General Hospital celebrated 50 years on ABC with a special episode dedicated to Steve Hardy’s 50th anniversary as hospital chief of staff on April 2, and the return of the popular Nurses’ Ball which concludes April 9. Here’s Executive Producer Frank Valentini on his strategy for songs, storytelling – and secrets.
Carolyn: Why did you want to keep some big names returning for the Nurses’ Ball a secret?
Frank: We didn’t keep all of them secret. Some we advertised. We kept certain ones secret because we wanted there to be a few surprises. Rick Webber was a big surprise. Emily was a surprise. We wanted that to be special for the audience.
Carolyn: Are we done with the surprises?
Frank: No. There are a few more this week, as well as after the Nurses’ Ball. This is what we’ve been doing for the last year. Ron [Carlivati, head writer] and I believe that the show should be fun and exciting and surprising. We want it to be like watching a live event – everyone finds out together what’s going to happen.
Carolyn: I heard you went to great lengths to keep some of the returns a secret.
Frank: That’s true. We felt it was important for the audience to be surprised. Everyone was in on the secret for the greater good of the show.
Carolyn: Were there any big names you wanted to come back that you couldn’t get?
Frank: Yes. There were a couple of people we really wanted, but because of scheduling conflicts we couldn’t get them. Which doesn’t mean they can’t come back in the future…
Carolyn: Are their initials Kimberly McCullough [Robin], Jonathan Jackson [Lucky], Emma Samms [Holly] and Tristan Rogers [Robert]?
Frank: No comment!
Carolyn: Some actors have been very vocal about enjoying their returns and wanting to stay on GH. Would you and Ron consider that?
Frank: Yes, absolutely. It’s important for viewers to know that we didn’t bring people back as ‘stunts.’ We brought them back for a reason. For example, GH’s 50th anniversary was the right time for Audrey to be there because it honored Steve Hardy and Rachel Ames’ character was married to him. It made perfect sense to bring her back to celebrate GH on that day, and it honored her history on the show as well.
Carolyn: Was it hard to coax Rachel Ames out of retirement?
Frank: Not really. Rachel was lovely, and very excited to come back for one day. The crew gave her a standing ovation.
Carolyn: What about the other surprise returns?
Frank: We brought [the ghosts of] Alan and Emily back to bring Monica and Tracy together. There were important story reasons to bring everyone back that we did. Their returns moved story forward.
Carolyn: Were you pleased with the results of the anniversary show?
Frank: Thrilled. The audience loved it and the ratings were really good.
Carolyn: And the Nurses’ Ball?
Frank: We were overwhelmed by the response to the Nurses’ Ball. It was a huge, huge success. The press, the writers – everyone was so excited with what we accomplished. That was all due to the excellent team of actors and crew we have on GH.
Carolyn: Looking back, would you have done anything differently?
Frank: No, I don’t think so. But there are definitely things we’ll take into account for next year.
Carolyn: Next year? Will you celebrate GH’s anniversary every year?
Frank: Maybe! Maybe we’ll do a little nod or something special on the anniversary day. Or maybe we’ll do the Nurses’ Ball again. Who knows?
Carolyn: I heard that the music from the Nurses’ Ball is on iTunes?
Frank: Yes. We put the opening song and the closing song on iTunes. The closing song airs Tuesday. It’s great.
Carolyn: How will you ever top the Ball for May Sweeps?
Frank: We have so many great things happening, I think we will top it. We build on everything that happens in April and have some really exciting new things coming in May. Just because the anniversary is over doesn’t mean our stories won’t all include the rich history of GH.
Carolyn: Anything you want to tell me about?
Frank: No [laughs].
Carolyn: What was the biggest surprise for YOU coming out of the Nurses’ Ball?
Frank: Lynn Herring [Lucy].
Carolyn: Why, because she’s so professional?
Frank: Beyond! I had never worked with her before. She’s extraordinary. She’s the mascot, the head cheerleader, and the all-around good sport for the entire Nurses’ Ball. She’s like Beyonce but with more dresses.
Carolyn: Then that would make you Jay-Z!