60 Years and Counting – How “General Hospital” Honors its Past with the Nurse’s Ball While Stepping into a New Future

“There's no way to condense 60 years of history into one show or one storyline,” General Hospital co-head writer Dan O’Connor said during a TCA press conference. One of the last remaining soap operas on daytime television, GH began on April 1st, 1963, the brainchild of husband and wife Frank and Doris Hursley. The series has had a generational impact and given rise to some superstar Hollywood careers, including Demi Moore, John Stamos, Mark Hamill, Ricky Martin, and more. To celebrate this historic milestone in the show’s history, the beloved Nurse’s Ball event returns on April 3rd, kicking off a season of surprises that includes the return of Jane Elliot as the legendary Tracy Quartermaine. “We thought the best way to honor the past of the show and the future of the show and where we are going is to use the Nurses' Ball as a jumping-off point, as an opportunity to bring our beloved cast and characters together to acknowledge what we had done in the past and to set up storylines for the future.”



“I go way back, as you know,” joked Genie Francis, who has played Laura Spencer since 1977 and recalled that when she first began, there wasn’t room for mistakes or retakes. “We did it as though it were live. It was terrifying. I remember having to underdress clothes and trick the clothes so that you could exit one set and rip them off as you ran to the next one. There was no such thing as making a mistake. That was really hard on me.” Thankfully, things changed over the years. Today, it’s fine to take a second pass at a scene if needed and the show isn’t filmed at such a frantic pace. “I was talking about this and the stress that I was under as such a young kid, my father telling me, ‘You can't make a mistake,’ and my sweet producer who said to me, ‘You can make a mistake now.’”

“I love the pace of the show,” added Rebecca Herbst about the way GH is produced. “I love that we get in and get out, and we do 250 episodes a year. For me, it never gets old. I still get excited when I drive onto the lot. I still love the smell of the studio. I just enjoy doing it all. I like that we work fast. We don't get bored. I don't get bored.”

Like Genie Francis, Kristina Wagner has spent decades with the GH family, portraying Felicia Scorpio (née Jones) on and off again since 1984. “I leave most of the time because I need to grow up in a different way,” Kristina revealed. “I started pretty young, and the first time I left was because I went through a divorce and I went to school. I went back to college, and it enriched my life so much, and I'm really grateful that I did do that. And when I came back, I wasn't on contract, and I didn't really quite feel like I was a part of the show. I just kind of made appearances. And it wasn't until just this November where I came back on, this last November, I came back on contract, and I feel the love again. And I feel really welcome, and I'm really grateful to be back.”

“I watched the show as a kid, and it's amazing to be a part of the show,” shared Donnell Turner, who stars as Curtis Ashford, a role he’s held since 2015. “The writing, it's relentless in its pursuit of excellence, and so to be a part of something like that is pretty amazing, especially growing up watching it.”

On the opposite side of the casting spectrum is Nicholas Chavez, who plays Spencer Cassadine. “I had no preconceived notions about what this show was or what filling this kind of role would look like,” the 23-year-old actor explained. “I didn't watch the show or any other soap opera before I came on. But I will say that my ability to adapt to this fast-paced environment is due in very, very large part to the people who I'm surrounded by, both the veteran actors and actresses, who have been so generous with their knowledge in handing down their experience and talent and wisdom, and then also that of the writers, who have been so courteous to me in terms of catching me up on 60 years of soap opera history. And anytime I have a question that I feel directly relates to the storyline at hand, there are a plethora of people who are at the ready to help me.”

If you ask any longtime GH fan why they continue to tune in daily, they’ll tell you it’s the relationships. And one that’s felt like years in the making is that of “Spina” – the couple's name for Spencer and Trina. “As somebody who is a big romance fan, I think the slow burn is necessary,” Tabyana Ali shared, who took over the role of Trina last year. “There's something about the tension that draws in the audience, and I think that's also a reason why we're bringing in more audience, because of the tension and because of the pacing of it. Especially in the day and age where relationships happen so quickly, I think it's really nice to see two young people, two interracial people that love each other try to get closer with one another and also try to jump over the barriers that are created, not only just from them, but from their environment. And they learn how to work through it together.”

“From the writers' perspective, we can say that among the things that we want to do and have been doing and continue to do is to cultivate our core family, is to grow them to create new core families,” co-head writer Chris Van Etten shared about GH’s current strategy to keep viewers engaged long term, with Spencer continuing to take on bigger roles in the main plot. “Laura's family is always going to be around, and there are lots of opportunities to grow.”

The landscape of soap operas has changed a lot, with GH standing out as one of the last ones still broadcasting on daytime TV. “We all thought we were out of work,” Maurice Benard said of the ups and downs of playing Sonny Corinthos since 1993. “And then [Frank Valentini, EP] came in, and he saved the job. And then after the pandemic, he saved it again. So, you've got to feel strongly about GH as long as Frank's there. We're doing so great on Hulu and everything.”

“When I came in, it was a really tricky time,” executive producer Frank Valentini added via video call during the panel. He took over the role in 2012 when the end was in sight, turning the ship around and steering it in a direction that is set to continue for the foreseeable future. “The imagination that Dan and Chris and the talent and hard work that they bring to the show just continues to revitalize. Next year we'll celebrate 61. It won't be such a big celebration, but I think every year is an accomplishment to stay on the air and to be relevant, and to be something that people talk about and care about.” Frank also shared that the actors often influence the writers’ choices for their characters, and in turn, the writers are always trying to give the actors new challenges. “We value not only the actors as performers, but as human beings and part of the company and part of the family that is General Hospital.”

The 60th anniversary celebration of General Hospital kicks off on Monday, April 3rd, with the long-awaited return of the Nurse’s Ball. Episodes stream on Hulu a day after their ABC premiere.

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Alex Reif
Alex joined the Laughing Place team in 2014 and has been a lifelong Disney fan. His main beats for LP are Disney-branded movies, TV shows, books, music and toys. He recently became a member of the Television Critics Association (TCA).