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From General Hospital writer Karen Harris - Life In General and Greenville General


Sometimes, in life, all the pieces fall into place.

The winter of 2007 was difficult. The Writers Guild of America went on strike. It was a time of fear, as well as purpose. My own anxiety was grounded in a feeling of helplessness. I, who deliver a script a week to General Hospital, was suddenly left with nothing to do. Pencils down, picket signs up. I’m not great at doing nothing (though I often tell myself it would be fun – it’s not), so I knew I’d probably show up on the picket line a lot (hey, it’s a chance to network, aka gossip) and join committees, and be involved. I did, and it was just what I needed. I also did the well-known ‘writers waltz’ – how many spec scripts could I write between picket assignments and committee meetings. The problem is, I’ve never been great at spec work. I want to know that there’s somewhere for my efforts to go, and someone waiting to see it. So I would march, and serve on committees, and try to understand the politics of the business in which I work. And feel as if my life was once again under someone else’s control.

Then one night at the Santa Monica Civic Auditorium, someone from United Hollywood announced something about StrikeTV. I only heard enough to know this was my opportunity. This was something I could write, create and oversee. No one to rewrite me, or give me notes. I knew the story I wanted to tell. It already existed in a different form.

Life in General had first reared its head in the early 1990’s. I’d done my first tour of duty as a scriptwriter on General Hospital. (P.S., the fact that both General Hospital and Greenville General both revolve around a hospital is the only thing they have in common). This was new territory to me. I’d spent fifteen years as a writer and producer of prime time shows, mostly action-adventure like The Incredible Hulk, and Knight Rider, Street Hawk, and a bunch of shows no one’s heard of. I did pilots for Universal and Aaron Spelling, and movies of the week for Fox. But my bread-and-butter shows were taking a break, comedy was king, and when a friend asked me to write General Hospital, I took the leap.

The feature film, Soap Dish had come out, and I thought it was terrific. Then I discovered that the real behind-the-scenes was funnier, dirtier, sexier and way more dangerous. I wanted to do something realistic about the goings on at a Daytime Drama. I actually pitched it around – the story of the people who work on the second longest running serialized drama on US television…the beloved Greenville General. And Life in General was such a perfect title. But it was hard to get anyone to bite. Behind-the-scenes stories of movies and television series were considered a bad bet. So the concept got tucked away in my drawer. Besides, I was getting myself a helluva daytime education from the brilliant Claire Labine, and adjusting to the transition from a primetime career as a writer/producer/show runner to being a full blown, full-time Daytime writer. A few years later, after a year as co-head writer on GH, with the very talented Robert Guza, I went back to more traditional syndicated hour television (Highlander, Highlander: The Raven, Jack London’s Tales of the South Seas, and more). I was also pitching my own shows – and Life in General came back out of the drawer. I rewrote the concept, incorporating some of my more recent experiences and relationships. Still no sale. I couldn’t seem to get the real heart of it across. So I decided to write the script. Maybe that would better sell it. I wrote the Teaser and the beginning of Act I. 12 pages that I loved.

But the work was interrupted in 1999, when I went back to Daytime as a Headwriter on Port Charles. This led to more Daytime, more syndication, then a year on All My Children, then 3 years back on General Hospital, which felt like coming home. I’d settlee into a very comfortable routine – perhaps too comfortable. And then, the Strike.

I’m not kidding, when I heard about Strike.TV at this meeting, I leaned over to some of my GH colleagues and said “Want to do a show?” They looked at me as if I’d lost my mind. I had. They had other things on their minds, but I knew what I had to do. I went home and pulled out the concept of Life in General. It was still really fun. But I knew I had to do something to make this special for the internet. Something different, and unexpected. And it was obvious – tell the story of Life in General, and then follow it with episodes of the show they all work on…Greenville General.

Maybe that’s what it always needed. It suddenly took on a whole other personality. I polished up the teaser (which is now the entire pilot episode) and I wrote the soap scenes. I found a way to make the two thematic – to see the headwriter, Winnie, go through her day, and to see how what she experiences informs what she writes. And how what she writes translates to a daytime drama. In a perfect world, both elements of this concept will find a following. You don’t have to watch one to appreciate the other – if you’re a big soap fan, I hope we’ll create a show in Greenville General that will be must-see. I hope that Life In General provides insight and humor, and real drama to the sometimes silly lives we lead. Both shows will have classic elements, of love, betrayal, envy, and obsession. Each feeds the other. I hope they’re both entertaining. And I hope that Greenville General will better introduce the world of Daytime Dramas, a world I have come to love, to people who think they wouldn’t be caught dead watching a soap opera.

I’m going to save some inside chatter for next time, but here’s a few tidbits. People who follow serialized dramas want to know if these characters are based on real people. Of course they are. Just like Winnie writes from her own experiences, so do I. But not in the way you may think. Winnie Marshall isn’t me. I’m not a ‘creamy skinned, willowy blonde with a trace of an Atlanta accent’ except maybe in my fantasies. But Winnie has my feelings, and my fears, and some of my experiences. I’ve never met Doug Marland or Agnes Nixon, but Greenville General’s creator, Raymond Kennedy, represents, in my mind, these icons of the world of Daytime Television. The executive producer of Greenville General, Mary Kate Walton, is not based on any one executive producer I’ve worked with. She is, in fact, based on every one of them. And some supervising producers, and a couple of directors I’ve worked with. As we move forward, these characters will become more well-rounded, familiar, and human. And I also plan to explore the changing world of Daytime in today’s entertainment landscape.

As for the making of this show -- I hadn’t produced a television show in a very long time. In Daytime Dramas producers and writers barely even intersect. But this was like riding a bicycle – all my instincts kicked in, and I knew what I had to do. Gather the best group of people around me that I could. Work with actors I love. Find crew who could be passionate about what we were creating. And make it good enough that we could do it again, and again, and again. With any luck, what you see on Strike.TV is just an introduction to what can become an ongoing series. I, personally, would love nothing more than to do it again.

Life in General became one of the most joyful collaborations of my career. It would be my lifeline at a time when my world and my future, like all of ours, were uncertain. We had been given a truckload of lemons, but damn it, I would make lemonade.

“Life In General” was an idea simply waiting to be born. I thank all who helped birth this baby. And I honor the work, commitment and talent of a great group of human beings in the cast, crew, and at Strike.tv for figuring out how to make dreams come true.

Karen Harris – Writer/Creator/Executive Producer
“Life In General”/”Greenville General”

To be continued…

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Can't wait for the show

As a long-time soap fan I just love this behind the scenes "show within a show" stuff. I can't wait to see it! I heard about the show on The Daytime Dish a "down and dirty" soap spoiler site where we "dish" about damn near everything. I hope we get to dish about this too.