself and singing, “Baby, Come Back!” I think if it had come out that Ronn was playing himself, it would have spoiled the moment a little bit with Spencer’s surprise. I was happy letting people think Ronn was playing Blackie.
When Lucy revealed that Blackie was a no-show at the Nurses Ball, was that meant to be a dig on John Stamos, given the difference of opinions expressed over last years attempt to have John appear as part of the 50th anniversary celebration?
RON: John has his version of what happened, and I have mine. As I have said before, the door is always open if he would like to appear and we meant it. The Blackie mention was meant to be nice moment for Lucy saying, “Blackie couldn’t be here, but the door is always open. We love him here in Port Charles.” And that is absolutely true, and if it would ever work out that John would decide to reprise Blackie, we would love to do it.
Last year, honoring Robin Scorpio Drake (Kimberly McCullough) was a major focus of the ball. Some fans felt she was not mentioned enough with her association with the ball this year, and some also felt that there was not enough emphasis on the cause of HIV/AIDS awareness. But I might add in real life when a person attends a fundraiser for a cause, there are usually tons of performances, laughter, and good times too!
RON: Last year, we made the intention of the ball to be about Robin who was presumed dead and made her an integral part of the ball. Right now, with her being alive and off camera, it was difficult to make Robin part of the ball, and that was compounded by the fact that Patrick was not at the ball this year, either. However, Robin’s contribution was acknowledged during the ball. Lucy’s opening speech is all about the purpose of the event which is to raise money for HIV/AIDS research, and she went into some details on new breakthroughs and advancements.
Nicolas Bechtel as Spencer Cassadine is a true find! Are those clever and hilarious one-liner of his written by you? There were several during the Nurses Ball episodes.
RON: I mean, we all write together. I think all the writers have fallen in love with Spencer, but some of the lines are mine, but it’s my whole team. Nicolas, the little boy, is so adorable and funny that once we saw him, we ran with it. I never knew we were going to take the Spencer thing this far, but once we saw this kid could do all of this stuff, we couldn’t resist.
When did you know that Nicolas could handle anything you could throw at him?
RON: I think from the first day he was on and he showed up with that little voice. He was with Leslie (Denise Alexander) and Spencer said, “Did we supwise you?” (Laughs) It wasn’t until we had this little Chubacabra story, and the little love triangle develop that it really took off. I just love writing for those kids and they are so cute. Spencer has some of the crazier lines, but the little boy playing Cameron, Michael Leone, is doing such a fine job of playing the other side of it, and Emma is so adorable, obviously. We are just having some fun with the soap opera trope of playing a little love triangle with these kids. Contrary to what some of the fans think; we are well aware that all 8 and 9-year-olds don’t behave this way. I would argue that a lot of people in are audiences don’t want to see what normal 8-year-olds do. (Laughs) This is meant to be fun and lighthearted. No one is taking this love triangle all that seriously. It is a little take on what the adults are doing and they are the next generation of this show.
I had to laugh at the scene when Nikolas and Spencer where sitting at Wyndemere eating pizza and watching the ball on TV. Tyler Christopher’s (Nikolas) reactions to the antics of Spencer are priceless. They make a great father/son duo.
RON: They are great together especially when Nikolas seems mildly annoyed with Spencer. They are very sweet together, but you definitely get where Spencer comes from.
Ronn Moss performing with his band Player was one of the highlights of the Nurses Ball. How did it come to pass that you tied this all together via Spencer who would get Player to perform “Baby Come Back”?
RON: We were thinking … here is Spencer who has to do something to try to win Emma back. And then somebody said, “Baby Come Back!” And we thought, and on top of it, there is a soap star in the band! How can we not to that? So Frank got in touch with Ronn Moss to see if Player would be open to doing it. I do know that they tour and it might be out of the realm of possibility that he might not do this. Ronn was so great. One of my favorite lines of the Nurses Ball is when Spencer says to Emma “I had to do something bold and beautiful!”
And as for Tony Geary … his performance of “I Am What I Am” was creepy and haunting. There were even some minor chords in it, different than the original version. It really seemed to fit for Luke, or Fluke, or whoever this is! (Laughs)
RON: That was great! The version of the song that I have seen Tony do was in drag at the Broadway Cares event. I suggested the song for the Nurses Ball. Frank was like, “Yeah, but that is when he was in drag and it’s from La Cage aux Folles, and it’s about somebody coming out!” I said, “What if we do a different version and it’s darker, and almost like Luke is lording over Port Charles like, “You have no idea who I am!” So that is why I thought it would be such a great song, and I know Tony sings it so beautifully.
Some fans seemed to comment on the lack of the veteran performers who were not performing at the ball, and that often it was the younger set. However, the truth is many of the veterans don’t sing and dance.
RON: You don’t know what arm twisting Frank had to do to get Jane Elliot (Tracy) up there last year. (Laughs) We want to showcase everybody, but it is tricky. I know we have found ways in the past where this one just gets up and reads a poem, or they do their stand-up comedy, and yes, we have to be creative in those ways, but really you want to see people sing and dance. Anna (Finola Hughes) and Duke (Ian Buchanan) did a wonderful tango the other year and we did a riff on that this year with Emma and Cameron.
When all was said and done and you watched it back, what were your favorite moments of the Nurses Ball 2014?
RON: The opener and the ending. I think the opening was a great way to start it and the ending broke my heart.
Did you fly in to Los Angeles to watch the taping of the Nurses Ball to see how your vision was coming together?
RON: No. Frank wanted me to come in to watch the taping, but I stayed in New York. It was so exciting last year to watch it like a fan. Us writers poured champagne and watched it in front of the TV together and in a way, I didn’t want to see it ahead of time. We watched this year’s all together and I was very excited. I was like a fan going “Oh, my God! One more hour till the show starts!”
So, what did you think of some of the insights provided by GH head scribe, Ron Carlivati on the crafting of the Nurses Ball? What were your favorite moments? And come back next week to On-Air On-Soaps for part two of our interview with Ron where he chats on some of the current storylines, and previews may be ahead for some of your favorite characters!