You never know what’s going to happen on “General Hospital” these days – and that’s just how the creative team behind the show prefers it.
Flanked by 11 of the soap opera’s most popular stars, executive producer Frank Valentini and head writer Ron Carlivati explained at the Paley Media Center in Beverly Hills on Friday during the 50th celebration of the long-running soap that much of the show’s recent success can be attributed to the fact that plot twists and casting coups simply aren’t getting leaked.
How have they managed to keep surprises like the resurrections of characters such as Stavros, Duke and Robin from being revealed ahead of time?
“It’s very easy – threats,” deadpanned Valentini.
Carlivati said the show came up with the idea to use fake names in the story lines so that not even other actors are aware which performers and characters are coming back.
“We have script writers who use aliases in our scripts,” Carlivati explained. “Brenda (Vanessa Marcil) was ‘Mildred,’ Jax (Ingo Rademacher) was ‘Martin,’ and Nikolas (Tyler Christopher) was ‘Francis.’”
“Faison (Anders Hove) was ‘Bob,’” chimed in Finola Hughes, who plays fan favorite Anna Devane.
“That was a ‘Twin Peaks’ shout-out,” said Carlivati. “Bobbie (Jacklyn Zeman) was ‘Betty.’”
“'Nurse Betty,'” chuckled Zeman, who’s played Bobbie Spencer, R.N., since 1978.
“We have a million of them,” Carlivati continued. “Ethan (Nathan Parsons) was ‘Solomon.’ We couldn’t keep track of them. We even had writers saying, ‘Who is this?’”
The strategy has worked well – perhaps too well.
“We wouldn’t know they were code names so we’d memorize the code names," said Jane Elliot, who plays Tracy Quartermaine. “Even when we called in for our call times (the outgoing message would say), ‘Jane, your call time is this. Bob, your call time is this.’"
One alias actually made it to the air.
The show disguised the return of real-life fitness guru Richard Simmons, who used to teach exercise classes at the Campus Disco back in the late ‘70s and early ‘80s, by calling him “Ricardo S.”
“Sabrina said (on air) to Richard, ‘Right this way, Mr. S,’ ” chuckled Carlivati.
Those looking for future story lines were disappointed, as Valentini didn’t bite.
“I’m the secret guy,” he said. “Ron gives away more than I do.”
“There’s a new person coming to town who’s going to really shake things up,” Carlivati vaguely teased.
“That’s good,” said Valentini.
“Oh, just give ‘em some code names,” joked Elliot.