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News for the week of 27-Jan-2014

by Carol Banks Weber

Several key daytime players gave their thoughts on the resurgence of soap operas, among other related topics, at a recent National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences event, well attended by the press. Tony Geary (Luke) favorably compared current executive producer Frank Valentini to his former boss Gloria Monty, in that both were tasked by the network to save GH. The difference, Geary said, was that Monty in the late 1970s had a wealth of financial backing at her disposal to turn the soap around, which she did by avoiding the soap style (she hated soaps), whereas Valentini had to make-do with a very limited budget. Former soap writer Michael Maloney pointed naturally to the writing for the success or failure of any show. Fans will stick with their favorite soap up to a point. But if the writing consistently sucks, even they will abandon their shows and it’ll take an awful lot of effort to get them back. The secret to successful soap writing is to maintain that inter-generational, familial connection with core characters fans have grown to love with fierce abandon, not to reinvent the wheel. “I think we watch [soaps] for the reasons we’ve always watched them: To find that familial connection, to be entertained, to find characters we love and care about and become involved with,” Maloney said. “And I think we’ve seen a resurgence in ratings recently because people still are taken by these characters, and they care about them and they want to keep that relationship going.” DOOL casting director Marnie Saaita seemed to agree: “I think that at the end of the day, daytime is about relationships, and it’s not story driven, it’s character driven. And it’s kind of like a warm blanket. It draws people back in, and I think right now, ‘General Hospital’ is a huge testament to that, because they’re bringing back all of these old characters, and we wait for people to get reunited. The fans are coming back, people are watching, their ratings are going up, and that formula works. And it’s a beautiful thing. And so I don’t know how much updating [the genre] really needs, honestly. I think it’s staying true to what it is, and I think there’s a need for it, I think people want it. It is like that warm blanket that people crave. And it’s communication between the generations; it’s a granddaughter talking to her grandmother. It’s common language, a common ground that you can find to communicate with people. I think it’s wonderful.” Thanks to Soap Opera Network’s West Coast Editor Kambra Clifford for the article.

Kimberly McCullough (Robin) will exercise an out in her contract to shadow a Grey’s Anatomy director starting next month and direct her own movie in May. The actress leaves with the show’s blessing. But her character? Not so much. “Oh, it’s definitely not on good terms,” McCullough said. “But at the same time, I don’t really feel that [headwriter] Ron [Carlivati] or [executive producer] Frank [Valentini] want to kill Robin Scorpio. In a way, it’s very redundant. It’s overkill. And we just did that, so that’s not the direction that they’re probably going to take it.” Her shadowing is a part of a Disney/ABC directing program, Talent Creative Diversity — one she’s been involved with for two years. Don’t worry, though, she’s not gone for good. She likes the open-door policy of GH; it enables her to achieve the balance between directing and acting, something she’s recently had to get used to. After directing for so long, she said it took her awhile to get used to being in front of the camera as a lead. “I had been shadowing a bunch of directors on a bunch of different shows, and for a year and a half, I had basically been quiet and sitting in the background, so it was really different for me to step in front of the camera again and have that kind of attention,” she said. “Because literally, for a year and a half, I’d been playing that game of the invisible woman, like, ‘Don’t notice me! I don’t want to get in the way, I don’t want to bother anyone,’ and then all of a sudden, you’re being asked to say, ‘Look at me!’ So it’s a totally different mode.” –Soap Opera Network, January 20, 2014, Kambra Clifford interview

GH is in a very good place right now, assured executive producer Frank Valentini (that’s god to the cast and crew). Soap Opera Network’s Kambra Clifford was on hand at the recent Television Critics Association event in Pasadena to get a January 20, 2014 status update from the miracle worker himself. Everyone, from cast and crew to fans and critics, were taken aback — pleasantly so — by the resurgence of GH, especially after nearly falling victim to AMC/OLTL’s fate. Valentini said he was also surprised by the latest ratings surge, which he believed spoke to a “reversal of the trends” for all of TV programming. Certainly the reason for the success goes to a solid regime, head writer Ron Carlivati was singled out, and a symbiotic relationship between GH and the network heads, Executive Vice President Vicki Dummer and Manager-Current Series, Primetime/Daytime Nathan Varni. “[They] are very smart about story, really get it, understand it, love the shows, support us 1,000 percent and are really trusting us, and we trust them. It’s always got to be a two-way street. It hasn’t always been that, and right now it is, so we’re open to input and they’re open to trusting us, which is great.”

