by Sara Bibel
“General Hospital” executive producer Frank Valentini is the comeback kid. After enduring the cancellation of his previous show, “One Life to Live” by both ABC and the production company that wanted to turn it into an online series, he took over the struggling GH. In just six months, he’s turned it into must-see TV, winning accolades from previously disgruntled viewers.
The network has reinvested in the show, giving it a panel at the Television Critics Association gathering, along with all of the network’s new programming. I spoke with Valentini at the ABC party about his belief that spoilers are the root of all evil, managing the OLTL crossover, the mob, the future of the Quartermaines, and his love of props.
It seems like GH really started firing on all cylinders with the reopening of the Haunted Star. Since then, every episode has been must-see. Were you aware of the shift?
Valentini: I think when I read [those episodes] I thought they were going to be special. We put a little bit more muscle behind them, a little bit more money, and they were really fun to do. The most exciting thing about a soap opera is that it’s a show that sort of encompasses every aspect of entertainment: comedy, drama, emotion, family, friendship. And I think that music three dimensionalizes the show and that’s what was exciting about the Haunted Star but at the same time we have this very real life-and-death situation with Luke so that was fun for us to do and exciting to produce. There hadn’t been a fire on “General Hospital” in a long time.
I did not see the twist in which Heather knew that Robin was alive coming. Valentini: That’s why we keep all the spoilers in check.
The characters are being interwoven in a way that they were not before.
Valentini: Well, it’s much more satisfying for the audience because people and human nature tends to gravitate towards favorites. So we want everybody on the show to be the favorites. Everybody seems to love Heather, and everybody seems to love Anna (Finola Hughes), but when you see the two cross-pollinate for a different purpose, it’s kind of exciting.
You’ve brought one of my favorite “One Life to Live” traditions – hilarious props – to “General Hospital.” Are props a big focus for you? I laughed so hard at Todd’s giant post-it and kindergarten writing on his letter to Natalie.
Valentini: I approve every prop. When I came on the show, I sort of said what I wanted to do and the vision that I wanted to portray and everyone got in line. It’s an incredible crew on “General Hospital” where we work extremely hard, but I also work with them to give them guidance. Because it’s necessary to have that kind of vision. I feel like with this team behind me I can create what I’ve envisioned. Did you notice the great Haunted Star t-shirts? We’re going to be selling those.
Both OLTL and your version of GH seem to revel in being soap operas. You can make people cry with serious storylines, but then acknowledge that the conventions of the genre can be ridiculous and amusing, and have fun with them.
Valentini: Absolutely. That’s how real life is. I don’t treat the show differently from anything else that I would do.
ABC President Paul Lee praised you and GH during the executive portion of the TCAs, as well as the soap genre. Is there a tiny part of you that wishes he had been more firmly ensconced at the network when the decision to cancel “All My Children” and “One Life to Live” was made so that the show might have been spared? Is it frustrating that it was canceled when it was so good and the ratings were strong?
Valentini: I think coming to “General Hospital” is my reward.
How did you go about integrating the “One Life to Live” characters in a way that has managed not to annoy the majority of GH viewers who did not watch OLTL?
Valentini: Because we brought on characters that didn’t duplicate the characters on “General Hospital.” I think there’s no one like Todd. There’s no one like John. And I believe that the PCPD needs some reinforcement and some beefing up. I love Dante. He’s great. He needs another good cop with him. Michael [Easton] and Dominic [Zamprogna] have such great chemistry with each other. Again, it’s always been one of those things where it goes back to “General Hospital” to support the show. Anna and John have a friendship. Sonny (Maurice Benard) and John have an adversarial relationship, but you’ll see them connect in lots of ways over the next couple months and that’s exciting. Todd (Roger Howarth) and Carly (Laura Wright), I think, are really fun together and provide another arena within which to have some comedy. So as opposed to bringing on new people that no one knows, we brought on really good actors. No one can argue, whether you like them or not, Michael, Kristen [Alderson] and Roger are phenomenal actors.
Are you deliberately echoing the Luke, Laura and Scotty set-up with Lulu, Dante and Johnny?
Valentini: We’re playing with a lot of really fun things. I don’t want to give anything away, because we’ve been very good about keeping it all under wraps.
I appreciate that, but are there any tidbits you’d like to tease the audience with?
Valentini: I wouldn’t miss a day of “General Hospital” between now and September.
Any thoughts to bringing back the Quartermaines, or making Jason a Quartermaine again?
Valentini: We have a great arc for Monica (Leslie Charleson) coming up and Tracy’s (Jane Elliot) got some really fun stuff coming up in the end of August and the beginning of September. So there’s lots of Qs being thrown around.
Some viewers are frustrated that not only is there so much emphasis on the mob but that Sonny always gets away with everything and gets absolved of every crime he is accused of committing. Was there any thought to actually making him responsible for the death of John’s sister?
Valentini: Certainly we thought about all the possible story angles, but Sonny would never kill a young woman. That’s not who he is and I think that the people who felt there was too much mob on the show, Johnny (Brandon Barash) transitioning away from the mob is an interesting angle. It’s such a giant audience and a varied audience. We’re trying to appeal to each aspect of what the audience’s wants and desires and dislikes are.