ABC’s Legendary ‘General Hospital’…The Production History
There is more detail on these rare photos from our friend Brett Henry, so please click on them individually, as I don’t want that to get lost in this article from 1989. This is a detailed look back at the whens and wheres ‘General Hospital’ was done over the years and focuses on the newly rebuilt Studio TV 54 at the Prospect Lot. Enjoy and share!
For a show that spends approximately 50 weeks a year taping, the cast and crew of ABC’s daytime drama ‘General Hospital’ received the ultimate gift in 1989: a brand new sound stage.
After 26 years of toiling at three different locations around Los Angeles, General Hospital’s cast and crew returned to the ABC Television Center (a.k.a.the Lot) as the newest residents of Studio 54 on December 15, 1989.
General Hospital was taped at Studio A/54 when it premiered on the ABC Television Network in April 1963. “Back then it was a simple 30-minute, three-camera show, with a small cast and very limited space.” recalls Jack Neitlich, vice president and general manager, Broadcast Operations and Engineering, who joined the company that year. “Since then the show has grown tremendously. The cast has, on occasion, numbered as many as 100 actors and actresses. We needed a place that could accommodate the growth of the show.”
The process of moving General Hospital back to the Lot actually began three years earlier. Roger Lund, vice president, Administration, West Coast, picks up the story: “In 1986, as part of a company-wide program of facilities consolidation, the decision was made to sell Sunset-Gower and relocate General Hospital. Coupled with an earlier decision to sell the 1313 N. Vine Street building, we were faced with the added pressure of having to relocate and house the entire On-Air Promotion Department.
Many ideas were discussed and rejected, including the possibility of consolidating two studios into one. But that would have meant a decrease in the number of facilities available for other shows. The final solution proved the most cost efficient, and Lund credits William J. Murphy, manager of construction with the ultimate solution.
Noting that the control rooms were actually detached from the studio, and had been completely renovated for the 1984 Summer Olympics, Murphy suggested that perhaps the best route to take would be the demolition of the old Studio 54 and its replacement with a new structure. This meant that a new control room wouldn’t be necessary even if the sound stage was built anew. Looking out on the structure, Murphy believes the company made the right choice. “Part of our job is to live with what we have, in addition to what we design and build her., says Murphy. “It’s a beautifully-constructed building, and I’m proud to have a part of the process.”
Employees of the Lot watched the five story, 76,000 square foot edifice go up beam by beam, block by block. It took just 18 months to complete and by December the facility was ready for its new occupants. Studio 54 sits on more than half an acre, and the actual stage portion is a massive 200 by 100-foot room that is 46 feet high to the grid, allowing plenty of room for lights and other equipment. It is actually 76 feet to the top of the studio portion.
While most situation comedies are taped on 10,000 square feet of stage, General Hospital now has a stage double that size. The lower level boasts 40 dressing rooms, a tutorial classroom, state-of-the-art makeup and wardroom rooms and offices for the On-Air Promotion producers. The upper level houses the GH production offices, as well as administrative offices for most of the On-Air Promotion staff.
More unique is the fact that the fifth floor floats on 467 specifically-placed rubber shock absorbers, making the floor independent of the building and thus eliminating the noise level down on the stage. No one was more pleased with this feature than Executive Producer Wes Kenney who had a voice in the design of the facility. “It’s a compliment to the longevity, success and popularity of General Hospital that we were consulted in the planning of this magnificent building,” he says. “While the Gower Studio suited our needs, our intention was not only to duplicate what we had at Gower, but also to improve on it.”
In addition to the technical crew, the cast is also looking forward to settling in at the Lot. But none are more nostalgic about the return than Rachel Ames and John Beradino, both of whom have been with the show since its debut.
Ames, who plays “Audrey Handy,” smiles warmly when remembering the early days of the daytime drama. “I joined General Hospital when it was 10-months-old. There was only one dressing room for the men and one for the women. We were a small family and it worked extremely well — we wore our own clothes, did our own hair!” She also recalls how they improvised when something was missing: “There were no windows in the rehearsal room or the dressing rooms, so Roy Thinnes painted large windows on the wall for us; it’s so grand having a real window in my dressing room!”
John Beradino (“Steve Hardy”) also has fond memories of his days on the Lot and says, “It’s great getting back to where my roots are. I don’t think we ever had the friends at Gower that we had at the Lot. It’s good to be home!”
“It was tough in the beginning,” says Beradino. “We were just a half-hour show and I’d get real frustrated by the lack of time to do things right.” Beradino developed a reputation for venting his frustration on his dressing room door. “They were made of plywood, so they always broke,” he recalls with a laugh. “I did it so many times they finally smartened up and put in a real oak door. I didn’t notice that, and broke two fingers once when I punched the damn thing!”
The final show at the Sunset-Gower studio was done on December 16, and the move began as soon as the curtain rang down on that taping. Moving a show as large as General Hospital is not an easy task — just ask Manager of Plant Services Gerry Routt — this was the third time he’s handled the giant chore. “We moved from Studio 51 here at the Lot to the Cahuenga Studios in October 1977, then to Sunset-Gower in November of 1978 and now back here to the Lot.” says Routt.
Though millions of fans won’t be able to detect a difference, it’s change will shine through the contented looks of cast and crew. “It ain’t easy folks, doing an hour-long show, five days a week., 12 to 15 hours a day,” adds Balme, “but working in this place will sure help.”