Executive producer Frank Valentini had a hand in Kimberly McCullough (Robin) getting that Grey’s Anatomy shadowing gig (she starts in February). He told Michael Fairman for a January 24, 2014 report that they’ve become good friends and he supports her whether she stays at GH forever, which he’d love, or whether she needs to direct from time to time. Fairman caught up with the executive producer at the ABC Television Critics Association cocktail reception. Valentini didn’t get into too much detail about February Sweeps, other than to promise it would be full of wonderful surprises — the same thing he told Soap Opera Network’s Kambra Clifford in her report. He did allow a few teasers in the making of the February Sweeps. Head writer Ron Carlivati had planned on Silas coming on board slowly, all of the OLTLers really, burdened with the secret about his wife way before it came out. This was intentional, to build on the investment fans have with him and Sam. February Sweeps will try to reward fans for their patience. “The entire writing team, and especially Ron, work so incredibly hard to make it satisfying. I am watching the shows for February Sweeps that are in the can, and I am watching them in post and scoring. They are really fantastic. It’s a great month, and it’s a month that pays off day after day, which is what we have been doing for the last six months.”

Kimberly McCullough (Robin) took Michael Fairman through the acting process in those return and reunion scenes for a January 21, 2014 On-Air On-Soaps interview. Fairman and McCullough were at the ABC Television Critics Association cocktail party the other weekend for the lengthy interview, McCullough’s lengthiest yet. Not one to give in easily to on-screen tears, McCullough gave herself permission to let it flow. She had good reason. Her father in real life died about two weeks into her return filming. Nobody on-set hovered or coddled her, she wouldn’t want that. But those close to her stood by and let her know she was doing good in a quiet, supportive manner, whether they knew what she was going through or not, which she seemed to appreciate. McCullough described the process: “I had a lot of tears to get rid of, and I had no time to go away, and hide, and grieve. I have always felt control of my life as an actor, but this last time when I was on the show, I did not feel as in control at all. If you have seen me cry more that is why. It was very traumatic, but I had the support of people from GH. Actually, not that many people knew about it. I didn’t really talk about it, but they knew something was up. Finola didn’t really say much of anything, but she would look at me, and go, ‘You’re good.’ And by her doing that, it kept me strong during that time. I love the people I work with, and even our executive producer Frank Valentini, had a moment where he would go up to me and say, ‘You’re good … you’re cool.’”

McCullough took Fairman through a good amount of moments in her GH return, moments of pride, of complete trust, of even holding that thought during a two-week break. When Emma first sees her mom in the church and comes running, McCullough let her wishful maternal instinct shine through, as well as the mentor she’s been to the child actress, as one who benefited from Finola Hughes’ (Anna) mentorship once. Full circle. “What I remember, to be completely honest, is being so proud of Brooklyn [Rae Silzer]. That was a moment that I felt proud. It was like a generational thing, that only soaps can do. Finola was there for me when I was a kid, teaching me and making me feel safe, and now I was just trying to do that with Brooklyn. It was a really cool moment. I think it was easy for both of us to do that scene. I think we bonded. I am so proud of her.” McCullough changed her line to “Mommy’s here!” in the emotional moment of that scene, referencing her own biological clock ticking for a daughter of her own. “It just came out that way. Personally, I want a daughter so badly. I want a kid, and so that is what came out of me and my fantasy of having a little girl, and to be able to comfort and make sure everything is OK. It was a very personal moment and satisfying.”

Working with Jason Thompson (Patrick) was like slipping on an old, comfortable pair of loafers, to hear McCullough tell it. She earned his trust early on when he was just a shy newcomer open to learning the ropes. Thompson could’ve put up walls, copped major attitude, and acted like a know-it-all, throwing a wrench into the works. But he didn’t; he opened himself to her fully. “So we were able to build something, because if I am working with an actor at the beginning that is cocky, they are not allowing themselves to trust me. So he allowed himself to trust me, and I trusted him. It was awesome and that is why we are such good friends now.”

The moment everyone was waiting for came and went and came again. McCullough disclosed to Fairman that she and Hughes were able to lock eyes as characters for the first time in two years. But then they called cut and took a two-week break, leaving the good friends and actresses hanging. “Finola was great; she was like, ‘Seriously? Alright. Well, see you in two weeks.’ So on-air, you saw Robin look at Anna, and Anna look at Robin. [Then] it was ‘cut.’ Then two weeks later, we had to try to match that, and as an actor that is a very hard acting exercise.” Knowing this was a pivotal scene, McCullough again relied on that experienced trust in her co-acting partner. Hughes didn’t let her down. “Again, I would look at Finola, and tell myself, ‘OK. What do I know, right now? I know Finola is always there for me. I can always trust Finola. She is going to pull it out, and Finola is going to be great.’ So, when she is great, it has the potential of making me great and so it’s fine.”

