Marking The Occasion
Executive Producer Frank Valentini Weighs In On The Past, Present and Future Of GH
Soap Opera Digest: When the show turned 50 in 2013, did you think it would make it to 55?
Frank Valentini: You know what? Honestly, I wasn’t sure, but you always hope. The daytime picture wasn’t as rosy as it is right now. Having come off of GUIDING LIGHT, AS THE WORLD TURNS, ONE LIFE TO LIVE and ALL MY CHILDREN being canceled, things looked kind of bleak, so that’s why we sort of poured everything we had into the 50th anniversary. I thought, “This could be our last party.” Thankfully it wasn’t, but you never know.
Digest: Looking back, what do you think the excitement surrounding the 50th did for the show and its future?
Valentini: I compare it to reinvesting in something; it’s like you reinvest in your house or a property or a relationship or something that you really care about, and I feel like that’s what we did. We put all of our energy and all of our money into that anniversary show and that week. Shortly after that, we did the Nurses’ Ball, and I think it was kind of an indication to the audience that we believed in them and the show, and that we were asking for them to believe in the show and us, and they did!
Digest: What was the atmosphere like on the set for the 55th anniversary show?
Valentini: It was really fun! It was a very, very large cast and a lot of people just were catching up and chatting, so it was very noisy, but very good! Everybody did a great job and a lot of socializing. The stage managers were very, very busy trying to keep things quiet. But there was a lot of laughter and a lot of hugs.
Digest: Looking back at the last five years of story, what are you most proud of?
Valentini: Since the 50th, I think the biggest achievement that I’m really proud of from the whole team — the cast and crew — is the consistency that the show has managed to have over the last couple of years. I don’t think we ever hit a low point; I think we’re always working very hard to outdo ourselves. We came off of a really exciting combination of the Jason/Sam/Drew triangle and then we went into the 14,000th episode and then we went into the earthquake, and now we’re going into the anniversary show and soon to be coming into the Nurses’ Ball. Along the way, there were lots of really great stuff mixed in, a couple of really fun, fan-favorite returns and also the big story of Maxie losing Nathan and the funeral. I feel like the achievement of consistent storytelling and consistent, high-quality production is really what I’m most proud of. I feel like the show is very, very healthy and in good shape: story-wise, cast-wise and everything.
Digest: What do you consider your biggest challenge running a show in the current daytime climate?
Valentini: I think it’s not only the daytime climate that’s challenging, I think it’s the way that people consume media and entertainment with Netflix and Amazon, etc. It’s very, very challenging to have so many outlets and so many possibilities and so many options in terms of viewing to fight for attention, to fight for publicity, to fight for promotion, and to keep the show as exciting and surprising as you want it to be so that people are compelled to tune in every day.
Digest: How involved are you in the storytelling aspect of the show?
Valentini: I talk to the writers probably every other day. I try to leave them alone for 24 hours because they have such an impossible job to continue to come up with story every day and to continue to weave in the many characters that we have on the show and to make sure they’re doing things within the financial constraints that they are under. But I do get involved and let them know when I see something that’s working in the studio or something that I’m excited about or something that the actors are excited about, and because they’re on the other coast, they don’t get to see things that we do until they air. Sometimes if something is really special and it jumps out at me, I’ll send them a clip of it ahead of time.
Digest: Are there any stories you regret doing or wish you could go back and take another stab at?
Valentini: No, not really because I think we learn from the things that didn’t work as well as we wanted them to. I think if we didn’t do them or attempt them, we wouldn’t have that experience under our belt to go forward. I try to take everything we’ve learned and never make the same mistake twice.
Digest: What role would you say fan feedback plays in your approach to storytelling?
Valentini: You have to be careful because there’s a lot of misinformation out there and a lot of, if you will, fake opinions of people who are just trying to push a certain agenda. But I think it’s important to listen to all of the comments and all of the things that people care about or don’t care about, and it’s often they’re either really happy or really angry and that’s good because they’re involved and they care and are invested in the show. I think that unfortunately, a lot of times the audience doesn’t understand that there’s a lot of stuff that happens behind the scenes that are either out of our control, or things we are not at liberty to discuss for legal or political reasons. If something is upsetting to them, that’s frustrating because we can’t say, “Well, this happened for this reason and we’re not allowed to talk about it.”
