Not mid- to late-eighties good – we may never see those glory days again – but good.
Last year at about this time, “General Hospital” was uneven, uninspired and unwatchable. It had dissolved into the kind of dreck that gives soaps a bad name, marred by dull storylines that lacked any kind of heart, much less an emotional payoff, which is what soaps are all about.
Since “Cartini” (head writer Ron Carlivati and executive producer Frank Valentini) took over, “General Hospital” has gotten a shot in the arm. The humor and energy have returned to the show. Complexity and richness are slowly seeping into the plotlines and the dead weight that had sunk this once mighty show to the depths of bad TV are slowly but surely being excised and set out to pasture. It’s mining its storied history by bringing back old faves like Anna Devane and Felicia Jones and made the genius move of plucking some of “One Life to Live’s” most popular characters and throwing them into the Port Charles mix. Finally, not one, but two powerhouses in the form of Todd Manning and John McBain that can make the cartoonish Sonny Corinthos dance to their tune. Brilliant. And Tracy Quartermaine hasn’t been this funny—or watchable—in years.
I attribute this resurgence to the writing. It’s always about the writing.
Think about it. When the writing’s bad, it’s all bad. It’s why, with all other things being equal, a show like “Frasier” will thrive, while a show like “Joey” will wither and die the minute the seeds hit the soil.
Bad writing will kill any show and the soaps are no exception. People like to lay the blame for why soaps have dwindled on a whole bunch of reasons: O.J., reality television, shifting viewing habits.
Sure, these are all factors, but 90% of the reason why soaps have been shot through the heart is bad writing.
Bad writing killed “All My Children.” When you have ludicrous storylines like Erica Kane’s unabortion walking around town sipping lattes and death by poisoned pancakes among other atrocities, it’s no wonder that show swirled down the drain. Bad writing (and a crappy production model) killed “Guiding Light.” Bad writing is slowly sucking the life out of “The Young and the Restless.” I realize this is the No. 1 soap, but I think people must be watching out of habit, because it’s boring, one-note and downright nauseating more days than not.
When the writing is good, soaps will rival anything on primetime or in the theaters. “Ryan’s Hope” was one of the best-written soaps ever to air, with six Emmy’s for Best Writing and 12 Writer’s Guild of America Awards to its credit. Delia’s manipulation of Pat, Rae orchestrating Frank’s downfall, the love story of Mary and Jack? Sensitive, riveting, beautifully written material. “General Hospital’s” second Golden Age in the mid-90’s was a master class in soap storytelling. Years later, shows are still trying to recreate the powerhouse tale of Maxie getting B.J.’s heart and have packed nowhere near the emotional wallop that classic story did. Hands down, “One Life To Live’s” Tale of Two Todds in 2011-2012 was the best storyline on any soap. Period. It had it all – suspense, drama, humor and terrific twists you never saw coming.
I still believe there’s hope for the soaps. “General Hospital’s” burgeoning renaissance tells me so. If the networks will stop filling the important head writer role with hacks who don’t respect the medium, there’s hope. If the head writers draw on the rich history of their shows, there’s hope. If they don’t sacrifice character for plot, there’s hope.
The writing. It’s all about the writing.
Now. Let me go fire up the DVR and watch today’s “GH.”