No midlife crisis for ABC soap as revitalized production team energizes storylines while recruiting past stars for return gigs.
Even if “General Hospital,” ABC’s remaining daytime drama, weren’t turning 50 this year, it would still be worthy of a shoutout at the Daytime Emmys.
In addition to celebrating five decades of production, “General” (which debuted on April 1, 1963) is enjoying a creative resurgence that’s generated improved ratings and critical acclaim.
ABC reports that “General” is pacing for its best season in five years in total viewers, averaging more than 3 million. “General” is the No. 1 broadcast daytime program among women 18-34 and also up 18% in total viewers season to season.
The credit for the turnaround goes to exec producer Frank Valentini and head writer Ron Carlivati, who joined the show in early 2012.
Much of the pair’s long-term vision came to fruition with episodes featuring the return of the Nurses’ Ball, an event within the show’s storylines that began back in 1994. The gala serves as an AIDS fundraiser, with Port Charles citizens performing variety acts.
“I felt that if we aimed really high and came close, then we’d be really happy and the fans would be, too,” Valentini says. “We’re really thrilled with what we have. It’s exceeded our expectations.”
“Our 50th year could have come and gone with a (simple) ‘Wow,’” says multiple Emmy-winner Anthony Geary, who hasplayed Luke Spencer since 1978. “But Frank and Ron have been determined to make it something special for the audience. The ratings are showing that they’ve already decided to achieve that.”
Complementing this has been the return of several past favorites, including actor-singers Rick Springfield and Jack Wagner, fitness guru Richard Simmons and Rachel Ames, who originated the role of Audrey back in 1964.
Genie Francis, Kin Shriner and Jackie Zeman, who helped rally the show to high ratings in the late ’70s, are back as well.
“It’s not just faces coming on as stunts,” Geary says. “The characters are folding into stories. It’s very exciting.”
Said Vicki Dummer, ABC exec veep of Time Square Studios, primetime current series and specials: “I’m thrilled to be celebrating (the show’s) 50 exceptional years on television. … As someone who grew up watching ‘General Hospital,’ it has a special place in my heart.”
Other daytime programs are celebrating milestones this year, too. The Young and the Restless and the Daytime Emmys themselves both turn 40. The way in which GH and these other shows will be honored at the Daytime Emmys is still being decided.
“I’m not big on self-congratulations, but certain anniversaries should be honored,” Geary says. “Turning 50 is an enormous achievement.”
“I like celebrations,” Valentini says. “It’s really important to reflect back, take stock and look towards the future.”