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General Hospital: Five Decades and It's Just Getting Started
February 25, 2013  | By Ed Martin  | 2 comments
 

General Hospital
will mark its 50th anniversary in April. I’ll be marking my 35th anniversary as a steady GH viewer just a couple of months after that. One year ago, I was almost certain that neither anniversary would come to pass, what with the show in a death spiral after more than ten years of dreadful mob-based stories that had gutted virtually everything that had once been wonderful about it and turned it into a bargain basement version of The Sopranos.

Not to mention grievous mismanagement on the part of ABC Daytime, which had seen fit to cancel the network’s two other signature soap operas and seemed to be gunning for GH, as well. And while it was sad to see the somewhat played-out All My Children go, and distressing to see the still very vital One Life to Live die, it was damn near impossible to muster up any true outrage over the seemingly inevitable end of GH, because it had been so terrible for so long.

If you had told me in early 2012 that one year later I would once again be relishing GH the way I did in the Seventies and Eighties, and for much of the Nineties, I might have suggested that you were in need of a long rest. Like millions of other people, I was certain GH was a goner, and I wasn’t all that conflicted about it, since in many ways it had been dead for quite some time.

But with GH having been, during the last twelve months, in the very capable hands of executive producer Frank Valentini (far left) and head writer Ron Carlivati (left), the two people who were largely responsible for OLTL being as much fun as it was during its final years on ABC, something borderline miraculous has happened: It is once again pulsing with dramatic, romantic and sometimes humorous stories about the people who work at the title institution and their families and friends, many of them caught up in adventures involving larger-than-life villains, the likes of which once were a staple on the show. Refreshingly, there hasn’t been a mob-based story in months.

Much of the excitement surrounding GH at the moment has to do with the bumper crop of veteran characters that Valentini and Carlivati have brought back to the show, almost always in grand fashion, and never with the complete disregard for the history of legacy characters shown by previous production regimes, not to mention disrespect for viewers who had invested years in their past stories. The cavalcade of returning fan favorites in advance of the show’s 50th anniversary celebration has been glorious to see.

A.J. Quartermaine (Sean Kanan, right) has returned, undoing the corrosive impact of a particularly dreadful story six years ago that seemed to end with his death, and thrusting the long-sidelined Q family back into the spotlight. Felicia Jones is back, reunited with her former boyfriend Mac Scorpio and her troubled daughter, Maxie. Her secret agent ex-husband Frisco Jones is back as well, awkwardly attempting to reconnect with his ex-wife and daughter after shutting them out for almost 20 years. Duke Lavery is back from the dead (he was actually in a Turkish prison) and after a false start, courtesy of the veteran super-villain Cesar Faison, is trying to rekindle his relationship with former super-spy Anna Devane. (The Faison fondue face melt was an instant classic moment the likes of which this show hasn’t delivered in decades.)

There have been appearances by Robert Scorpio, Holly Sutton, Noah Drake, Kevin Collins, Skye Quartermaine and Scotty Baldwin. The returns of Bobbie Spencer and Audrey Hardy are right around the corner, hopefully with Lesley Webber in tow. Murderous Eighties super-loon Heather Webber is now an integral part of the narrative, as is long-time vamp Lucy Coe. Even the long-absent Laura Spencer has returned to town. She was, in fact, reunited with ex-husband Luke outside the ship-turned-floating nightclub the Haunted Star, which they once owned. The actors who play Luke and Laura, Anthony Geary and Genie Francis (at left), have lost none of the chemistry that made them pop-culture superstars more than three decades ago.

The show is suddenly loaded with fresh details from past storylines that may be a bit jarring to newer viewers, but have long-time fans smiling from ear to ear. Like the Pickle-Lila relish with which the late Lila Quartermaine once saved the fading fortunes of ELQ, and the Ice Princess diamond that brought the Cassadine family onto the canvas and kicked off the legendary story about the weather machine that caused a blizzard to cripple Port Charles in the summer of 1981. If Luke and Laura pay a visit to Beecher’s Corners or run into Hutch the Hit Man, the old-timers in their aging fan base just might expire from nostalgia overload.

Even as they have thoroughly revitalized it, Valentini and Carlivati have skillfully used GH to keep alive their previous series, One Life to Live, having brought three characters (Todd Manning [Roger Howarth, left], John McBain and Starr Manning) from it to GH on a full-time basis, and three others (Cole Thornhart, Blair Cramer and Tea Delgado) in limited capacities. With the exception of Cole, who came and went in two episodes before he was “killed,” they have all brought a great deal to what has been their new home, all the while keeping other OLTL characters alive through conversations they have with each other and the new people in their lives. This has been a bold experiment and a surprisingly satisfying one, though much of it is in jeopardy now that Prospect Park has reactivated OLTL as an online series and is staking claim to its characters. (Prospect Park has suggested in a statement that it will agree to share the Todd, John and Starr characters with GH as scheduling permits.)