In a bit of ominous foreboding, all that Sabrina bashing may turn around when fans see what Robin does before she exits next. That’s what McCullough said in answer to Fairman’s talk about the Sabrina backlash. “When they see how I leave GH, they will be all about Sabrina. I only have this week and next week left to tape, and then I am done.”

William deVry (Julian) credited the current regime of Frank Valentini and Ron Carlivati for turning GH around and giving notice that soaps are back. He remembered back not so long ago when network heads weren’t ready to let go of the controls, “I think the network in the past, traditionally, has said, ‘Hey, I’m going to hire you as my executive producer for this show, and you go do it.’ Then, for the longest time, they decided to want approval and final say on everything, and they were having final say on everything, and everything just starts looking the same; there’s no variety, because it’s their personal tastes.” Leaving it all up to Valentini and Cartini has proven to be a ratings bonanza for GH. Like Tony Geary (Luke) said in a recent industry event, deVry also compared Valentini’s restorative work to Gloria Monty’s in her heyday. GH was going down the toilet. But she came in and “brought it back to life, and it hit ridiculous highs and made a ridiculous amount of money for the network, and all of a sudden, it became viable again. So I think that’s what’s happening right now. We’re a viable operation again. We’re making money, we’re setting the table for the primetime shows, and we’re keeping the audience loyal for the primetime shows. It’s great.” Bringing back core, beloved characters like Anna, Robin, Duke, Scotty, and Lucy will certainly help bring GH back to fans who’d long since left, he said. The word of mouth alone is priceless, deVry continued. “And then those fans are going to start telling their friends, the friends that used to watch the show and say, ‘You should really check it out again,’ and before you know it, I think we have room to grow. That being said, there are a lot more things on TV, so there’s a [definite] ceiling, with everything that’s available now, but hopefully we have room to grow. I mean, we went from the high two millions to 3.5 million viewers in six months!” deVry would like his character to delve further into his newfound family, trying to win the love of his son Lucas and daughter Sam, as well as maybe trying for a home run with Alexis. Julian’s never gotten a chance to even try with Alexis yet. His portrayer would like to make that happen, even if the relationship tanks in the end. –Soap Opera Network, January 22, 2014, Kambra Clifford interview

William deVry (Julian) has only good things to say about GH. Well, except for a few GH fans he’s had to block. In a January 24, 2014 interview with TV Source Magazine’s Angela Romack, the actor spoke highly of all his co-stars, of the show, of the entire genre of soaps and its ratings high. deVry, like executive producer Frank Valentini, Maura West (Ava), and Kimberly McCullough (Robin), was at the recent ABC Television Critics Association cocktail reception the other weekend. Uppermost in deVry’s comments is enormous gratitude at getting such a bountiful role and with such outstanding actors to play with, everyone from Maurice Benard (Sonny) and West, to Kelly Monaco (Sam), Ryan Carnes (Lucas), and Nancy Lee Grahn (Alexis). He knows he’s a blessed man. “I am surrounded by the best of the best that’s left in daytime… We’ve all done movies, we’ve all done primetime, and we all just love daytime. We just love the challenge. It’s a pleasure being here. I’m really, really fortunate [to have such wonderful people to work with],” deVry said, smiling. If there’s anything he could tweak, it’d be ramping up a romance of some sort between his and Grahn’s characters. He said he’s not the only one on board with that. “I think the fans are really wanting that, first of all. I think Nancy has kind of been on the show for you know, 10 years with no real love interest that’s really worked out well. So I think the fans are dying for that. … I think that [the fans] would love to see us get back together. I can’t wait to see what happens.”

The popular Habitat For Humanity Annual Fan Build Day returns with a rare opportunity to hammer and nail a home for a worthy family alongside GH stars, including some new additions. On March 8, lucky L.A.-based fans will help build a new home alongside Dominic Zamprogna (Dante), Robin Mattson (Heather), Rebecca Herbst (Elizabeth), Lisa LoCicero (Olivia), Kathleen Gati (Dr. O), Maura West (Ava), Kelly Thiebaud (Britt), Jimmy Deshler (Rafe), and William deVry (Julian). LoCicero and Brandon Barash (ex-Johnny) were the GH stars who first thought this idea up. LoCicero is very excited to bring everyone together for a good cause again.

