On Monday, Feb. 24, ABC’s General Hospital will air its 13,000th episode. TVSource Magazine was elated to be invited to the General Hospital set last month to celebrate the series’major milestone! Getting a look at what goes into bringing the city of Port Charles to life was something we’ll never forget.
Located at the historic Prospect Studios in Los Angeles, we could feel the magic from the moment we pulled into the studio. The outside of the building looks more like a hospital than a TV Studio, with signs such as “Emergency Room” on the front facade adding to that feeling. When you walk past the check-in, there’s the dressing rooms are down the hall, a luxurious green room, the wardrobe department and rehearsal hall in the midst but, it is when you step off the elevator after going up a few stories that you arrive in Port Charles, NY.
It is quite a moment to step into the Nurses Station, a permanent set and major fixture on the serial. It was at this location that executive producer Frank Valentini commented on the show reaching this milestone, with cast, crew and press around him. You get the feeling that they have pride in what they are doing and work together as a team to make it happen.
“Welcome everyone to our 13,000 episode celebration,” said Valentini, kicking off the press event. “We are having a really fantastic year and we’re really excited to share that with all of our friends in the press and I just want to say welcome and welcome to the set. Happy 13,000 episodes!”
Created by soap writers Frank and Doris Hursley, General Hospital debuted April 1, 1963 as a half hour, black and white series about the lives of the staff at a small New York town’s General Hospital. Over the years, the show evolved into an hour-long serial, began broadcasting in color, launched a spin-off, found new life on cable and can now be streamed online. It’s an evolution that has seen the drama ahead of the curve, and play catch up at times.
“It’s overwhelming to think that we’ve done 13,000 episodes and it was kind of great to look out at everyone in terms of the crew and the cast and some people have been there for 20, 25 years, some people for two or three, myself only two,” said Valentini during the press junket on the show’s milestone. It’s nice for us to all connect with our individual experiences for this momentous occasion.”
The series has long been the staple, the flagship drama of ABC Daytime. Last April, the soap marked a major milestone with the celebration of its 50th anniversary. In addition to being the current longest running soap opera, it is also one of the longest running shows of any genre. It was under the direction of famed executive producer Gloria Monty that the series rose to its biggest prominence. It was under Monty that the first “super couple” was created – the infamous Luke Spencer (Anthony Geary) and heroine Laura Webber (Genie Francis). Their controversial but epic love story culminated the most watched episode in American soap opera history! Luke and Laura’s 1981 wedding drew 30 million viewers, a record that has yet to be matched.
Valentini said he believes there are many reasons to the secret to the success of General Hospital at the moment, among them is support from ABC. “There’s a renewed interest on the part of the network which is behind the show 100 percent.”
He went on to praise head writer Ron Carlivati for his part in turning the show around. “Ron has come in and told stories that are much more diverse in terms of content. There’s more humor on the show, there’s more romance on the show, there’s the same level of excitement but I think the show is way more balanced.”
From the covers of magazines to questions on game shows and even a board game, General Hospital is one of few soaps to truly become ingrained in pop culture. The legendary Elizabeth Taylor, a well-known fan of the series, guest starred on the soap during Luke and Laura’s wedding, creating the role of the feared Helena Cassadine. Over the years, notable names such as Barry Williams, George Takei, Julio Iglesias, B.B. King, Morgan Fairchild, Rosanne Barr, Tom Arnold, Sally Struthers and Billy Dee Williams among others have guest starred. Film star and Oscar nominated actor James Franco appeared in a multi-year arc as a serial killing artist, Franco. Earlier this month, Partridge Family alum Shirley Jones put guest starred in two episodes. Knots Landing star Donna Mills will begin an arc as a mysterious new character later this month.
Frank Valentini knows that General Hospital wouldn’t have made it to 13,000 episodes were it not for the fans. “The fans are the reason we do what we do. The fans are the reason that we put that much energy and time in all the humor and romance and adventure that we can muster in forty-something odd minutes.”
While on set, TVSource Magazine had the opportunity to interview stars Rebecca Herbst (Elizabeth), Tyler Christopher (Nikolas), Emme Rylan (Lulu), Sean Blakemore (Shawn) and Kathleen Gati (Dr. Obrecht) about story lines and being a part of General Hospital.
Look for those interviews later in the week and be sure to tune into General Hospital on February 24 for the 13,000th episode!