How to improve General Hospital

For the Week of January 24, 2011
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I'm not talking about the little things that make us all scratch our heads, like why Brenda can't find shirts with sleeves that aren't too long for her, or why Chief-of-Staff Steven Webber doesn't have an office and has to do job interviews at the nurses' station. No, I'm talking about the essential elements that make soaps magical.

Our search for a Two Scoops partner for Tamilu begins this week. This week's column comes from Jennifer Biller, who you may remember from her work in our As the World Turns section. Please read over her column and let us know what you think. Would you like to read more from her? Click here to let us know!

Someone call a doctor. General Hospital is in fair condition and needs some tweaking, STAT!

I'm not talking about the little things that make us all scratch our heads, like why Brenda can't find shirts with sleeves that aren't too long for her, or why Chief-of-Staff Steven Webber doesn't have an office and has to do job interviews at the nurses' station. No, I'm talking about the essential elements that make soaps magical.

I've watched General Hospital for more than 30 years, so yes, I do feel qualified to write a prescription to make the show better. Granted, I'm not a doctor, but if someone offered PhDs in daytime, I would have earned mine by now. I've watched pretty much every soap on the air -- daytime and nighttime -- from Days of our Lives to Santa Barbara to Beverly Hills, 90210, so my powers of observation are keen on what works and what doesn't in soap plots. Evil twins, aliens, surprise illegitimate children, clones, characters back from the dead, sure, I've seen it all.

That's why as a longtime viewer of General Hospital, I can be silent no longer. The show that once had me racing home from school and work to watch the adventures of Jax and Brenda, Robert and Anna, Frisco and Felicia, Sonny and, well, everyone, has left me disheartened and a little angry.

I know not all of you will agree with my suggestions on how to improve General Hospital, but I think we can all agree that the show can be better. It has been in the past. General Hospital has plenty of talented actors; that's not the problem. Ignoring show history and couple chemistry, uneven storyline balance, and gratuitous violence are the problems.

So, after an extensive examination, here's my "professional" prescription to make GH better.

Bring back the core family: calling Jason, Michael, and all Quartermaines!
The biggest mistake General Hospital ever made was eliminating its core family, the beloved bickering Quartermaines. Every successful soap requires a central family (or on some shows, two core families) that acts as the nucleus and foundation for the show. The core family gives viewers years of familiarity and plenty of warm, fuzzy, dysfunctional moments. (i.e., The Newmans and the Abbotts - Y&R, the Chandlers - AMC, the Bradys - DAYS, the Bauers - GL, the Snyders - ATWT, etc.)

The first order of business should be to return the Quartermaines to the front burner and integrate them into the current storylines. Michael should be the first to get in touch with his roots and the ELQ family business. It would keep him out of the mob, making Jason and Carly happy, and give the Quartermaines a new generation. Next, if not first, Jason should also go "home." It would set a good example for Michael for Jason to start having a relationship again with his family. It's clear he's been having regrets about his choices and how he treated Monica, Alan, and Edward after his accident, and Brenda already has been encouraging Jason to visit the Quartermaines.

I'd also love to see A.J. and Alan return from the "dead." Yes, I know it's not believable, since they're six feet under, but it's not like "dead" characters haven't risen before. Maybe Helena has been keeping them cryogenically alive under the hospital for years? Hey, I'll buy anything if it gets the Quartermaines back in town.

The canvas is rich with Quartermaine history and there is so much storyline potential, especially for A.J., if the writing is done well this time. (He has plenty of unfinished business with Jason, Michael, Sonny, and Carly.) Michael should get to know his real father and finally understand that A.J. gave up his parental rights because Sonny tortured him into doing so, by hanging A.J. in a freezer from a meat hook and threatening to kill him. There have been plenty of comments lately about how Jason and Carly made the wrong decision, by taking Michael away from the Quartermaines and moving him into a mob family, and I would love to see this explored further. Can you imagine the drama if A.J. could finally tell Michael the truth? It would set up plenty of tension between Michael and Sonny, and Carly and Jason.

Also, Ned needs to come home, pronto. Poor Edward is so desperate for an heir that he's ready to turn his company over to newly found family member Maya and (gasp!) Luke Spencer's son. Plus, Ned's daughter, Brook Lynn, is in dire need of a daddy. She's selling herself as an escort these days to pay the bills. (Lois must be proud.) Ned could teach Michael the family business, and hopefully dust off those leather pants and start performing at Luke's casino. That place could really use some customers. Ned has plenty of history with Brenda and Alexis, too, and I'm salivating at the scenes where Ned would finally greet his new stepfather, Luke. Ned has charm, good looks, and a wicked sense of humor. He's been sorely missed.

Why the Quartermaines have been treated so horrifically for the past 15 years is more puzzling than what's in Sonny's never-ending shipments. But GH can make this right. Getting in touch with the past could lead to some phenomenal tales in the future.

Storyline balance
We all have our favorite characters, and I'm sure the writers do, too. But we all know that moderation is key and that too much of anything, well, it isn't good for anyone. As much as I have loved Brenda Barrett since the moment she hit Port Charles, I think we can all agree that she's been monopolizing most of the storylines of late. This is a consistent problem with GH. It used to be Jason, Sonny, and Carly, nonstop, and now it seems to be Brenda. Why can't we get storyline balance? Do you know how long I've been waiting for Alexis and Mac to have some scenes that aren't two minutes long and a setup from their kids? I keep telling myself to be patient. But then I remember that it only took 15 years for Jason to go visit Edward and tell him that he was sorry for how he acted after the accident. Balance, people, that's all I'm asking.