Digest: How do you feel when the fan anger is directed at you? Do you take it to heart? Do you just have a thick skin about it and let it roll off your back?
Valentini: I think it’s a little bit of all of those things. I can understand their passion and I welcome their passion and I wouldn’t want them to be any less passionate about their show, their characters, their actors, and that’s when I have to have a little bit of a tough skin. Sometimes if they don’t agree with some decisions either I’ve made myself or the network has made or the writers have made, I can’t explain it to them. Some things are out of my control, but I defy anybody to find somebody in this building who cares more and works harder than I do in the interest of GENERAL HOSPITAL staying on the air.
Digest: You have a lot of veterans on the show that the audience is very passionate about. How does it feel for you to carry that legacy?
Valentini: It’s a big cast and sometimes it’s a little overwhelming to manage everyone’s schedule based on some of the financial constraints that we have, but we try to do our best and bring in the people that make sense around some of the present stories that we’re telling. Sometimes stories just lend themselves to the veterans. I don’t think anybody has seen as much of Monica in the last six years as we saw in the previous 15! I love Leslie [Charleson], I love having her around, and there’s a lot of story that’s involved with her being the chief of staff at the hospital and her being the matriarch of the Quartermaine family. I think that from Tracy’s departure and A.J.’s death and Jason coming back, she’s been sort of front and center and very top of mind for the audience. I think they really love seeing her and we love working with her and she’s a very important part of the GH tapestry.
Digest: Will we be seeing Lynn Herring (Lucy) again or any other fan favorites for the Nurses’ Ball?
Valentini: Yes, Lynn Herring will be back for the Nurses’ Ball. We’re really excited to see her and have her bring her energy and joy to the set. She’s just such a pleasure.
Digest: Was the lawsuit between ABC and Prospect Park a source of stress for you and were you relieved when it ended?
Valentini: Yes and yes.
Digest: Now that it has been resolved, is it possible we would see any characters from ALL MY CHILDREN or ONE LIFE TO LIVE in Port Charles?
Valentini: Yes, and that is something we’d love to do, but it really has to come up organically. We’ve definitely tried to do a couple of things but there have been some conflicts with actors and their availability. If something comes up in the future and it makes sense, we’ll make it work.
Digest: Looking at your current canvas, you really have an embarrassment of riches in terms of actors. Is that sometimes a blessing and a curse because you need to keep them all in story?
Valentini: It is a blessing and a curse, but I think that Chris [Van Etten, head writer] and Shelly [Altman, head writer] are doing a magnificent job of keeping all the balls in the air and no one is sort of left by the wayside. And if they are, then they come roaring back in a big way shortly thereafter.
Digest: The Emmys are coming up on April 29. What did winning back-to-back Emmys for Outstanding Drama Series in the past two years mean to you?
Valentini: Oh, it was overwhelming! It was the first time I had ever won an Emmy for Drama Series as the executive producer, and it was really exciting, and exciting for the whole team. We work so hard during the year that when it comes time to have a little bit of a celebration, it’s fun to just let loose and be proud of what we’re doing. To be acknowledged by your peers is really fun.
Digest: What would you say is the most rewarding thing about your job at GH?
Valentini: Getting in my car at the end of the day and knowing that this team did their best; that we’ve given everything we possibly could that day and hopefully, we did a really good job and made some people either laugh or cry or feel good or they’re moved by something that we did. I feel like we try to do that every day.
Digest: What does it mean for you to be the executive producer of the longest-running, scripted show on television?
Valentini: It’s honestly daunting and overwhelming that I have that responsibility, but I take it very seriously and hope that we can not only top what we did on the 50th, but it brings a whole new group and generation of fans into the GH family of viewers.
Digest: Thoughts on the show making it to 60?
Valentini: That would be awesome! I think we can do it.
Check out our new podcast, Dishing With Digest!