Monday Blog: Nathan Varni on Daytime After Dark!
Nathan Varni, Manager, Current Programming at ABC, was the featured guest on soap podcast Daytime After Dark Thursday and chatted with host, Carly, about a number of exciting General Hospital (GH)-related topics.
When Carly, asked how writers, producers, and show executives judge how viewers are receiving a storyline, Varni said writers primarily use their gut instinct of show and character history and where it would likely lead. Writers come up with ideas and run them past their colleagues, superiors and subordinates, at the show.
“For a host of legal reasons,” writers cannot simply take a show idea/s from a viewer suggestion/s. That being said, Varni added that 8-10 times a year, show executives run focus groups, both in person and with newer technologies, making sure that those that make up the group are avid viewers by surveying them on show story and history. “We pay attention to social media, but we have to take it with a grain of salt, as there is so much of it,” Varni said. “Old-fashioned letters,” Varni added still provide writers and show execs with a gauge of viewers thoughts and feelings on story. “I read everything that comes across my desk,” he said. The comment line (323-671-4583) is a great way for a fan to let his/her feelings be known. “I like to take it all in.”
Varni and soap/daytime show executives in general are known not to look highly upon aggressive or vicious commentary. (Yours truly can vouch for this, as it was a theme repeated in the research I did for my Master’s thesis on the Save Our Soaps movement and online soap activism). With that in mind, Varni added, GH execs do like their show to continue to create conversation, even if they don’t always like the tone. “What you don’t want is the conversation to stop,” he said.
Varni made it clear that show runners know when viewers love or hate stories and characters. As an example, Varni offered the case of Michael Easton. Easton came on to GH with high viewer expectations, but many fans felt writers made poor use of his talent. Now Easton is on his way back, and executives have promised in the soap press they have exciting story ahead for him.
Varni also discussed a number of story/character-related issues fans have been talking about in various venues lately.
Fan fave Brooklyn Rae Silzer, may come back during spring break for a visit. Currently, TPTB have no plans to age up Emma, especially because she acts so well, fans love her, everyone at the show loves working with her, and he hopes (but didn’t imply anything definitive) the show can find something more permanent for her down the road.
Another young character’s fate may involve a visit to Shriner’s Hospital for Children. Liz and Jason will likely take Jake to Shriner’s, as Nikolas did with Spencer, so he can receive treatment for his injuries.
Sonny and Carly will, like any couple, experience some ups and downs, in contrast to their kissy-kissy, lovey-dovey (my words!) interactions so far since their nuptials. Events occur that will cause Carly to rethink whether her love for Sonny is enough for her to be at peace with Sonny’s involvement with the mob. Varni pointed out, though, that they make a great couple in his eyes, as in many fans’ eyes, and he stopped at saying that a fifth divorce loomed in the couple’s future!
In other PC mob-related news, Julian’s upcoming storylines will include one that explores the question, “Can you ever really leave the mob, or once you are in, are you in for life?” Will something or someone pull Julian back in to life in Port Charles’ underworld, hinted Varni? He also said the Julexis wedding will go off—but not without a hitch or two. There will be “surprises and bumps” along the way.
Of another ex-character oft involved in underworld dealings, Luke Spencer, played, of course, by Tony Geary, Varni said that though GH has no current plans to bring back the fan and TPTB fave, “never say never…If all the elements are right, we’re happy to work with him again.”
The elements are all in place, on the other hand, for the 2016 Nurse’ Ball. Plans are under way! Because of the expense of producing the always-fun and socially-relevant event, producers and execs need a sponsor, so procuring that is a big part of the planning. Varni added that the cast has great fun shooting the Ball and he knows how much fans love watching it.
Teresa Castillo (Sabrina Santiago) is, as has been reported, on maternity leave, enjoying spending time and bonding with her newborn.
Sabrina’s erstwhile/reluctantly-current partner, Carlos, came up when Carly pleaded with Varni to explain why he had to come back on the story canvas. Varni pointed out that bringing Carlos back was vital to redeem Anna, who was thought to have killed Carlos, as she is heroine singularly important to GH. Carlos’ return will “make sense,” as story moves along, he added.
Varni added a compelling point to this when he said he liked the idea of Anna and Sonny, normally rivals, working together to avenge Duke’s death. But he added that writers do not have such a pairing in the works at this time.
One of Carly’s most probing questions included something many fans have been wondering: what happened to Jake during his four years in the clutches of Helena? Varni answered that fans will probably come to know this down the road at some point.
Another child who stands to suffer at the hands of poor caregiving, Avery Corinthos, came up. Varni said the push and pull between Sonny and Ava over their shared offspring will continue.
Show host, Carly, asked what will happen when Helena’s will is read? Varni teased that a few surprises are in store. One in particular involves Laura and will send her off an adventure.
Soap vet Ashley Jones, who recently joined the show as Kristina Corinthos’ professor, Parker, does not at this time have a contract with the show nor does the show plan to give her one, said Varni. But, he added, “She is a brilliant actress and brings so much to the role…but the Kristina/Parker storyline is more on the Kristina side.”
As far as how writers come up with story, Varni said, head writers Shelly Altman and Jean Passanante are in charge of where story goes. The reason the show has such faith in them is that they understand the need for a balance between pacing-up stories and spreading them out, in addition to their firm grasp on who the characters are, Varni said.
Varni’s Twitter handle is @nathanvarni. His Facebook account is https://www.facebook.com/nathanvarni?fref=ts.
By Akbi Khan
Edited by Akbi Khan