Maura West (Ava) gave insight into her acting style in Michael Fairman’s On-Air On-Soaps, January 23, 2014 interview. (She, too, was at the ABC TCA Television Critics Association cocktail reception.) None of it was surprising, given her take-no-prisoners presence in whatever character she’s given. She serves the script, she doesn’t let the script serve her. Whatever it calls for, she’s game, up to and including turning around and romancing a man young enough to be her son. Executive producer Frank Valentini tested the idea with her two weeks before the shift to gauge her comfort level. As shy and retiring as she really is — a mom who prefers to play board games with her children — she’s an actress. Luckily, she’s an actress who got paired up with a nice, respectful co-star in Bryan Craig (Morgan), that younger love interest. “Bryan Craig is a great guy. He is a very mature young man. It’s actually a wonderful romance to me. I just said, ‘I’m game. I’ll play.’ That’s what I am here to do. I am not here to be sedate.  Bryan is very respectful during the love scenes. I am always very shy doing that kind of stuff, and always have been. I am a reserved woman in many ways. … But Bryan is a great scene partner. He is present and always prepared.”

In a network-sanctioned, January 21, 2014 cast Q&A, Finola Hughes (Anna) wished there were more cast interaction, while Dominic Zamprogna (Dante) answered the secret to Dante and Lulu’s success as a couple (longevity). Take it away, Anna Jackson!

Hughes especially loves the relationship developed between Anna and her daughter Robin, which made her character who she is today. She also loves to crack the whip as the town’s police commissioner, a role usually reserved for leading men. If only more characters could intersect is all. “I would like to see all of the characters in Port Charles intertwine more. It would be interesting for all of them to have more of a connection with one another. Currently not all of the characters interact with each other.”

Of all the soap stories Dante’s been involved in, Zamprogna felt the most with the recent custody battle fallout. The actor believes the secret to Dante and Lulu’s popularity is their longevity. Staying together three years is quite a feat in soaps. “I think that fans respond to Dante and Lulu favorably because they have remained together for the better part of three years. They’ve gone through so much together and remain a strong couple.”

Finola Hughes (Anna) previews some exciting times for her character, despite having to suffer two major losses (bye, Robert and Robin!), in a January 23, 2014 interview with Soap Opera Network’s Kambra Clifford. Hughes said Anna and Dante will have their hands full in their own procedural part of the show, including a possible mob showdown. Again, she credited the current regime of executive producer Frank Valentini and head writer Ron Carlivati for the improvement. “There’s a real rhythm to the show now, and I think people are responding to it, and they are feeling very comfortable knowing that they’re in good hands. I think it was a sink or swim kind of mentality, and everybody just knuckled under and we pushed forward. We have a great leader with [executive producer] Frank Valentini, and a fantastic headwriter, Ron [Carlivati], and it all just pulled together. Maybe in the beginning it was bumpy, and we were all trying to find our feet, but they’ve got us into this wonderful kind of show rhythm. We keep surprising the fans, and it’s tune-in-TV.”

Most movie stars of Shirley Jones’ experience are content to retire. But she’s not one of them. As nervous and scared as she gets before performing in front of audiences, she still goes out there and does it. She appeared on DOOL as a guest star and will do the same on GH for the February 5th episode as Mrs. McLain, a witness to quite a gravesite. She was also on her way to record an album to promote an upcoming Broadway show called Maxeys at the time of her Highlight Hollywood interview, posted January 22, 2014. “It’s done differently, Tommy. This time we are doing an album to promote an upcoming Broadway show to raise money to get it produced, not the other way around. I won’t be doing the Broadway show [Maxeys], but they wanted me to record a song, and I was happy to do so. I’m staying busy, that’s for sure.” She’s also performing next month at the Café Carlyle in New York City. Doing GH was a kick for Jones. She especially enjoyed acting with Dominic Zamprogna (Det. Dante Falconeri). But everyone there was very kind to her. “I really loved working on ‘General Hospital.’ Everyone is so professional, and so (involved). I had the time of my life on ‘Days’ and now on ‘General Hospital.’ The production team and the cast are all so amazing. And I hope viewers will watch, it’s a fun role and I think the storyline is going to be very interesting for them. I really enjoyed working with Dominic Zamprogna, who plays Dante. He’s such an interesting young man.”