Tone down the violence
When every Friday ends in a shootout, Port Charles, we have a problem. There is so much violence on this show that it has desensitized viewers and lessened the impact for storylines that could have benefited from a dramatic moment like a gunshot. I know the mob is the key player on General Hospital, so violence is a requisite, but frankly, I'm tired of it. Even peace-loving Brenda is shooting people these days. Sigh. Who is next to take aim, Morgan?

Shootings have always been a dramatic soap staple that, if played correctly, can have long-lasting impact. It worked for Dallas' J.R. Ewing and more recently gave As the World Turns some of its all-time best scenes, when Jack Snyder accidentally shot his brother, Brad, during a hostage situation. But, General Hospital has overused gun fights so much that I'm starting to think the show should become a western. I think villain Jerry Jacks got it right, when he was shot in the abdomen on the docks a couple weeks ago. Before tumbling into the water, he comedicly muttered, "Bloody Hell!" I couldn't agree more.

Take risks
General Hospital has never shied away from controversial storylines. It turned rapist Luke into one half of a romantic supercouple. It killed BJ and gave her heart to Maxie in a beautiful storyline. It gave beloved teen Robin HIV and killed her teen lover with AIDS. It brought the mob and all that intrigue to a daytime drama. While these days it's difficult to do anything truly shocking on daytime, to keep the genre moving forward, taking risks is essential. I'm not saying we need to have a Port Charles alien invasion or anything, but there are plenty of other risky moves the show could make.

Edward could start dating. (Can you imagine Tracy's reaction?) Jason could start having memories of his old life. (Hello, Quartermaines!) Michael could date an older stripper. (Wait, that one is already in the works and quite brilliantly, considering his dad used to own a strip club and dated a teenage Brenda Barrett.) You get the idea. Fresh ideas with respect for show history could bring some risky business to Port Charles that doesn't involve gunfire.

Romance can also be a risk. Considering the fan bases of couplings are so vocal through the Internet these days, I'm sure writers tread cautiously when considering potential pairings. But ignoring couple chemistry is a fatal flaw. Some actors/characters just click together. And the show does itself a disservice when it ignores those connections. (There have been plenty of examples where actors/characters clicked, but the writers didn't take a risk and utilize it: Jax and Alexis, Luke and Alexis, Mac and Alexis. Hmm, I'm sensing an Alexis pattern here.)

Full disclosure here, Scoopers. I've loved Brenda with Sonny and with Jax. But this time around, I'm loving her with Jason. Chemistry is subjective and a matter of personal taste. I get that. It sometimes changes, at least for me, when I'm watching a show. Sonny and Brenda aren't working for me this time, and I'm not sure why. Maybe it's the fact that Sonny has had one petite brunette after another in his bed (Lily, Hannah, Sam, Claire,) and has fathered children with, to quote Brenda, "all these different women!" Or maybe time has simply changed Sonny and Brenda.

Pairing Jason with Brenda would be a risky move, but an interesting storyline to explore. (He's best friends with Sonny, and it would send Carly over the edge!) Yes, I know it sounds crazy, and I should probably get a bodyguard for even mentioning such a possibility. (Do you think hotties Max and Milo are available?) But, I can't help it. I watched years ago when Jason took Brenda to the prom. They've always had a connection, whether it was a sibling one or something more, and this time around, it's stronger than ever. So, GH, take a risk and keep these two together in some type of a relationship, whether it be friendship or romance.

Some other risky business GH should consider? Stop making the cops look like morons. Let Lucky, Dante, and Mac actually solve a crime, instead of having to go to Jason and Spinelli for help. Note to GH writers: cop drama can be exciting, too. See NYPD Blue, Blue Bloods, and Southland for proof. And I know the probability of this one happening is about as likely as the cops ever solving a crime, but why not bring back the Nurses Ball? I know soap budgets aren't what they used to be, but this was as beloved a tradition as Dr. Hardy reading the Christmas story or the Quartermaines ordering pizza for Thanksgiving. No, we don't have Lucy Coe to keep things comedically moving along, but Maxie can hold her own with a good joke, and she can rock a couture dress no problem. There are plenty of talented singers and dancers in the cast to perform at the ball. (Several of them even have a real life band: Port Chuck rocks!)

Finally, get the characters all together and out of their "regular" places i.e. the hospital, their houses, etc. Some of my favorite GH episodes were at Luke's Club back in the '90s when the whole town would show up to gossip about one another, start a brawl, and entertain us. Having everybody at Jake's or Luke's makes for some fun television. And as I said before, that place could use some customers.

So, there it is, my fellow GH fans, my prescription to make the show better. I'm not saying GH is anywhere near a code blue, but because I love the show so much, I'm trying to fix the problems before the show ends up on life support.

Now, where did I put that phone number for Max and Milo?

Note from Jennifer: This column was written prior to the news that Rebecca Herbst is leaving General Hospital, due to storyline direction. However, this latest casting shocker fits perfectly with the theme of this article. One of the biggest problems on daytime, and General Hospital, is that beloved characters are often molded to fit ill-plotted, short-lived storylines. The fact that Liz has children with three different men and trashed her relationship with her first love, Lucky, by cheating with his brother, is very far from the Elizabeth Webber we all knew and loved. (We expect that kind of behavior from Carly but not from Elizabeth!) Liz has had little to do lately but answer the phone at the hospital nurses' station, since breaking things off with Nikolas, so I guess I shouldn't be surprised that it's come to this. However, I loved Liz from the minute she hit town, so after 13 years I'm sad to see her leave. Hopefully, she'll at least get a decent exit storyline.


Our search for a Two Scoops partner for Tamilu begins this week. This week's column comes from Jennifer Biller, who you may remember from her work in our As the World Turns section. Would you like to read more from her? Click here to let us know!

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