It seems like whenever ratings get below dismal — and that is exactly where they've been on all the daytime dramas lately — General Hospital's head writer Bob Guza Jr. pulls a rabbit out of his hat, or in this case a much-loved veteran out of the closet.
This week Genie Francis returned to GH. Her character, Laura Spencer, woke from her permanent catatonic state to help daughter Lulu deal with her guilt over killing Logan. The way the story is being presented, viewers aren't one hundred percent sure if Laura is miraculously awake or if she another of Lulu's hallucinations. (She's been teetering on the edge of sanity for weeks.) It's no secret that Francis has only signed on for a short run, and viewers have been told this story arc will not end with Laura, yet again, slipping away to catatonia. So the hallucination scenario does seem likely.
Don't get me wrong, I've loved the scenes between Francis (Laura) and Berman (Lulu). They've been more engaging than Johnny and Lulu held up in the apartment when they were on the run, and more entertaining than Carly playing junior detective for Jason when she's supposed to be distancing her children from the mob. I only wish the powers that be would commit to a long-term story involving these vets the fans love so much.
The same can be said for the return of Rick Springfield (Noah/Eli) and Finola Hughes (Anna) this summer. Noah and Anna wrestled with the idea of becoming grandparents and rekindled their affair from the previous summer. Springfield's return also gave him the chance to debut the first single, "What's Victoria's Secret?" from his new album Venus in Overdrive via his Eli Love character, but will these two still be on the canvas when Patrick and Robin tie the knot this fall or will we see either one of them actually hold their granddaughter? Given the show's history for long-term stories involving family relationships, don't hold your breath.
Don't expect to see Genie Francis sharing any scenes with Tony Geary this time around either – it's not going to happen, though supposedly negations are underway to put these two on the canvas together for November sweeps.
In contrast, the second season of GH: Night Shift has been receiving outstanding ratings, the best Soapnet has seen to date. The hour-long, once-a-week drama appears on the cable network and is focused on the hospital – the relationships between the doctors, nurses, and their patients – after dark. Even though you won't mistake it for a soap opera, the stories are edgier, and because it's after prime-time cable they're sexier, too.
As with the daytime drama, Night Shift has called on some of the parent soap's familiar faces of the past. Tristan Rogers has reprised the role of Robert Scorpio and Antonia Sabato Jr. is back in the role of Jagger Cates, but the difference between NS and GH is in the stories.
Night Shift has two long running arcs this season. One has Rogers' character, Robert Scorpio, battling colon cancer. Rogers is quoted on his MySpace blog as saying, "I cannot imagine Gloria (Monty) ever allowing something like this to take place on her watch." This isn't the '80s any more. Soap audiences hunger for their characters to deal with issues that mirror what they have to deal with, including an ailing parent.
The story is being handled in a way that educates the public on the illness, but they are also finally addressing father/daughter issues between Robert and Robin — issues she's been trying to resolve all by herself on the daytime drama for nearly two years. The second long-running arc of the season focuses on autism. Jagger's young son, named Stone for his brother and Robin's first love who died from AIDS, was diagnosed during the second episode of this season and Jagger has been trying to come to terms ever since.
So, is it the focus on medicine (something naysayers criticize GH for is its mob fascination) or is it the focus on the interpersonal relationships that has made Night Shift a success? I think it's the careful blend of both.
So, while I hope TPTB at GH can reach a deal with Francis that will have her return long term, I'm not sure the vets are all it will take to bring up the ratings. The real key, I believe, is to take a cue from the successor and build storylines that focus on the interpersonal relationships of the characters and their families. It would also help if the stories moved at a quicker pace. It's a faster world we live in, and these shows aren't being watched solely by stay at home housewives anymore. Let's face it, that's a nearly extinct breed. The fans who are watching are recording it while they are at work, or catching the replay on Soapnet; either way, that hour is a precious one and if the show can't hold someone's attention, they're going to turn it off.
While we're making a wish list, why not turn the focus of the show back to the hospital instead of the mob? It's certainly working for Night Shift.