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Silly, Sappy or Soapy?
Why We Watch Daytime TV

By Dierdre Johnson

Daytime soap operas, they're a lot like romance novels, but instead of ending, they go on and on, with storylines that tease a viewer into believing that a hoped-for happy ending is within reach. However, just when it looks like things are really going to work out this time, the show's writers break up the happy couple or change the plot, and new problems develope.

In recent years, this enduring daytime TV staple, which has provided solace to so many housewives, widows, teenage girls and lots of men (believe it or not) has been threatened with the cancellation of several, beloved long-running soaps, including All My Children and One Life to Live (The good news is these soaps have already resumed, airing on both Hulu and iTunes beginning April 29th). Prior to these Passions, Guiding Light and As the World Turns were also cancelled.

But there's always an exception to every rule. So at a time when daytime soap operas are being cancelled faster than cooking shows are appearing, when audiences have hundreds of channels featuring thousands of shows to choose from, and some people have even given up watching TV altogether, General Hospital also known as GH, is still flourishing after 50 years on network television.

General Hospital also known as GH, is still flourishing after 50 years on network television

Stocks with the SOAPsOn the air since April 1, 1963, the soap celebrated the last half-century with a series of public events including having two of the major characters, Jason Thompson and Finola Hughes open the New York Stock Exchange, Katie Couric devoting her whole show to GH and featuring actors from the soap, People Magazine produced a special issue on GH, ran 50 hours of classic GH episodes including the very first one, and most recently Los Angeles' Paley Center for Media in Beverly Hills sponsored a panel with the show's stars, which was open to fans and journalists.

Art will imitate life on May 13 & 14th, when GH stars Jane Elliot and Sean Kanan will appear in character as Tracy and AJ Quartermaine on the set of the ABC series, The Chew, with their recipe for Pickle Lila, a family secret recipe worth a lot of money and the subject of a current storyline. The actors flew to New York to tape the show, along with co-hosts Mario Batali, Michael Symon, Carla Hall and Daphne Oz. The appearance will also be shown in an actual General Hospital episode, as well

So, to what can we attribute GH’s success, when so many others have fallen by the wayside? Perhaps it's the fact that there are so many different types of characters to root for, perhaps it's the mix of a serious and a funny storyline, or maybe it's the time slots. Whatever, GH is still here.

1970's cast of the doctors and nurses

When the soap began, and throughout the Sixties and Seventies, the focus of the stories was mostly what happened inside the hospital, primarily on or near the Seventh Floor nurses' station. Rachel Ames, played Audrey March, a flight attendant who later became a nurse (don't know when she actually went to school for it but hey, it's a soap) and eventually married Dr. Steve. Emily McLaughlin played Nurse Jesse Brewer, married to Dr. Phil. And later, Jackie Zeman played Bobbie, a student nurse. Peter Taylor would marry Diana, a waitress who, in typical soap fashion was torn between Phil and Peter for most of their front burner run. They all wore the prerequisite sturdy-looking nurses' caps and were very reverential to the doctors.

Front burner stories could, of course, last for years back then, as most of the shows ran for 30 minutes and the storylines were not so set or location-driven. Instead, the location had little to do with story and the dialogue was delivered with very, very long breathy pauses and smoldering glances. Action was a passionate kiss, or an occasional fight between two men vying for the same woman; No Ice Princess/Mobster stuff during the early days.

General Hospital in the 1980s

For what seemed like decades, Audrey was in love with Dr. Steve, but various marriages and romances kept them apart or divorced. Meanwhile, McLaughlin as Nurse Jesse kept going back to her philandering Dr. Phil, a true case of co-dependency which resulted in a torturous marriage and re-marriage, before he was finally murdered for good.

Nubile nurse Bobbie Spencer (always played by Zeman) was young and in love with love and later with Scotty Baldwin (played by Kin Shriner)Nubile nurse Bobbie Spencer (always played by Zeman) was young and in love with love and later with Scotty Baldwin (played by Kin Shriner), the son of attorney Lee Baldwin, another original core character who seemed to always get the hospital out of any pending malpractice suit.

Starting in the late seventies, Bobbie Spencer and Scotty ushered in what are still character and core families in today's storylines. Bobbie loved Scotty, and Scotty loved Laura (Genie Francis), daughter of Dr. Lesley Webber (played by Denise Alexander, once another long-suffering character on Days of Our Lives). When Bobbie got her big bro, Luke (Tony Geary) involved in trying to help her get Laura out of the picture, Luke fell in love, resulting in the well known pairing of Luke and Laura.

With new writers, those weary lovers from the Sixties and Seventies took a back seat to Luke's underground connections, a sizzling and then-controversial seduction on a dance floor, good boy Scotty turning bad, Luke and Laura's sexy, adventurous love affair on the run. Other exciting advances included location shoots, crazy sets and a huge ratings-boost when Elizabeth Taylor joined the soap cast, cursing Luke and Laura.

Suddenly, GH was not only high in the ratings but it propelled Tony Geary and Genie Francis into a kind of celebrity that went way beyond daytime.Suddenly, GH was not only high in the ratings but it propelled Tony Geary and Genie Francis into a kind of celebrity that went way beyond daytime. They were both on the cover of People Magazine and Tony Geary was actually starring in B-action flicks as the latest OG (Original Gangster) once again.

Time marched on, in reality and in soap opera time and a lot of new characters were introduced. Many were the second and even third generations of the core characters while others were newly introduced, further enthralling fans with colorful storylines.

This time around we saw the introduction of more Webbers, the brothers Jones, the Putnams, Scorpios, the evil Smiths and Cassadines, the quirky Quartermaines, the Wards (the first complete African-American family), the Barretts, the McCalls, the Eckerts.

It also brought audiences a few actors that are now as well known in primetime as they are in daytime. John Stamos started his career as a music-loving sexy, young orphan named Blackie Parrish, who became a foster son of Lesley Webber. Rick Springfield's teen heartthrob days were over but his original stint on GH as sexy adult Dr. Noah Drake, revitalized his acting and singing career, resulting in his biggest hits including Jessie's Girl and Don't Talk to Strangers, among other top hits.

The 2000’s brought the barrage of gangster-related stories and families including the Zaccharas and Corinthos. These mob-related storylines made Maurice Bernard a major star of the show, as his character  Sonny is a sympathetic anti-hero who, although loyal to gangster code, has a romantic heart and tries to do the right thing (well, most of the time).

1990s GH

He romanced a slew of women but seemed to come back to ex-wife /mother-of-his-children Carly Corinthos (Laura Wright) (a few times over) or his current (and once long lost) love Brenda (Vanessa Marcil, past and present).

"I'm always in love with the one I'm with. My three probably deepest loves have been Brenda, Carly and Kate/Connie, two-in-one you know," Bernard said.

"From the moment I came in and started writing the show, we started bringing back faces from the past, so I feel like it's just been building for a long time," said GH writer Ron Carlivati. "During our 50th episode you got to see Alan Quatermaine, Rick Webber and Jax and Brenda. So that episode was so special. Then we did the Nurses Ball, which was a three-day celebration, so it's just been fantastic. It's been so exciting for me, as I watched so many of these people growing up," said GH writer Ron Carlivati.

So here's to you General Hospital, with a celebratory toast from all of us with a virtual beverage of your choice!

"It just feels like such an ongoing celebration,” Carlivati concluded!

Curious? Already addicted? Don’t miss the latest episodes of General Hospital, airing 5 days a week, Monday to Friday at 2pm et/pt on ABC! / Issue 146 - July 2018
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