As Thanksgiving approaches, General Hospital executive producer Frank Valentini took to social media to share that the ABC soap opera truly has something to be thankful for: it has safely and successfully finished 17 straight weeks of production without any setbacks due to COVID-19.
"Thank you GH Crew and Cast for keeping us safe and working!!" Valentini shared. "A grateful, thankful week off awaits us all!"
17 Straight weeks of production w/no shutdown-thank you GH Crew and Cast for keeping us safe and working!! A grateful, thankful week off awaits us all! @GeneralHospital #NoJinxPlease #bestCrew pic.twitter.com/AKN7cc2g6B- Frank Valentini (@valentinifrank) November 21, 2020
General Hospital joined all four daytime dramas in a forced hiatus in March of this year due to the COVID-19 pandemic. With no new episodes being made, each of the soaps began airing classic episodes to fill their airspace throughout spring (except Days of our Lives, which had an advanced filming schedule that allowed it to continue airing new episodes throughout the year). As soon as they were able, each show began taking steps to return to production with strict safety protocols in place. While all four daytime dramas have done their absolute best to keep their cast, crews, and sets COVID-free, not all have been successful. Here's a recap thus far:
The Bold and the Beautiful
After suspending production on March 17, The Bold and the Beautiful became the first U.S. scripted series to resume production when it restarted on June 16. But just one day later, B&B had to push pause again to modify its testing protocol after what the producers described as "several false positives." Following a switch to a new lab, the CBS soap resumed production once again on June 24, and its first brand-new, mid-pandemic episode aired on Monday, July 20.
The CBS soap nabbed mainstream news attention when its executive producer, Brad Bell, revealed that in addition to safety protocols like social distancing and wearing masks, the show was using mannequins and actors' real-life spouses to film intimate scenes. The publicity was so intense, Bell decided to "dress up" the mannequin point even further by writing an unusual storyline in which one of the mannequins came to life and began romancing the character of Thomas (Matthew Atkinson).
In October, B&B celebrated the taping of its 100th episode since returning to production following the coronavirus shutdown. However, it hasn't been smooth sailing. A staffer from B&B tested positive for COVID-19 back in August, and as a precaution, the studio moved up the show's dark week for that month and added a second dark week. Meanwhile, a B&B crew member tested positive for COVID-19 in mid-November, forcing the CBS soap opera to once again change its filming plans and squeeze two days of scenes into one day of filming before the soap took its Thanksgiving break.
The Young and the Restless
The coronavirus pandemic forced The Young and the Restless to suspend production on March 17, and the CBS soap was able to resume filming new episodes on July 14, with original episodes beginning to air once again on August 10. The CBS soap had been working toward a July 6 return, but the date was pushed back due to a sharp uptick in coronavirus cases in California and a tightening of restrictions.
Unfortunately, in early November, two people connected to Y&R tested positive for COVID, one of them being actor Donny Boaz (Chance Chancellor), who had to be recast with actor Justin Gaston, the real-life husband of Melissa Ordway (Abby Newman).
In the early days of the pandemic, Greg Rikaart (Kevin Fisher, The Young and the Restless; ex-Leo Stark, Days of our Lives) became one of the first soap actors to test positive for COVID-19, which he called "the hardest experience" of his life. Jordi Vilasuso (Rey Rosales) and his family also contracted coronavirus, which they said was a terrifying experience because COVID-19 is "a very nasty, scary, mean virus." Neither Rikaart's nor Vilasuso's diagnoses are said to have affected Y&R production.
Unfortunately, COVID-19 took the life of playwright and former The Young and the Restless actor Terrence McNally (ex-Dr. Robert Lynch), who passed away in March due to complications from coronavirus.
Days of our Lives
Days of our Lives was the last of the four daytime dramas to announce production suspension plans in March, doing so on the 18th of the month. It was already in a planned hiatus when the industry shutdown hit, so the NBC soap chose to extend its dark period. DAYS was also the last to resume production when the shutdown ended; due to its advanced filming schedule, it was the only soap opera to have so much new material already in the can, it was able to continue airing original episodes throughout the year and did not have to rely on airing classic episodes as the other three soaps did. It returned to production on September 1.
Though DAYS fans were treated with brand-new episodes all year long, they did have to get used to one major change due to COVID: longtime DAYS performer Melissa Reeves chose not to return to her role as Jennifer Horton during the pandemic, so actress Cady McClain (ex-Dixie Cooney, All My Children; ex-Rosanna Cabot, As the World Turns; ex-Kelly Andrews, The Young and the Restless) was called in to take her place.
Unfortunately, DAYS had to amend its production schedule in mid-October when one of the show's crew members tested positive for COVID-19. As a result, the NBC soap was forced to halt production while the DAYS' Burbank studio underwent a deep cleaning and contract tracing was completed. Thankfully, the production pause did not cause a delay to network airdates, and viewers didn't experience an interruption of material on-screen.
In addition to keeping the show mostly COVID-free over the past couple of months, DAYS managed to accomplish something else rather spectacular: earlier this month, it went ahead with its annual Day of Days fan event -- which the show held virtually for the first time ever.
ABC's General Hospital began its coronavirus shutdown on March 16 and was able to resume filming on July 22, with new episodes beginning to air on August 3. The ABC soap had originally planned to return in early July but the date was pushed back amid a spike in coronavirus cases in the Los Angeles area.
At the time of the shutdown, GH had about a month-and-a-half allotment of episodes already taped. To help extend the run of original content, the soap got creative and inserted additional flashbacks into episodes and aired throwback episodes on Fridays. Eventually, however, the show did run out of original material and resorted to airing classic episodes.
Though GH was able to avoid COVID-related setbacks over the course of the last 17 weeks, the ABC soap did have to temporarily recast the role of Sam McCall when portrayer Kelly Monaco took a brief break from the show following some breathing issues that happened when GH resumed production in July. Actress Lindsay Korman-Hartley (ex-Cara Castillo, All My Children; ex-Arianna Hernandez, Days of our Lives; ex-Theresa Lopez-Fitzgerald, Passions) temporarily stepped into the role while Monaco quarantined and took COVID-19 tests -- which thankfully all came back negative.
Though Monaco tested negative for COVID, a few actors from GH tested positive for the virus in the early days of the pandemic, including Chloe Lanier (Nelle Benson), Paulina Bugembe (Valerie Spencer), and Emma Samms (Holly Sutton). Luckily, all of the actresses have since recovered, and none of their diagnoses affected GH production.
For more information, check out this list of Soap Central news stories that focus on how the coronavirus outbreak has impacted the daytime community.
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