It's been two months since executive producer Frank Valentini and head writer Ron Carlivati took control of ABC's General Hospital -- long enough by any measure for a creative team to make its mark on a soap opera and make clear what they intend to do with it.
Now, I don't want to start right in with the complaints, because entirely too many people who have read my previous columns about GH think that I've been too hard on the show, or that I want to see it die. So let me make clear that nobody wants GH to survive and thrive more than I do. I've been a loyal viewer since 1978, and I have supported this show in the television and advertising businesses for more than half of that time. We can all agree that GH in particular, and the soap genre overall, have been crippled by the involvement over the last 10-plus years of executives, producers and writers who either didn't care or simply didn't understand what they were doing. One thing is certain: they rarely listened to fans. If they did, a number of recently cancelled soap operas might still be with us and be as vital as they once were, and GH wouldn't have been allowed to deteriorate in the way it did since before the turn of the millennium. (This begs the question: Why are sports fans and sci-fi fans marketed to and catered to in ways that swell their ranks and make billions for relevant franchises, while soap fans, an equally enthusiastic and devoted group, are all-too-often spit upon? I resent it. Do you? Discuss.)
Anyway, let's begin with some compliments. Valentini and Carlivati have demonstrated a knowledge of and laudable respect for the history of GH (something that many previous producing and writing regimes largely ignored). Port Charles feels like a community again, just as Llanview did on their previous gig, One Life to Live. The return of Finola Hughes as Anna Devane has been a godsend. (I would like to see Hughes have more scenes with Jane Elliott and Nancy Lee Grahn, two of the best actresses in the history of daytime drama, yet both grievously underutilized on this show.) Similarly, the return of Robin Mattson as moon-bat Heather Webber, a character who was at center stage when I first started watching GH, has been big fun. (Heather at that time was portrayed by Cher's sister, Georgianne LaPierre!)
Meantime, two cast members who never made much of an impression are turning in outstanding performances under the new regime: Jason Thompson as grief-stricken Dr. Patrick Drake, who sadly hasn't had much to do since saying goodbye to the wife he thinks is dead, and Brandon Barash as mobster Johnny Zacchara, also in an emotional tailspin after learning that his late sister was actually his mother. Suddenly, Johnny is multi-dimensional, oddly sympathetic, dangerously sexy and infinitely more interesting than any of the other criminals on the GH canvas.
Michael Easton as Lt. John McBain, one of the many characters from One Life to Live that have been brought onto the GH canvas, has left all of the other male actors on GH in the dust (with the exceptions of Thompson and Barash.) His chemistry with Finola Hughes, Jane Elliott and especially Kelly Monaco has been so strong that I challenge anyone to admit that they fast-forward through his scenes with those actresses, even when they are repetitive. I'd like to see him stick around full time, and I wouldn't mind if he brought along his former co-star Melissa Archer as his true love Natalie, a forensic technician. I would rather watch McBain and Natalie take charge of the Port Charles police station than suffer another day with Dante Falconeri and Lulu Spencer (two characters that could disappear tomorrow and not be missed).
Speaking of the influx of OLTL characters, where is Skye Quartermaine (Robin Christopher) when we need her? She knows these people from her years in Llanview. She would seem to be a natural bridge between the two shows. Further, Skye started out as a resident of Pine Valley, so she might also be utilized to clear up some of the questions that linger for fans of All My Children.
In fact, a blast from All My Children could be just what GH needs. Wouldn't it be interesting if Susan Lucci's Erica Kane blew into Port Charles for a day or two, perhaps to do an interview with Crimson editor Kate Howard about the new movie she was going to Hollywood to star in when AMC ended its run. In the interview with Kate, and/or in conversations with Skye and Anna (whom she also knows) Erica could reveal all kinds of information about what has been happening in Pine Valley these last few months. (Who did J.R. shoot? Did Erica and Jackson break up? Who was the last person Dr. David Hayward miraculously brought back from apparent death?) Lucci is a genuine ABC Daytime icon and one of the most popular women working in television. A guest stint by her on GH could be one of the biggest daytime events of the year.
Unfortunately, this is where the compliments and cheery good thoughts end. In every other way, GH today doesn't play like a show that is fighting for its life. Just because ABC has cancelled The Revolution and extended GH's stay of execution doesn't mean that anyone should assume the show is out of danger. If the upcoming GMA in the Afternoon makes noise, makes news and generates ratings during its two-month run this summer ABC just might decide to keep it going when Katie Couric's syndicated talk show makes its debut. Hell, ABC would be foolish not to. If properly produced, GMAITA could be the perfect platform on which to promote the network's upcoming fall shows, especially to women and young demographic groups. Throw in a few choice bands and other performers and the young ones will come running, infusing GMAITA with the same crackling Times Square-centered energy that MTV once enjoyed with TRL. If this thing takes off like a rocket I really don't think ABC will kill it come fall, and if that happens, GH and The Chew will have to fight it out for ABC's last remaining afternoon time slot.
