'General Hospital' Celebrates 50 Years: Highlights From Paley Center Panel
Not many TV shows can boast a spot in the "Guinness Book of World Records," but "General Hospital" is not just any show (especially nowadays, with the decimation of so many longtime daytime dramas); it's the longest-running American soap opera of all time and the third-longest-running drama. It's also won more Daytime Emmys for Outstanding Drama Series than any other program. More than that, it's been beloved by millions of viewers over its 50-year run (its first episode aired on April 1, 1963).
Executive producer Frank Valentini, head writer Ron Carlivati, and some of the show's biggest stars (Jane Elliot, Jason Thompson, Finola Hughes, Jacklyn Zeman, Genie Francis, Laura Wright, Maurice Benard, Kristina Wagner, Kirsten Storms, and Kimberly McCullough) gathered at the Paley Center in Los Angeles, Calif. to discuss the iconic soap, what 50 years in Port Charles means to them, and what's to come.
1. From "One Life to Live" to "General Hospital"
Both Valentini and Carlivati moved from the now-canceled "One Life to Live" to "General Hospital" in 2012, breathing new life into the series and exciting devotees with fresh storylines. And Carlivati is no fair-weather fan: He's been watching the show since he was 10: "I think it was when Laura killed David Hamilton when I started watching." Not to mention that the first time he saw a couple in bed, it was Rick and Monica. (Of course, he had no idea what they were doing, he joked.) "All those stories are still ingrained in me. It's been incredible as a fan and now being a writer," he said. Why does he feel that his style of writing resonates with fans? "Because I write from a fan's perspective."
2. Tribute to John Bernadino
If you watched the 50th-anniversary-special episodes, you probably saw the portrait of John Bernadino hanging in the background. Well, the tribute to late actor, who played Dr. Steven Hardy on the series, continued at the Paley Center celebration: His wife, Marjorie, was in the audience, and she received a round of applause.
3. More past stars?
The 50th-anniversary episodes were chock-full of tributes to the most memorable past moments and past stars (including Luke and Laura!). Now that the anniversary has come and gone, do Valentini and Carlivati plan to incorporate some of these memorable faces on a more regular basis? Carlivati admitted that trying to balance a large cast is difficult, as is making plots seem natural (even in a soap setting): "I want it not to feel like a stunt or trick." But he didn't rule it out, as long as the characters can be woven genuinely into the story.
4. Back from the dead
"General Hospital" is notorious for bringing back characters from the dead. So much so that Geary didn't even remember that Luke had died and returned at one point -- leaving the panel and the audience laughing. Why revive so many seemingly deceased characters? "We do it because they're characters we love so much," Carlivati said, "even though it's a soap cliché." He elaborated, saying that it's also part of living out the fantasy of someone you love coming back -- bringing up the iconic moment when fans all believed Laura was dead and then Luke saw her. "I can remember leaning on the floor watching that moment" as a kid, Carlivati said. "I think the audience loves those returns. But you can't do it all the time. … Sometimes, deaths have to stick."
What about Robin Scorpio's return? Carlivati said that her death seemed so dismal, and coming from a show that was canceled, it felt wrong. He added that soap audiences had undergone so many blows that he wanted to provide some optimism: "It wasn’t a great message to have [Robin] die. So she's still out there."
5. Remembering the HIV storyline
McCullough was only 16 when she was presented with the HIV storyline for her character, Robin Scorpio -- and that was in the 1990s, when the topic was just beginning to gain attention. What does she think now, looking back on that important event? "I didn't really know what it meant. I just knew it was really important. … Not only to entertain but to make a difference in people's lives," she said, adding that she was thankful for not catching any flack from her manager or agent. "I was excited to be challenged. I grew up a lot." The most important part of it for McCullough, though, was when fans reached out to her saying that the HIV storyline had helped them to accept family members.