Tuned In: Tweaked and revamped 'General Hospital' survives soap operas death row

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BEVERLY HILLS, Calif. -- Soap actors know the score. They know their genre of daytime programming is in decline. So when "General Hospital" star Anthony Geary won his seventh Daytime Emmy in June, his emotional, dark humor-tinged acceptance speech wasn't just about getting more kudos from industry peers.

"We'd been living on death row," he said at an ABC press conference last month. "And so I think we were all pretty thrilled and excited and a bit emotional about being acknowledged for the hard work."

'General Hospital'

When: 3 p.m. weekdays through Sept. 7; moves to 2 p.m. weekdays Sept. 10, ABC.

Starring: Anthony Geary, Michael Easton.

"General Hospital" fans have been on edge since ABC canceled "All My Children" and "One Life to Live," replacing them with less expensive talk shows "The Chew" and "The Revolution." With the prospect of Katie Couric's new fall talk show, "Katie," there were fears that "General Hospital" would be the next soap to fall. Instead, "The Revolution" was short-lived and Ms. Couric has been, perhaps strategically, vocal in her support of daytime dramas.

"I think obviously soap operas have a huge and very loyal following," she said at an ABC press conference last month. "If you have any question about that, you should just follow me on Twitter and you can hear from a lot of those folks. And obviously I think they fill a need for a lot of people, and so I think they can peacefully coexist with a lot of the other offerings on daytime television."

On Sept. 10 when Ms. Couric's talk show begins, it will air at 3 p.m. and "General Hospital" will move to 2 p.m. weekdays on WTAE. "General Hospital" executive producer Frank Valentini said the time slot change will be good for the show.

"It will shake up the lineup a little bit, and I like the way that we're being positioned with the other shows that are surrounding us," he said. "The network is doing a big push to inform the audience about the time change, and, yes, we are doing a big umbrella story and have a lot of really fun surprises, a lot of terrific stuff coming on in September."

In addition, ABC is ramping up promotion for the 50th anniversary of "General Hospital" on April 1. The show's reprieve may not signal a turnaround for the soaps but at least the bleeding seems to have been stanched for the time being.

"I don't think that it will change in the near future that the television market that exists in the United States right now will ever be anything other than challenging," Mr. Valentini said. "[ABC is] very excited about the 50th anniversary, and we'll be laying and rolling out lots of different things between now and April and past then. So I'm pretty confident."

Mr. Valentini joined "GH" in January after a stint at "One Life to Live." Mr. Geary credited Mr. Valentini with coming over "to shore us all up."

"Maybe [it's] not rebuilding, but maybe remodeling," Mr. Valentini said. "Being an outsider, I think it's sometimes easier to come in and see what maybe you are not used to seeing when you are there. I think the show was in terrific shape, but there needed to be some tweaks. And I think it's much more my taste, my sensibility, for the show to go just a little bit faster, but I thought there were some key characters missing, not in terms of who they were, but certain archetypes that were really important to bring on the show.

"And bringing on some of the people from 'One Life to Live' was a little bit of a way to honor the 'One Life to Live' audience and also to create a story that was good for the current cast, and people who would interact with the current cast."

The migration of several "OLTL" characters to "GH" may be a sore spot among some "GH" fans, but transplanted actor Michael Easton said the reception has been generally positive.

"The 'General Hospital' audience has been very kind to let us in for the most part and be accepting," he said. "There's a little bit of a synchronicity with all of the other fans of the soap operas; they understand there's some broken hearts out there. If it worked the other way, we would love having them. "

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Rob Owen writes this Sunday TV column for Scripps Howard News Service. Contact him at: rowen@post-gazette.com or 412-263-2582. Read the Tuned In Journal blog at post-gazette.com/tv. Follow RobOwenTV on Twitter or Facebook. First Published August 26, 2012 4:00 AM


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