NEW YORK — A few years ago, ABC’s “General Hospital” was in trouble.
“All My Children” and “One Life to Live” had been given their series’ end dates and the “GH” cast and crew worried their show would be next.
“You’d be on set and you’d hear little things like, ‘Oh, we’ve got maybe six months’” before cancellation, said Jason Thompson, who plays Patrick Drake on the longest-running daytime show. “It was tough.”
“We had a couple holes in the ship,” added Kelly Monaco, who plays Samantha Morgan.
Then in February 2012, “One Life to Live” executive producer Frank Valentini and head writer Ron Carlivati joined “GH.”
“We were all worried and we had a right to be worried. The show was in a very dark place and Ron and I managed to come in and shake it up,” Valentini said.
Almost immediately, the characters were given a purpose.
“One of Frank and Ron’s things is that every character has to have a job and every character has to have a romance,” says Tyler Christopher, who plays Nikolas Cassadine, “so there’s an opportunity there for you to show up in somebody else’s story ... so you’re still relevant.”
This isn’t an easy task.
“There are a lot of characters on the show and that’s a blessing and a curse,” Valentini said. “We try not to go more than two weeks without seeing somebody, and if we do, it could be for other reasons like the (actor) is on vacation or doing a movie.”
The pace of the show quickened, cutting between scenes to tell different perspectives of a story.
Christopher says speed also exists behind the scenes, where “things need to be done quicker, better, faster.”
“The number of pages we do in a day has almost doubled but it’s working,” he said. “As hard as it is no one complains. We just sweat it out and keep moving.”
“General Hospital,” which airs weekdays at 2 p.m. Eastern, also began to utilize longtime cast members like Jane Elliott, who plays Tracy Quartermaine.
“Jane is such a spectacular actress and to have her not do much on the show seems like a waste of a resource,” Valentini said.
Characters from the past — like Lynn Herring’s Lucy Coe, Jack Wagner’s Frisco Jones and Tristan Rogers’ Robert Scorpio — were brought back in episodes leading up to last April’s 50th-anniversary mark. Some stayed longer than others, but Valentini said they were all “gifts for the audience.”
He says the show is working to bring back others.
“We’d love Demi Moore to come back. We’d love John Stamos to come back. We’ve still got plenty of fun stuff to do and plenty of surprises.”
“GH” marked its 50th anniversary by bringing back its popular Nurses’ Ball, where the characters put on a formal ball, complete with musical performances, to raise money for AIDS and HIV research. There are plans for another Nurses’ Ball next spring.
The Nurses’ Ball is “a tremendous amount of work and very, very expensive to do but I think we’ll be able to do it,” says Valentini.
Vicki Dummer, executive vice president of ABC Media Group and Primetime Current Series, says she’s been a fan of “GH” for more than 30 years and couldn’t be happier.
“Frank Valentini and Ron Carlivati have done extraordinary work on ‘GH’ and have really turned the show around,” she said in a recent statement, adding that the goal was to “redefine the show and give it a contemporary feel.”
Valentini says he’s already looking ahead to story lines for next summer.
“I think we’re really hitting our stride right now and that’s a much more comfortable pace from which to operate but there’s never really any relaxing.”