In other words, GH should have started kicking major butt several weeks ago. Instead, we've had almost two months in which Valentini and Carlivati have not started a single compelling storyline that is not somehow tied to one of the three main characters that have sent millions of former fans running and rendered those of us who refuse to give up feeling fatally fatigued. (Don't take my word for it. Just check out the ratings.) Yes, I'm talking about Sonny Corinthos, Carly Corinthos, Jacks and Jason Morgan. (I have detailed my complaints about these characters in previous columns that may be found here and here.) If ABC refuses to shift focus away from these characters, or if Valentini and Carlivati refuse to do something utterly drastic with them, then GH might as well close up shop now, because as long as it swirls around those three as the characters they are today, it will remain the GH that most people do not want to see.
Sonny in recent weeks has been more deplorable than ever before, as have most of the people in his circle, all rallying to support him during his trial for the killings of Cole Thornhart and his little girl, Hope. What a pointless and unpleasant story the death of these two innocent people turned out to be, especially for fans of OLTL. And what a waste of time that trial was, not because Sonny was found not guilty for something he didn't do, but because nobody has come down on Sonny for putting into motion the series of events that led to the accident in the first place.
Carly has been similarly (and predictably) detestable, though not in any way that is new or interesting. How I wish something would happen that would put her through an emotional ringer resulting in pain and grief similar to that which she has caused so many other characters. Why hasn't multi-millionaire Jax popped back into town to spirit his little girl Jocelyn away from her unbalanced mother, who has brought yet another very dangerous man (Johnny) into her home? Why isn't Michael acting up? This poor kid was shot in the head, rendered comatose for a year, sent to prison and brutally raped all because of the choices Carly and Sonny made for him. Isn't it time for him to deal with what he went through and lash out a bit?
And then there's Jason, now the most revolting of this trio, known on many a soap blog as the Unholy Three. After discovering that the baby his wife is carrying is Franco's, the now deceased twin brother he never knew he had, Jason has become so wrapped up in his own half-witted misery that he is showing almost no concern for Sam. That might be understandable, were it not true that Franco - a homicidal maniac - raped her! To repeat: Sam was kidnapped and raped. But the entire aftermath storyline is centered more on what it means to Jason than what it has done to Sam. The insensitivity of this storyline boggles the mind. Kelly Monaco ought to receive a shelf full of Emmys for playing through this junk as well as she has.
So where are we now? We've watched young Starr Manning lose her little girl and her boyfriend in the umpteenth story of mob violence involving Sonny, who is now destroying the lives of characters from another show since he has pretty much ruined those of almost everyone on GH. We've watched Sonny slide through yet another trial without ever doubting that he would be found not guilty. (Imagine the compelling stories that could have followed if he had been wrongfully convicted and sent to prison!) We've watched Carly continue to act like her usual unhinged self while boffing yet another bad guy. We've watched Jason process the rape of his wife as something that happened primarily to him. We're still suffering through three wildly unpopular stories that had already overstayed their welcome before Valentini and Carlivati even took over: Solving the murder of murderous Lisa Niles, identifying the assailant in the stripper attacks and processing the aftermath of the Franco mess. (The fact that Franco is the father of Sam's baby might be interesting if Franco were still alive, or if Dr. Alan Quartermaine, who never knew that he had a third son, hadn't been stupidly killed off in a sweeps stunt some years back. Imagine Alan's confrontation with Heather after learning that she had secretly sold one of his babies!)
Meanwhile, we continue to watch the town grieve for the late Robin Scorpio, even though she isn't dead, just improbably abducted by a sinister someone who will likely be revealed at some future time to be Caesar Faison or Helena Cassadine, two characters at the center of more abduction stories than I care to remember. They ought to recast Robin and get this story going as soon as possible, though I don't see how they can make it into anything fresh and exciting, unless it marks the return of Casey the alien! (Maybe he could utilize one of the crystals from his home planet of Lumina to destroy Sonny once and for all.)
Finally, the less said about the Kate/Connie weirdness, the better, except to note that watching Connie attack a chocolate cake like it had killed her child was some kind of low point for this show (though I have to admit that I think Kelly Sullivan is making the most of what has become a truly thankless role). Kate is supposed to be the editor of a hugely successful and wildly influential fashion magazine, but I have to wonder how she runs her company without a staff, and while she is so busy running about as crazed Connie.
Valentini and Carlivati managed to wrap up the wretched Woman in White storyline in one week's time, but they continue to play with the Lisa Miller, Franco and stripper stories as though anyone cares. Better they should start something new, or address other lingering storylines that could prove to be interesting and possibly entertaining, like the whereabouts of Valentin Cassadine or the identity of the driver of the other car that went speeding by Elizabeth Webber's house the night poor little Jake was run down. I would also like them to figure out a way to bring a few recently deceased characters back from the dead, especially Alan, AJ and Emily Quartermaine and Georgie Jones. Those are stories the audience would like to watch. While the new regime at GH clearly understands the show itself, they have much to learn about its fans.