The History of the Soap Opera ‘General Hospital’

General Hospital, also known as GH, is an American soap opera listed in the Guinness Book of World Records for being the world’s third longest-running American soap opera. Interestingly, it is still in production. The show also holds the record of winning 14 Daytime Emmy Awards for Outstanding Drama Series. 

The producers of General Hospital are Frank and Doris Hursley (spouses), and the series was originally set in the hospital of a fictional town named Port Charles. 

General Hospital from the 1960s to 1970s

The longest-running American soap opera, General Hospital, premiered on 2nd April 1963. The early plots of the series were about the happenings on the seventh floor of the General hospital of an unnamed town (the name Port Charles wasn’t mentioned until the 1970s). 

The early General Hospital episodes’ storylines revolved around the two main characters: Nurse Jessie Brewer and Dr. Steve Hardy. Dr. Hardy is the Chief of Internal Medicine, while Jessie is married to a much younger Dr. Phil Brewer. Most of the early storylines of the series had the marriage of Jessie and Brewer as the main plot. 

In 1964, Audrey March (a new entry in the show), a former flight attendant, came into a relationship with Dr. Steve. Other notable characters during the 1960s and 1970s include Diana Taylor, Med Bentley, Jane Harland, and Sharon McGillis. 

In 1971, a storyline in which Audrey is accused of killing her son’s babysitter pushed the series to number 1 position for a brief time after beating the ratings of As the World Turns

In 1972, the storylines revolved around Brooke Clinton and Howie Dawson’s involvement. While in 1973, Audrey gets married to the alcoholic Dr. Jim Hobart; however, she soon realizes her true feelings for Dr. Steve. In the same year, the character of Augusta McLeod entered the show. 

In late 1974, Phil Brewer is murdered by a paperweight, and his wife Jessie Brewer is put on trial. 

The show gained the number one position in 1972, but unfortunately, the ratings went low in the mid of 1970s. The reason behind the poor ratings was probably the easygoing storylines and plain plots of the series. It was the character of Dr. Lesley Williams that helped revive the grace of the series. However, the characters of Kin Shriner and Leslie Charleson played a significant role in picking the ratings up. 

Now that there was a risk of cancellation, the new writer Douglas Marland took over the position and started writing. Douglas Marland was subjected to challenging situations as he had to develop better ideas after objecting to the storyline. When Laura, Lesley’s daughter, became the show’s focus, the series began to catch up to its older ratings. 

In 1978, Gloria Monty was brought as the new Executive producer of the series, and her task was to bring the ratings back in 13 weeks. As Monty was an experienced director, she subsequently succeeded at bringing the ratings up. She is considered the one who increased the pace of General Hospital by introducing action-adventure storylines. However, due to some disagreements, Marland left the show, and Pat Falken Smith took the position as the new writer. 

General Hospital during the 1980s

During the 80s, the storylines had changed. In 1981, the main focus remained upon Luke, Robert, and Laura, who saved the fictional town of Port Charles from the evil acts of Mikkos Cassadine and his ice princess weather machines. This was when General Hospital bounced back to high ratings and became the highest-rated American soap opera. The series kept this position from 1979 till 1988, after which they had a tie with The Young and the Restless. 

In 1981, the wedding of two shady characters Laura and Luke brought the series into the limelight, and around 30 million people watched this show. This super couple of Luke and Laura later became one of the most popular storylines in soap opera history. This wedding was so popular that even Elizabeth Taylor asked to make a guest appearance; she then appeared as Helena Cassadine. Under Monty’s direction, the series got several great pairings, including Duke Lavery and Anna Devane, Frisco Jones and Felecia Jones, etc. 

As the major characters like Laura, Luke, Dr. Lesley Webber, Heather Webber, and Scott Baldwin left the show, the ratings started to come down again. However, the appearance of new characters helped in making up for the loss. 

In 1987, Gloria Monty left, and General Hospital went into the transition phase. The action and adventure themes were not as popular as before. In the same year, H. Wesley Kennedy took over as the executive director, but in 1989, Kennedy was replaced by Joseph Hardy. 

General Hospital during the 1990s 

In 1990, the storyline changed again, and Robin Scorpio befriended an alien from planet Lumina named Casey Roger. The ratings changed, but it wasn’t much of a success. In an interview with Chicago Tribune, Leslie Charleson said, “It seemed every year we were getting a new producer who brought in new writers. The writers wouldn’t do their homework; then they’d tell us, ‘Make it work.” 

In 1991, Gloria Monty came back to save the day. At the same time, Anna Devane and Robert Scorpio reunite after both being a part of super couples. However, both of these characters left due to some issues. In late 1991, Gloria Monty was fired for not being able to bring the show on number 1; instead, it went from number two to number seven. 

In 1992, Wendy Riche joined the series and hired Claire Labine as the head writer in 1993. These two were said to have brought the series into a ‘Womansense” era. They succeeded in bringing the series back to medical focus and gathered much appreciation for handling the social issues sensitively. 

During the 90s, several characters, including Luke and Laura Spencer. Alongside old characters, several new characters were also introduced, including Sonny Corinthos and Lily Rivera. 

In the mid-90s, the ratings started declining; the loss was too much, and it took a lot of time to make up for it. However, the HIV storyline helped in gaining appraisal as the tragic love story of Stone Cates and Robin Scorpio gathered many audiences. 

In 1998, the storyline again went back to the time when Luke raped his now-wife Laura; this was the idea of the associate head writer Michele Val Jean who was herself a rape victim. Val Jean was raped at the age of 12, and she used her personal experience to bring authenticity to the story. The romanticization of rape always bothered Val Jean, and she managed to break that image too. 

The Millennium Era of General Hospital 

In the 2000s, once again, several changes were made to the series. In 2001, Wendy Riche said goodbye to the series after working as the executive director, and Jill Farren Phelps took over the position. Phelps faced some negativity in the early few episodes because of the dark storylines. After the 11th September attack, ABC ordered less violence or warfare storylines. 

On 17th April 2002, the 10,000th episode of General Hospital was aired, which revolved around the longest-running cast member Rachel Adams. The episode showcased the long history of the series. 

During the 2000s, the series had dropped to number four and was popularly known for its violent storylines. In 2004, the month-long storylines began. 

In 2007, the series was listed among the 100 Best TV Shows of All-Time. In April 2009, General Hospital became the first ABC soap opera to be broadcasted on high-definition television. 

On 23rd February 2018, the 14,000th episode of General Hospital was aired. After 13th January 2012, General Hospital was the only soap opera that was still airing. 

Conclusion 

General Hospital has been a part of the American entertainment industry for more than half a century. Even in 2021, there haven’t been any announcements by ABC about the cancellation of the series. So, we can guess that the series will keep on airing for some more years. Meanwhile, if you feel watching soap operas is just too heavy for your heart,  you may consider watching different strokes. It is one of the most well-loved American sitcoms that aired for almost a decade.