In a clever twist recalling the Asian Quarter storyline of the 1980s, Brad revealed to Lucas at the Floating Rib that he, too, came from the mob as the son of Kim Wu. Whoa. Portrayer Parry Shen (Brad) was just like the fans when he read that in the script. He went back and researched that part of GH history and thinks it’s an awesome addition. That it gave his character a little more investment in Port Charles couldn’t hurt either. “You start seeing another side of Brad. Even though you know he’s kind of a prick, he’s [also] kind of ashamed of his dad because he took it to a whole new level where it’s about murdering and stealing from people who are weak and Brad just doesn’t want any part of that. Deep down he’s a human being. He’s not getting into the family business. He’s been adopted – he was bullied. We get to see why he turned out to be the way he is,” Shen said. Getting an exciting love triangle’s also pretty friggin’ awesome for the character actor who’s played it all and finally gotten to latch onto a regular gig as the side man who steals the show. When he and Ryan Carnes (Lucas) got their first scenes together, Shen admitted he kind of felt like he was cheating on Marc Anthony Samuel (Felix) for real. The two have become buddies — Samuel took Shen under his wing, knowing what it’s like for the new guy — and share a similar need to run lines before scenes to be fully prepared to play. Carnes approaches the acting a little differently, which is great for Shen too. “Ryan’s a pro and he works differently from Marc. It makes it almost easier because when I was starting to have a lot of scenes with Ryan, and not with Marc, I did feel like I was cheating on Marc… the way Brad is cheating on Felix on the show. I kinda miss being with Marc, but it’s also fun with this new guy too. The way Brad interacts with Lucas is a very different kind of connection than with Felix.” As for playing a gay prick, forget the gay part, Shen approached this tricky role by simply remembering that we’re all human. He referenced his being Asian along the same lines. “I know people were always saying they didn’t like Brad just because he was kind of a prick, but then a lot of other people are saying they’re tired of seeing just one kind of dimension of the gay guy always being this one dimensional guy being this goodie two-shoes. Sometimes people are pricks! There are people that are jerks that you can’t stand. Nothing to do with sexuality at all,” Shen said. “I go with that being Asian also. All I played for awhile was the Asian goodie two-shoes, who either delivers food at the door or was the translator. I did a movie called ‘Better Luck Tomorrow’ [released in 2002] where these high school kids ended up committing a murder and people were like, ‘Oh, this is such a negative portrayal of Asian Americans.’ [Film critic] Roger Ebert was actually in the audience and he kind of like stood up for our movie and said, ‘That’s very offensive because you wouldn’t say that to a bunch of white filmmakers… how could you do this to your people?’ There are so many facets of being Asian, same with being gay. Felix, Brad and Lucas… they’re three very different people, but they’re all gay. I love that even though we’re all playing gay characters, they are all still very different and I think that’s great.” No matter what Brad’s sexual orientation, Shen tries to portray him with truth, as a flawed human being. –Soap Opera Network, January 24, 2014, Errol Lewis interview

Rick Hearst (Ric) returns February 24. He last left in June of 2009.

The network renewed GH for 2014-2015. Head writer Ron Carlivati re-signed a new contract, too.

Change in schedule. Emily Wilson (ex-Ellie) will still be a guest star in Castle, for the “Dressed To Kill” episode. It’s just that her January 27th appearance has been moved to February 3rd. Wilson plays Grace Jacobs, a fashionista dreaming of becoming a staffer under Modern Fashion editor’s Matilda King. Grace could be the number one suspect when Matilda King is found murdered.

Scott Reeves (ex-Steve) joins the GH Fan Club Weekend roster this summer. He’ll repeat hosting duties as “Nashville Nights with Scott Reeves and Friends” kicks off August 4, 9 p.m.-midnight.

Ilene Kristen (ex-Roxy, OLTL) soon returns to GH to play Ava’s mom, Delia (also from Ryan’s Hope). Kristen was last on GH in October of last year.

Gossip for the week of 27-Jan-2014

by Carol Banks Weber

When Kimberly McCullough (Robin) exits GH, fans may actually want her to go after her character pulls such a dramatic, selfish stunt. Robin may learn of Sabrina’s pregnancy truth, then purposely refuse to let Patrick in on it. Dr. O causes a GH lockdown, and that’s when Patrick finds out about some of Robin’s shenanigans, which perturb him. This is when Robin’s post-trauma will come out, including “putting Emma at risk,” forcing Patrick to “commit Robin.” After realizing Patrick has never stopped love Sabrina, Robin will bail to be with her father. Daytime Dish, January 20, 2014

Jason Morgan returns in the form of a recast. Let the speculation begin.

Michelle Stafford (ex-Phyllis, Y&R) may turn up as Nina, which is ironic considering her last soap character was just in a coma.

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