On April 17, 2002, ABC airs the 10,000th episode of the daytime drama General Hospital, the network’s longest-running soap opera and the longest-running program ever produced in Hollywood.
Created by Frank and Doris Hursley, General Hospital premiered on April 1, 1963. It was set in the fictional town of Port Charles in upstate New York, and focused on the lives and loves of the staff working in the town’s General Hospital. Prominent characters in the show’s early days included Dr. Steve Hardy (John Beradino) and Nurse Audrey March (Rachel Ames). On the same day General Hospital debuted, ABC’s rival network, NBC, launched its own medical soap opera, The Doctors. Both networks were attempting to capitalize on the success of prime time-medical dramas such as Dr. Kildare and Ben Casey.
General Hospital set a new standard for daytime soap operas by introducing dramatic action-adventure plot lines into the complicated mix of family and romantic issues that was the usual bread and butter of soaps at the time. Still, by the late 1970s, the show’s ratings had dropped to the point where it seemed on the brink of cancellation. In general, ratings for daytime soap operas were declining, a development some attributed to the fact that growing numbers of women–the target audience for the genre since the first of its kind, CBS’s Guiding Light, debuted in 1952–were entering the work force and weren’t home during the day. In 1978, Gloria Monty took the reins as executive producer of General Hospital; in a few short years, the show had become the No. 1 daytime drama, largely by captivating growing numbers of teenage audiences.
One of the big secrets to the show’s new success was viewers’ fascination with the romance of the “super couple” Luke Spencer and Laura Webber (known to millions of fans simply as “Luke and Laura”), played by Anthony Geary and Genie Francis. After bad-boy Luke stole Laura from her lawyer husband, Scotty Baldwin (Kin Shriner), their 1981 wedding became the most-watched event in soap-opera history.
In the 10,000th episode of General Hospital, Nurse Audrey receives a medal commemorating her 10,000 days of service. Rachel Ames departed the show in 2007. Among the more famous performers to appear on General Hospital over the years are Demi Moore, who got her start on the show, and Rick Springfield, who became a pop star due to his soap-opera fame. Other General Hospital veterans include John Stamos, Jack Wagner and Ricky Martin. Elizabeth Taylor, a longtime fan of the show, made a cameo appearance in 1981.
One General Hospital spinoff, Port Charles, ran from 1997 to 2003; another, General Hospital: Night Shift, premiered in 2007 (it ran for just two seasons). The original General Hospital celebrated its 50th anniversary on April 1, 2013.