On July 12, 2007 the cable network Soapnet launched their much hyped spin-off of ABC's daytime drama General Hospital to the best rating the network had ever seen. For weeks before that initial episode, the PR promised us a gritty, late-night soap that would show viewers what happened in the hospital after the sun went down.
Though based at the Port Charles hospital, with many of the same characters as the daytime show, the thirteen episodes of Night Shift never left the hospital (unlike GH) and their storylines were completely independent of the daytime show, with little to no crossover. In some ways, that it made enjoyable and accessible to the viewer who didn't follow General Hospital, but for those of us who did watch both the daytime serial and the weekly night time series, it was a huge distraction at times.
One of the few crossover storylines was the premise to get Dr. Robin Scorpio and Dr. Patrick Drake assigned to the Night Shift. It occurred during the final week on GH before the premiere when the doctors operated on a patient without health insurance, defying a direct order from chief of staff Dr. Ford. Their punishment was to work the next thirteen Saturday nights in the ER to repay the hospital for the expenses incurred.
Epiphany was also crossed over to the spin-off show, no real explanation given, and that first night in the ER brought Jason and Spinelli in to General for treatment, when Jason's sidekick shot himself in the foot. When it looked like Spinelli was going to be charged for reckless endangerment, Jason stood up and took the blame. In episode two, "Skin Deep," he was sentenced to community service at the hospital, making him a fixture there for the remaining twelve episodes.
Along with those chosen regulars from daytime there were two new doctors, three student nurses, and a janitor who was played by the legendary Billy Dee Williams to make up the core cast. With a style that attempted to blend the genres of soap opera with night time serial medical drama, we were introduced to new patients and new stories every week. Some plots wrapped up within a single episode, others arced through two or three episodes, and one, the mystery of the angel of death, lasted the whole season.
I think what made General Hospital Night Shift appealing to so many soap fans was the single set of the hospital as well as the focus on the interpersonal relationships of the characters: doctors who helped each other battle with addiction, student nurses helping each other with their learning, doctors interacting with their patients, and the romance of the serial's hottest couple of the past summer, Robin and Patrick. Too bad, the show was the catalyst for their demise.
Because Night Shift was a thirteen week series, storylines had to move at a faster pace than daytime is used to, but they were still able to stretch them across a few episodes to keep viewers on the edge of their seats. The end result was that during that final episode the viewer cared what happened to each and every character because we had been brought into their lives and relationships in a more effective way than is often done on the parent show.
In as early as the first episode we learned there was a serial killer on the loose in the halls of General Hospital when an ambulance exploded. Later it was discovered a tank of nitrous oxide had been left on, but that is was no accident. We also met an elderly woman who was first thought to be an attention seeker, but had accidentally stabbed herself in the gut while trying to fix dinner. In later episodes she would return to the emergency room when pneumonia set in because she couldn't afford the antibiotics she was prescribed, only one of the edgier stories the night time drama dared to take on.
Later episodes took on drug addiction among war veterans, the patient's right to die, and the ever present in the real world question of the health care system and health insurance. Through the entire course of the season the hospital was in danger of being taken over by Med Corp, an MHO. Even though it was much more focused on the hospital than the daytime show, we were still treated to gang and gun violence in the final episode "Time Served."
Some of the more irritating themes of GH didn't change just because the sun had gone down. Jason still played superman on more than one occasion and was always the one to save the day when it needed saving. He also was the one — with Spinelli's help — to figure out student nurse Jolene was the angel of death. We also had a few loose ends at the end of the series, including the burn victim from the ambulance explosion in episode one. All we knew of her was that her last name was Barrett and in many of the first episodes she had near misses of running into Jason.
Rumors and spoilers indicated she was going to end up being Jason's long lost love Brenda Barrett and that she would return to General Hospital at the conclusion of season one of Night Shift. Unfortunately, that was dropped and she was released from the hospital as Jason was being picked up from his night job by Sonny Corinthos to return to his daytime life as a "coffee importer."
Because the actors and actresses of the daytime drama have very strict shooting schedules, it was only feasible to film Night Shift during the summer months when General Hospital goes to a four day a week shooting schedule, making the actors and actresses who crossed over available on Fridays to film the spin-off. Because of that restriction, viewers will probably never see a season that is more than thirteen weeks long.
Plans are on the table for a second season of General Hospital Night Shift; we can only hope the writers' strike hasn't delayed preproduction so long that it has to be pushed to the back burner.
The disc has Dolby digital stereo sound which is an extra special treat for the episode "What Becomes of The Broken Hearted" when we get to see Billy Dee Williams' character Toussaint sing the old Temptations song that is the title of the episode in a dream sequence. The video is presented in 1:33:1 full screen adaptation.
The only extra on the disc is a behind the scenes clip called "On the Set at Night Shift." It's a very slick addition in which the cast explains the shooting schedule and the differences between this and its parent show. If you didn't already know Night Shift was a sexier, grittier version of General Hospital that point will be driven home by the time you're done watching the clip.
Reviews of specific episodes of General Hospital Night Shift can be found on BC Magazine.