Daytime Emmys Preview: 'General Hospital' Shows Signs of Life
More than three decades since 30 million fans tuned in for daytime’s royal wedding (Luke and Laura), ABC's long-running soap is a survivor and dominant Emmy contender.
This story first appeared in the May 1 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.
After being snubbed for best daytime drama in 2014, General Hospital -- television's longest-running soap and ABC's most veteran program -- is back with a vengeance at this year's awards: GH earned 28 nominations, besting the 25 earned by archrival and last year's winner, The Young and the Restless.
It's an occasion momentous enough to rouse seven-time Emmy winner Anthony "Tony" Geary (yes, he of Luke and Laura fame) from his limelight-eschewing home in the Netherlands to attend the show, where he is up for his record 15th nomination (and a possible eighth win) for lead actor.
"It's important to the producers I be there, but I'd want to be there anyway," says Geary. "It's the only time I get to see people I've known for years who are on other shows. It's a small group, but we're survivors."
The past decade has been brutal for daytime dramas. The number of soaps on the air has diminished from 12 in 1998 to only four today: ABC's GH, NBC's Days of Our Lives and CBS' The Bold and the Beautiful and Y&R.
In 2011, after losing mainstays All My Children and One Life to Live, ABC suits were panicked that its only surviving series also was in jeopardy. In swooped Frank Valentini, who after 22 years producing and directing OLTL, took over the executive producer reins at GH, bringing with him a passion that many say had been missing since legendary producer Gloria Monty left in 1987.
"I changed the way the show looked and sounded, brought in new music and lighting directors," says Valentini, who manages shooting between 70 and 80 scenes a day. "We changed how we edited to create a faster pace in storytelling and in how people talk. It was about saying, 'In 2012, this is what the show should look and feel like.' "
Valentini, Dummer and Geary with co-stars Maurice Benard, Laura Wright, Francis and Jason Thompson.
Adding Valentini to the mix has proved to be good business, says Vicki Dummer, executive vp current series at ABC. "He's budget-conscious, creative, collaborative and able to maintain a high quality and a pace of the show we just haven't seen in the past," she says. The audience also is responding: General Hospital viewership is up 8 percent to more than 3 million a day. The network has so much faith in Valentini that entertainment president Paul Lee suggested he oversee a series of live episodes of GH during the May sweeps. "We want people to be excited about what is going to happen," says Valentini. "It's another great way to challenge ourselves."
Geary is now 67 and in his 37th year of acting; Genie Francis, who plays Laura, left GH in 1982 but has returned for several stints since, most recently in 2013. Geary says his first Daytime Emmy win in 1982 was a welcome acknowledgement from his peers, and he logged some extra pay ("Back in the days when salaries could be hiked up," he says). But today, the kudos represent staying power in a beleaguered business. "It's always nice to be introduced as a 'seven-time Emmy Award winner,' but we're in a very lean period of daytime TV now," says Geary, who then jokes: "I like to say soaps are now the sweatshops of show business."