Head writer Ron Carlivati and his boss Frank Valentini have taken General Hospital from a show on the brink of cancellation, to the number one soap in the all-important women 18-49 demographic. Most critics thought GH was last year’s best soap, yet the ABC Daytime drama wasn’t even nominated for a Daytime Emmy in the writing or show categories.
On the Daytime Emmy red carpet, Carlivati spoke candidly about the storylines that will make Port Charles sizzle this summer, the Daytime Emmys and why he talks to fans on Twitter.
Daytime Confidential: The mob has returned to Port Charles in a big way. How are you ensuring that it doesn’t take over the show the way a lot of fans felt that it did a few years ago?
Ron Carlivati: I don’t have the ability to write the mob the way it was written before on the show. That’s not who I am as a writer, so I wouldn’t try to imitate what they did, because I think they did it so successfully. We have so many stories going on that I don’t think there’s really a threat of the mob taking over. The mob was a part of the show from way before there was a Sonny Corinthos, with Luke and Tracy and, back in the day, with Roy Delucca and Frank Smith. It was all about the mob. It’s always going to be an element of the show. You can’t write Sonny without writing the mob. So I love to learn and do my own spin on the mob.
DC: Everyone is guessing, but nobody seems to have cracked what’s going on with Fake Luke, Fluke or whatever you guys call him in the writers’ room.
RC: We did call him Fluke, which was pretty funny since the audience did that also. We put it in the script the day the two guys were on the screen because we had to call him something. So it was Luke and Fluke in the script. Tony [Geary] has some time off and I wanted to at least have the reveal that there were two of them [before he left] and get the audience ready for the next arc which is: Who is he? We managed to pre-tape some stuff with Tony while he’s gone from the canvas. We’re trying to keep the story alive while he’s not on the screen.
DC: Tony Geary looks like he’s having the time of his life playing this storyline.
RC: He really is thrilled. He’s thanked us a million times. He’s bringing so much to it. We can only write it. I don’t know how he’s going to play Fluke. He does such an amazing job of transforming himself. I heard people saying, like, “He’s wearing contact lenses. He’s wearing a wig.” I’m like, no, that’s Tony. I just love what he’s doing. People say, ‘What happened to Tracy? Why is Tracy so stupid?” I don’t think you wake up and say your spouse or significant other has been replaced by an exact duplicate. I don’t know why that would naturally occur to someone. And he has a very good reason for acting differently. He was locked up, drugged and zapped in a mental hospital. So I stand by Tracy’s behavior, even if the audience gives me some crap about that.
DC: Speaking of Tony’s production schedule, you’ve brought back a lot of audience favorites for short-term stories. Is that for budgetary reasons, or are you just utilizing characters when you need them for storyline purposes and sending them away when you don’t?
RC: I just love to draw from history. So if all of a sudden we can have Ric, or we can have Jax or someone like Spinelli back on, I love to do that. I can’t always do that and keep them on the canvas with the canvas being so big, but it doesn’t mean because they come and go that they’re gone for good. We’re telling a story where we knew Ric would be the fall guy, so Luke could get away with what he’s doing. But obviously one day he will be unmasked and then you’re going to have to see Ric.
DC: There was a huge fan reaction when the brownstone was mentioned . Are we going to see it return?
RC: I’m not promising it immediately because there’s a long way to go to get there, but we started renovations on it. We wanted a project that Michael could be working on and maybe where some of the young people are hanging out and we said, “Why not the brownstone?” To me, the brownstone’s like a character. It’s like bringing back Ric, or bringing back Heather Webber or bringing back Lucy Coe. It’s like bringing back the Nurses’ Ball. So it may take us a little while. I know people got very excited, but it is coming.
DC: Is the brownstone going to be mini-Brooklyn? There were references to the neighborhood being gentrified.
RC: That’s how we described it, so we’ll have to see how it all turns out.
DC: General Hospital has had an amazing year. The show has gained about a half million viewers. Are you guys cursed at the Daytime Emmys, because it seems wrong that you were shut out of the writing and best show categories?
RC: Look, I don’t know the reason. I only know what I submitted and I think it stacks up just as well as any of the other submissions. As far as how and why you don’t get nominated, that’s not for me to answer. Of course I’m disappointed, but at the same time, it’s not all about the awards. I’m just happy to be here and supporting everybody who is nominated and getting to see friends and people that I have worked with. So that part’s fun. And what is gratifying is the number of people in your field who are saying we got robbed. So that makes me feel better.
DC: Can you give us a few teasers about what’s coming up on GH?
RC: Nina got up out of the wheelchair and she’s mad as hell and not going to take it anymore! So that’s a story that’s heating up right now. We’ve got Patrick and Sam on the hunt for this driver [of the car that killed baby Gabriel], so that’s about to unfold. We’ve got a cat-and-mouse between Ava and Sonny living under the same roof, which is really fun. Our love triangle with the boys is going to start up again. That takes a very interesting turn.
DC: Is Brad’s mobster biological father going to appear as part of that storyline?
RC: Well, we connected him to the mobsters from the Asian Quarter, so once I let something like that out, I will eventually get back to that.
DC: You are one of the few daytime head writers who interacts with fans on Twitter, which I imagine can be both gratifying and terrifying?
RC: I had to learn it as I went. I will defend the show and defend our writing, so I had to learn how to do that, how to defend the show and not get into petty squabbles with fans. There are so many great people on Twitter. There are times that the “haters” make it difficult to be on there, because it’s such a turnoff that you want to go away from it, but I get such great feedback from all the nice people that I would hate to stop it just because a few bad apples are determined to spoil it. So I’m staying on, but I had to learn own to pick my battles.
DC: Do fans ever make comments about what they want to happen or references to the show’s history that make you think, “Ooh, I could use that?”
RC: I’ve got to say that the temptation is always like, I would steal that in a second, so I hope people don’t mind if I do.