In my last column I lamented the disappointing state of primetime drama on the broadcast networks, asserting that the quality of dramatic series on basic and pay cable was making it increasingly difficult to be satisfied by traditional network fare. But here's a pro-broadcast caveat: At present, the quality of the remaining daytime dramas on ABC, NBC and CBS is better than it has been in a very long time.
The early years of this decade were not good for soap operas, with one executive bungle after another continuously compromising what not so long ago had been a robust and deeply enriching genre wholly unique to broadcast television. In recent months, however, something remarkable has arisen from the ashes of that widespread destruction. Soaps are kicking it again. At the center of this creative resurgence is a show that millions of long-time viewers had all but given up for dead, ABC's General Hospital, which during the last 10 years had been reduced to a mere shadow of its former grand self. Caught in a death grip by network executives, producers and writers who seemed to care not one whit about the show's long-term viability, and who collectively chose to make murderous criminals and their supporters the "heroes" of its storylines, General Hospital had become a revolting mess. But earlier this year those show-killers were removed and executive producer Frank Valentini and head writer Ron Carlivati were brought on board to save the show, after the serial on which they had been working -- the late and very much lamented One Life to Live -- was coldly cancelled.
Seven months later, General Hospital is more fun and exciting than it has been since its glory days in the '80s -- and that's thanks in large part to Valentini's smart decision to put less emphasis on the low-rent mob drama that had choked the life out of the show and bring back many much-missed characters from decades past. In a dizzying twist, he also brought over to General Hospital a handful of characters from One Life to Live. I'll confess this didn't strike me as a smart idea at the start, even though I had been a long-time One Life to Live watcher. But the results have been unexpectedly entertaining.
If I'm being honest, not all of the storylines on General Hospital in recent months have been satisfying. A few, in fact, have been perfectly dreadful. But the show has been remarkable in every other way, giving everyone in its marvelous cast great scenes to play and serving up on an almost daily basis something for viewers from any of the last five decades, not to mention displaced fans of One Life to Live. General Hospital will mark its 50th anniversary in April -- a milestone that it almost fell short of making. How wonderful that it is doing so as the best drama on daytime television.
Meanwhile, NBC's Days of Our Lives and CBS' The Bold and the Beautiful are looking pretty good, too. Read why here.
Follow Ed Martin on Twitter: www.twitter.com/PlanetEd