Last week, I interviewed General Hospital‘s Executive Producer Frank Valentini about his reasons for trying to keep some of the big returns for GH’s 50th a secret. “We want it to be like watching a live event,” explained Frank. “Everyone finds out together what’s going to happen.”

Most websites and publications (including Soap Opera Digest) abided by Frank’s wishes and kept mum about big names returning – unlike some of his own actors who tweeted the “secret” returns as soon as they spotted the actors on set.

That annoyed me.

First of all, it’s been my job for 21 years to give fans scoops about their soaps. If GH is asking me to pull back on my job for a couple of weeks, I would hope that the actors would do the same.

After the shows aired (and indeed, they were fantastic), I got a press release from ABC touting the ratings for GH’s anniversary week. It said GH “delivered its most-watched week in one-and-a-half years in Women 25-54 ranking a solid #2 for the week in the demo… registered solid double-digit percent increases year to year across target demos, including 25% in Total Viewers … and Friday’s kick-off of the ‘Nurses’ Ball’ ranked as the most-watched telecast in 6 weeks in Women 18-49.”

So, which is it, ABC? Surprise fans with returns? Or publicize the returns to give lapsed fans a reason to tune back in?

You can’t have it both ways. You can’t “shock” viewers with a Jack Wagner-caliber return AND get a ratings bump, because viewers won’t know ahead of time to tune in.

For my money, the leaks created more buzz and brought a lot of eyeballs back to GH (as evidenced by the numbers touted in ABC’s own press release). And in the end, the network promos showcased Luke, Laura, Scotty, Frisco, Felicia, Noah, etc. so they knew which side their soap was buttered on.

Personally, I would have released the names of the returning actors, and promoted the Nurses’ Ball like this: “Who will wind up in their undies? (Hint: It’s not Lucy.) Who will propose marriage? Turn up pregnant? Come back from the dead? Come out of the closet?!” That would have piqued your interest and made you watch, but still allowed for a few surprises.

In my opinion, GH is better now than it is been in about 15 years, and they need to PUBLICIZE that as much as possible.

Because you can’t be surprised if you’re not watching.

16 Responses to TAINTED DREAMS: Ratings vs. Secrets

  • Jules says:

    In no way is GH better now than it was 15 years ago. The lack of true couples and humor. No location scenes. Jumping back and forth between unrelated 10 second scenes. Not to mention the crappy acting because they are shooting 80 scenes a day and the actors don’t have time to properly run lines anymore. Did I mention the crappy writing and directing which makes for even more crappy acting?

  • DEBBIE WHITE says:

    I wish Leslie Charleson was on alot more. She is too good a actress to be wasted.

  • Matthew says:

    I agree with your idea that big returns need to be publicized, but secrets need to be kept, too. Finding out that Stavros was behind L&L’s kidnapping before it even aired was a real bummer. If you tell me what’s going to happen before it happens, I don’t feel an urgency to watch. The prime example I think of is when DAYS was doing their umpteenth serial killer plot line a few years back that killed off fan faves like Maggie and Alice. We knew that the killer would be revealed on a certain day and before the episode even aired, there was Marlena in a black hood on the cover of SOD at every newsstand in town. I think moves like that try to lure in new or lapsed viewers at the expense of the enjoyment of dedicated viewers. Why should I tune in Monday when I already know what will happen?

  • AmyRose says:

    I agree, you need some sort of a buzz to get people interested, but I have to admit, the thrill I got seeing the people I *didn’t* know were returning? Well that can’t be beat. Yes I waited with bated breath for Laura’s return, Noah’s return and performance, and many others. But gasping and tearing at seeing Emily when I didn’t expect to? One of many fabulous dorky moments for me during those couple of weeks.

    THAT’S what I remember about the good old days of soaps. You had to watch, because you just didn’t know what you might be missing out on if you didn’t!

  • Jim Fung says:

    Carolyn, I feel people watched in part because they didn’t know who might be coming back! Would their fave be among them?

    I don’t believe in spoilers being a good thing. Spoilers just mislead and make people tune out more as much as they make people watch.

    As a fan, I hate having things spoiled for me.

    • AmyRose says:

      Jim I agree. Sometimes I read a spoiler and I think “ugh, I don’t want to see that” and I almost don’t watch. (re: Brenda in bed with Michael)

  • Troy Turner says:

    What we all have to remember is that the MAJORITY of soap fans aren’t as plugged in as we that comment here are

  • Dani says:

    I agree w/ ya. HOWEVER judging from what my friends have said (all in our 40’s) it was the SoapNet Marathon and Katie Couric special that really got alot of former viewers to tune in for the Nurse’s Ball. I was on FB and trust me, so many Stone and Robin fans were loving the old days and it made them tune ‘in for the big events. It added to the nostalic feelings.

  • Mary Moore Fergen says:

    You make some very good points, Carolyn, but I’m a little conflicted in how I feel about this subject. On one hand, I enjoy a few leaked spoilers, just enough to whet our appetites. On the other, I love being surprised with something I never saw coming! Maybe a good balance between publicity and surprises should be strived for.

  • louisa says:

    I like surprises. Publicity is good, spoilers are bad. What if a show like Homeland or Mad Men leaked every development? It would ruin it. Have to go with Frank on this.

    And the actors need to think before they tweet.

  • marcia says:

    well, I’m one irregular GH viewer here who tuned in to see the surprises, and I loved them. Probably would have forgotten all about the nurses’ ball since I now completely boycott ABC except for occasionally watching college football and watching GH. Great interview, by the way, as usual. But special this time.

    I agree. Tease but don’t tell. “Make ’em laugh, make ’em cry, make ’em wait.” — Agnes Nixon. And Carolyn is right. The actors should also respect the EP enough to do what he asks, especially when things are so good!!!!

    If the age groups of 18-49 and 25-59 are so important, that must be why Y&R carries so many ads for seniors – Tena, reverse mortgages, denture adhesive, arthritis medicine — yeah, I hear you. But will they NEVER learn that most younger viewers love the older generations too! And THAT is NOT only my opinion!

  • Mark says:

    Publicity yes, spoilers no.

    Admittedly, I’ve enjoyed the occasional tidbit of ‘spoiler info’ but I still harken back to the days when we did not know anything coming up. It was all a surprise, like Scott Baldwin catching Laura’s bouquet at her wedding to Luke. That instant shock would have been ruined had word leaked out.

    I still miss the announcer saying, “The role of so and so will now be played by his or her.” We didn’t need or ask what happened to the previous actor. All we knew was whether or not we liked the recast.

    In other words: Friday cliffhangers meant something. You HAD to watch Monday’s episode to find out what happened, and continue watching.

    Just my humble opinion.

  • m says:

    Agree w/you but so many of the actors “tattled” on the appearances, few were surprises. I figured out Britt would announce she was pg but her baby bump was a bit overdone for being three months. She is one character I ff through if I’m watching a recording…if watching irl, I use the bathroom or dust, anything to get away from her whining.

  • JR says:

    Great article. What are your thoughts on GH surviving on the ABC schedule long term now that we’ve passed the 50th and the ratings have improved?

  • Georgia says:

    Actually what you said should be promoted was already known. These would never be surprises to me because they do it every anniversary. Those names would have give me cause to leave my tv off.

  • Gerardo Ramirez says:

    I agree with you,Carolyn.Soaps have suffered for LACK of publicity by the networks.

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