50 years looks good on ABC's 'General Hospital'
This Oct. 24, 2013 photo released by ABC shows "General Hospital" actors Kelly Monaco, center, with, clockwise from front row left, Tyler Christopher, Roger Howarth, Executive Producer Frank Valenti, Jason Thompson and Sean Blakemore in New York. The popular daytime drama celebrates it's 50th anniversary this year. (AP Photo/ABC, Ida Mae Astute)
NEW YORK (AP) — A few years ago, ABC's "General Hospital" was in trouble.
"All My Children" and "One Life to Live" had been given their series' end dates and the "GH" cast and crew worried their show would be next.
"You'd be on set and you'd hear little things like, 'Oh, we've got maybe six months'" before cancellation, said Jason Thompson, who plays Patrick Drake on the longest-running daytime show. "It was tough."
"We had a couple holes in the ship," added Kelly Monaco, who plays Samantha Morgan.
Then in February 2012, "One Life to Live" executive producer Frank Valentini and head writer Ron Carlivati joined "GH."
"We were all worried and we had a right to be worried. The show was in a very dark place and Ron and I managed to come in and shake it up," Valentini said.
Almost immediately, the characters were given a purpose.
"One of Frank and Ron's things is that every character has to have a job and every character has to have a romance," says Tyler Christopher, who plays Nikolas Cassadine, "so there's an opportunity there for you to show up in somebody else's story ... so you're still relevant."
This isn't an easy task.
"There are a lot of characters on the show and that's a blessing and a curse," Valentini said. "We try not to go more than two weeks without seeing somebody, and if we do, it could be for other reasons like the (actor) is on vacation or doing a movie."
The pace of the show quickened, cutting between scenes to tell different perspectives of a story.
Christopher says speed also exists behind the scenes, where "things need to be done quicker, better, faster."
"The number of pages we do in a day has almost doubled but it's working," he said. "As hard as it is no one complains. We just sweat it out and keep moving."
"General Hospital," which airs weekdays at 2 p.m. Eastern, also began to utilize longtime cast members like Jane Elliott, who plays Tracy Quartermaine.
"Jane is such a spectacular actress and to have her not do much on the show seems like a waste of a resource," Valentini said.
Characters from the past — like Lynn Herring's Lucy Coe, Jack Wagner's Frisco Jones and Tristan Rogers' Robert Scorpio — were brought back in episodes leading up to last April's 50th-anniversary mark. Some stayed longer than others, but Valentini said they were all "gifts for the audience."