As if fixing past mistakes and making essential corrections to GH and keeping OLTL alive aren’t challenges enough, Valentini and Carlivati have also taken it upon themselves to address the madness that surrounded the 1997-2003 GH spin-off Port Charles, an epic fail of a show that in its later years added vampires and other supernatural entities to its canvas in a desperate attempt to attract new viewers, only to drive away the few it had left. Caleb Morley, the villainous head vampire on that series, has resurfaced on GH, and because he was played by Michael Easton (right), the same actor who played Det. John McBain on OLTL and has continued the role on GH, the writers are having a field day with the old mistaken identity thing. It looks as if Caleb will be exposed as a simple serial killer and cult leader who made it look as though he was a vampire, but I’m not sure how Valentini and Carlivati will explain away the near-insanity of Lucy Coe as a manic vampire slayer, or Sam McCall's resemblance to Livvie Locke, or the death ten years ago of Scott Baldwin’s daughter Karen in some kind of supernatural scenario.

For all the wonderful surprises they have brought to the show, and despite having once again made it an essential five-day-week viewing experience, not everything Valentini and Carlivati have done has been worth shouting about. For example, consider the strange story of Maxie Jones (Kirsten Storms, left), which so far hasn’t worked on any level. Maxie was a surrogate for her friends Lulu and Dante, but lost their baby on New Year’s Eve, and then in her grief had sex just a few hours after her miscarriage with her ex-boyfriend Damian Spinelli. Now she’s pregnant again and trying to pass off her pregnancy as the one initiated for Dante and Lulu, ostensibly to keep everyone happy, including Spinelli, who is deeply in love with another woman. But she’s setting Dante and Lulu up for massive heartbreak down the road once the medical history of the baby’s parents inevitably comes into play, and she’s preventing sweet Spinelli from experiencing the joys of impending fatherhood. She was being blackmailed by the evil Dr. Britt Westbourne (so far a very poorly developed character), who threatened to expose her secret if Maxie didn’t do her bidding, which involved destroying the career of innocent young nurse Sabrina Santiago, but the visiting Frisco put a stop to that. Nothing about this story has been all that interesting or entertaining.

And speaking of stories that don’t feel quite right, I can’t help but wonder why there has been no mention of the late Edward Quartermaine’s illegitimate son, Jimmy Lee Holt, in the ongoing drama over Edward’s estate. Jimmy Lee was a big part of Edward’s life -- for a while, anyway. This oversight doesn’t wash with the show’s sudden rich respect for its history. I keep waiting for Monica Quartermaine to ask, “What about Jimmy Lee?” After all, he had a torrid affair with her cousin, Lorena Sharpe.

Still, these are relatively minor quibbles given the big fun that GH now provides almost every day of the week. I’m already wondering what Valentini and Carlivati will do with it once they wrap up the sweeping stories of the Nurses Ball and the return of Caleb Morley. I’m hoping they might continue to work their magic at reviving past characters and repairing the damage done to them by previous writing teams.

As I have mentioned before, I would like to see them bring Emily Quartermaine and Georgie Jones back from the beyond, mainly because the serial killer storyline in which these once important characters were killed off was so bloody pointless. (Emily is a no-brainer, as she briefly returned in the form of Rebecca, an unconvincing long-lost twin nobody knew she had. Georgie might take a little more work.) Having Alan Quartermaine (Stuart Damon, right) also return from the dead might be too much to ask for, but at least we have occasional visits from his spirit or ghost to remind us of how much he brought to the show (and how much the show lost when he left). And I would be thrilled if they could somehow correct the legendary Rick Webber mess from 2002.

Just thinking about everything that has happened on GH in recent months, and everything yet to come as its special anniversary storylines play out, is enough to make one’s head spin. I’m not sure what anyone who has come to the show during the last ten years might make of the tsunami of nostalgia currently washing over it, but those of us who have been around for the long haul can only be delighted. There is literally something for anyone who has watched GH during any of the last five decades, not to mention fans of OLTL and Port Charles. Talk about a long tail. GH today is the finest example of something that only broadcast television can do — that is, tell a story that lasts for 50 years and yet feels like it’s just getting started.
 
 
 
 
 
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2 Comments
 
 
Theresa
They did mention Jimmy by saying that Edward had done a great job writing him out of the will.
Mar 31, 2013   |  Reply
 
 
This could have been written by me! I am a GH fan for pretty much the same time frame, 35 plus years. I was a fan all through out the years, up to about 2002 when they decided to destroy the character of Rick Webber merely to get Laura out of town. I had given up on the show, didn't want to watch it spiral down the drain. But then this amazing team came aboard and the GH I thought was dead was back, just like any one of the dozens of characters on the show who died and were resurrected.

I am hoping for returns of Georgie and Emily, as well. Two characters that were killed off for (very stupid) storyline reasons with no regard to their legacy status. Yes, the previous regime killed off BJ Jones, but the dramatic pay-off for that is still felt today. The only echo of the deaths of Emily and Georgie is one of sadness, and not for the right reasons. Would like Alan back, but I get that may not be feasible. Ghostly visits will have to suffice. Out of room, just so happy GH is back!
Mar 29, 2013   |  Reply
 
 
 
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