When General Hospital's Anthony Geary won his record seventh Daytime Emmy Award last month, he was understandably emotional — not just over his win, but because of the soap's rise from near-death.
"We were so shaky about a year ago until Frank [Valentini] came on to shore us all up," Geary told reporters at ABC's Television Critics Association fall TV previews Thursday. "We'd been living on Death Row. I think we were all pretty thrilled and excited about being acknowledged for the hard work."
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General Hospital — ABC's last remaining soap on the air — won five awards out of a leading 23 nominations, including Outstanding Drama Series, an achievement the cast credits to new executive producer Valentini. Valentini, who came over from the now-defunct One Life to Live, said he didn't rebuild the show but rather remodeled it.
"Being an outsider, it's sometimes easier to come in and see what maybe you're not seeing when you're there," he said. "I think the show was in terrific shape, but there needed to be some tweaks. I think it's much more my taste, my sensibilities for the show to go a little bit faster. I felt there were some key characters missing, not in terms of who they were, but some archetypes I felt were important to bring on the show. Brining on some One Life to Live characters was a little bit of way to honor the One Life to Live audience and also a way to create a story that was good for the current cast."
Michael Easton, who came over from One Life, said the switch was bittersweet, but he thoroughly appreciated how General Hospital fans have embraced him and other One Life stars. "There's a synchronicity with other soap fans," he said. "There's a lot of broken hearts out there [after the numerous soap cancellations]. If it were the other way, [it would be the same]."
It's the devoted fan base to which the actors say they're forever indebted. As the soap gears up for its 50th anniversary on April 1, some faithful watchers have been following the exploits in Port Charles from the very beginning and have watched other long-running soaps go by the wayside in recent years. "These people have watched General Hospital for 50 years — the grandmothers, the parents, the kids," star Nancy Lee Grahn said. "You hear them talking about it all together. ... This audience really paid for television for a long time. They're very valuable."
She added: "Everyone seems to enjoy cutting-edge things and things that are the newest. But there's something to be really valued about tradition, and about something that's familiar and something that makes people feel comfortable, that's generational and that's inclusive."
Although the stereotype of the typical soap watcher is a housewife, the cast has learned over the years that the genre has a far more wide-reaching audience than anyone could predict. There are cops, athletes, musicians and in the case of Geary, women who work hard for the money. "Anybody who works at night, like a hooker," he quipped. "I'm very big with hookers."
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Reinvigorated behind and in front of the camera, the cast and crew is in good spirits heading into next season, which will see the show shift to 2 p.m. ET/1 p.m. PT/CT starting Monday, Sept. 10 — a move Valenitni believes is "great." "I like the way that we're being positioned with the other shows around us. The network is doing a big push to inform the viewers." Fans can also expect a return visit from Kimberly McCullough as Robin Scorpio undergoes electroshock therapy, but how about a 51st year on the air?
"All I can say is [ABC] invited us here, and that's a great sign," Valentini said. "They're behind us 100 percent. They're very excited about the 50th anniversary. I'm pretty confident."