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Iceberg Ahead: What’s Behind ‘General Hospital’s Ratings Collapse?

GENERAL HOSPITAL - Anthony Geary (Luke), Genie Francis (Laura) and Holly Gagnier (Jennifer Smith) in a scene that airs the week of June 22, 2015 on ABC's "General Hospital." "General Hospital" airs Monday-Friday (3:00 p.m. - 4:00 p.m., ET) on the ABC Television Network. (ABC/Michael Yada) ANTHONY GEARY, GENIE FRANCIS, HOLLY GAGNIER

For the past 11 weeks, ABC’s General Hospital has struggled in the ratings, reaching record lows in the coveted demographic. In my newest column, I take a look at some of the areas I feel are affecting the creative and ratings success of the longest running soap on television.

The Nielsen ratings system has never been a proper barometer when it comes to measuring the quality of television series. Not when said quality is subjective to one’s personal likes and dislikes; when one week can spell doom for a show and the very next can offer cause for celebration. I tend to groan when the ratings reports come out each week, knowing that many will tie the quality to positive or negative ratings trends. I see one show excelling in storytelling and depth remaining steady, while another drowning in weak, misogynistic plot driven storylines continue to surge. And somewhere in the middle, there’s General Hospital.

Using that logic, The Bold and the Beautiful should be on top of the ratings game, but it’s not. What I find to be great television, another could find to be the opposite. It’s all subjective. Before continuing, I want to make one thing clear — I don’t presume to speak for the general audience. I can only speak on my likes and dislikes as a fan and critic.

New Low

For the past several months there has been a serious decline in GH’s ratings in the coveted Women 18-49 demographic. Not only compared to the previous week, but also the previous year. According to the most recent report by TVByTheNumbers.com, General Hospital is currently in their 11th straight week at a low. This comes as no surprise for many watching the series on a daily basis. More often than not I have found myself struggling to make it through a full episode and when I do, I am usually distracting myself with other things. Whatever it takes to get me through an entire episode of silly storylines, ridiculous characters and half cocked plots. Apparently I’m not the only one feeling this way. After endless weeks of basement numbers, fans took to Twitter to air their grievances. What manifested was a brilliant #WhyRatingsAreLow hashtag filled with insight and humor alike. Of course there were also a number of people who used the hashtag as an opportunity to complain about the wrongdoings to their favorites characters, but there was also an abundance of legitimate criticisms fans have been stating for months, if not years.

My criticism isn’t coming from a place of malice or spite, but from one of concern. As a critic, my role isn’t to only write about the amazing job being done, but to also highlight when it’s not. While some opt to forego critiquing all together, I choose to examine some of the areas I feel that are affecting the creative success of General Hospital, in the hopes that someone will acknowledge and address them.

  1. Network Ignorance

Let me begin by pointing out that I don’t think the state of GH lands squarely at the feet of the show’s powerhouse duo, head writer Ron Carlivati and executive producer Frank Valentini.

Just as much as fans have accused Sony and CBS Daytime of interfering in the stories at The Young and the Restless prior to their most recent regime, I think the same can be said about the powers that be at ABC. They seem to have this misconstrued idea of what General Hospital was, is and should be. As evidenced by the previous decade, they want the daytime version of The Sopranos. They want big boisterous action packed melodrama that sets them apart from the other shows. And that’s exactly what they have, but at the cost of all the other key ingredients that make a soap a soap.

  1. Non-Revolving Door

General Hospital currently has 29 cast members on contract and anywhere from 27 to 35 listed as recurring (if you count children and guest stars) making it the largest cast by far in daytime. Someone like me, who is easily bored with repetition, might find this to be a good thing — mixing in and changing characters around to keep it fresh and new… if that’s what they were actually doing. At least 2/3 of these characters are rarely seen and when they are it’s usually as a prop, like say the Nurses Ball. The thing about revolving doors is that they have to swing back at some point. Don’t mistake this as me advocating for actors losing their jobs, but if they are only seen once every 6 months anyway, they aren’t driving stories and the audience isn’t invested.

  1. Bridging The Gap

This directly ties into number 9. With a cast the size of Noah’s Ark, it’s no wonder why characters and entire sections of storylines disappear for not days or weeks, but months at a time. By the time they finally remind you of where the story left off, you don’t care. Example: Rosalie and her secret, that Kevin/Lucy/Scott/Bobby quad that lasted a year but was seen for maybe 5-10 episodes, Brad and Lucas’ entire relationship. It’s as if they want to have B and C storylines, but give them the D-list treatment. I’m sure there are valid reasons behind some of the disappearances — actors book outside projects, contracts have limited dates, etc., but there’s a way to address it through storytelling without dropping the characters off the face of the earth.

  1. Tiny Tots

The way GH uses its younger set is baffling. The only teenagers on the show are Molly and TJ, but they haven’t really had a story to themselves since they tried to have sex a year and a half ago. Meanwhile four 10 year olds have been in a love quad for that same amount of time. Children on other soaps are rarely seen, and if they are, it’s usually involving a custody battle or them being cute little co-signers to their parents. CI9e0vPUAAAjFR8The kids on GH are driving storylines and have pages upon pages of dialogue that their veteran counterparts can only dream of. Not only have these scenes with Cameron, Emma, Spencer and to an extent Josslyn been overdone, they have more often than not been disturbing to watch. All four of these kids are great actors, so I completely understand the desire to use them, but the manner in which they have chosen is unnerving and quite frankly, annoying. Also annoying is that we can’t seem to go a solid 6 months on this show without another baby storyline.

Love triangles for 10 year olds are not cute. Period.

  1. Selective Diversity

I say selective for a reason. Whenever I have brought up the subject of diversity on this show, I am always met with, “The star of the show is Hispanic!” There’s so much about this statement that annoys me. First of all, I’m not sure the writers, nor Sonny himself, remembers his heritage.

The show has been doing well on that front. Sabrina Santiago is finally becoming a viable character after months of white washing, and months sidelined after being placed with the wrong partner. Even Rosalie Martinez is getting in on the fun, albeit with a secret that the audience doesn’t care about, mostly due to the fact that they haven’t been given a reason to care for the character or her secret, but that’s an issue for a different column.

Since the Wards were reduced and sent packing, there hasn’t been a strong black presence on the show. Enter Shawn, TJ and sjt4Jordan. Shawn was treated as a mob lackey (and part time BLT guru) with horrible aim, then shipped off to Pentonville. TJ has had little to no story until a few weeks ago when, we all held our breath in hopes they were actually going to give us a socially conscious and relevant story about race, only to have it turn out to be a plot point to have TJ side with Sonny and take Shawn’s place as Sonny’s latest apologist. Then there’s Jordan, one of the best casting choices the show made in 2014.

Vinessa Antoine is really everything I could have wanted for this character. The problem is they spent a year wasting her in a storyline in which she must have said the word “boss” no less than 10 times per episode. There was very little focus on her romance with Shawn, and even less with re-establishing her relationship with her son, other than constantly painting her as a bad mother. They hinted at the possibility that Shawn was TJ’s father in November 2014, dropped it completely and then revealed it to be true 7 months later as a throw-away as Shawn was leaving the show. While there have been bright spots in her friendship with Anna and brief alliance with Ava, little has been done to establish Jordan’s characterization outside of her profession. Now they have her as yet another thankless, unable to solve crimes commissioner with no real personal life. That is until they fulfill their latest casting call for a black male role.

About the author

Ashley Dionne

Ashley Dionne joined the TVSource Magazine team in December 2014.