"Like any fan, I was like hating it."
Karen Harris announced late last year that she was leaving her position as scriptwriter for General Hospital, the show she had been writing for on and off since the early '90s. In between stints on the ABC soap, she also wrote for "Port Charles," All My Children and "General Hospital: Night Shift." While she is officially done writing for "General Hospital," the last episode she worked on won't air until February 8. I recently met Karen for coffee in Los Angeles, where she shared her thoughts on all things "General Hospital," as both a writer and a fan.
Soaps.com: To begin with, why did you leave "General Hospital?"
Karen Harris: Well, because of the changes - the budget changes, the production changes - they went from 260 episodes to 240 episodes. They needed to make changes. They didn't have as many scripts to give out and they needed to cut a writer. It's fine with me, but it was their decision. But it was time for me to go. It was really time for me to go. I’m really enjoying my time away without the deadlines, without the craziness. It had gotten very, um, Daytime is a really, really difficult work area. It's so time sensitive and time consuming and we had been working for the last, over a year, on a five day turnaround, which means from the day we get our outlines we have five days to turn the script in and that’s 90 pages and it's a lot of work. It doesn't give you time to think. It doesn't give you time to really concentrate and work through problems. Writers, you know, we're not widget makers. Things aren't automatic. Sometimes something's not working and we need a few hours to sit back and let it germinate and see what you come up with. We didn't have that time anymore and I feel like it affects the quality of the shows when you don't have that kind of time. It's not the writers' faults and it's not Bob Guza's [head writer] fault. It's the necessities of production, I guess. It started as a necessity of production and they liked having that schedule of knowing it's coming in every five days and that way they could pre-tape stuff and post-tape stuff and rearrange their schedules. Basically, it just serves production, in my opinion, with not a lot of thought about the consequences on the scripts themselves. So, you know, we all do the best we can and we did pretty good work regardless, but it's not conducive to creativity.
Soaps.com: What is your process for writing?
Karen Harris: On soaps you have to just kind of do stream of consciousness basically. The schedule I was just on on "General Hospital," it was stream of consciousness. You look at what the scene is supposed to be, you do kind of a rough, down and dirty draft and hopefully you'll have time to go back and clean it up and think about it and work some of the stuff through. Occasionally you'll have moments, aha moments, where you go 'That really works' and sometimes you have to kind of close your eyes and fly through it. I mean we were told at one point if it's a choice between getting it in on time and getting it in good, get it in on time. So, I think that's indicative of what's going on and some people do that better than others. Some people really do. It's so work intensive. I think what happens is you get a burn out factor. I've been able to do that. I spent a lot of time doing that. Years ago, a decade ago, I was asked to write movies of the week because people knew I could write fast because I worked in Daytime. I did a couple of movies for the FOX network, but mostly that's not sustainable. That kind of schedule is not sustainable. You burn through people. I had back surgery three years ago, so sitting for hours and hours and hours straight at the computer is always difficult, but what I can do is walk around and think in between that in other circumstances when it's not due so quickly. People were getting tendentious and it's just not healthy. It's not a healthy way to work. And we don't make widgets, we write scripts and you begin to feel like…I'd been doing it fourteen of the last seventeen years. I've been working at ABC Daytime. It's been great and they've been very good to me and it was really time to move on. I love that show. I've always loved "General Hospital." It's where the characters I understand best are. It's where the characters I helped create and the couples I helped create. So, I’m a little sad to be leaving now that Sonny [Maurice Benard] and Brenda [Vanessa Marcil] are getting together because I got to write the first Sonny and Brenda love story. I got to write the long story for the first Sonny and Brenda love story. They're good people. I speak to Maurice outside of work.
Soaps.com: So you were excited to write for them again.
Karen Harris: I was excited. Yeah. I was excited to write for them again. The other thing that happens is we were writing so far ahead of schedule that when things changed we didn’t have time, the scripts were already turned in. We'd gotten to where we were six, eight weeks ahead of shooting. I turned in my last script December 4 and it's airing in February. So that's how far ahead they were and when things changed, the scripts were already in. We were already into three, four, five scripts later.
[We spoke off the record for a bit.]
Soaps.com: Aside from Sonny and Brenda who were some of your favorite characters and storylines?
Karen Harris: My first go around at "GH" was in 1993. I came from Primetime to Daytime and I got to be part of the BJ's (Brighton Hertford) heart transplant storyline, which was amazing. So I thought this was what it was always going to be. There was BJ's heart transplant, there was Sonny and Brenda, Robin [Kimberly McCullough] and Stone [Michael Sutton] and some of the AIDS summer, which was heartbreaking. My husband and I would sit and cry watching the shows, really.
Soaps.com: People tend to go back to those stories as being such a good time for "General Hospital."
Karen Harris: It was really golden. It was really golden. And then Bob Guza's first time on the show I was his co-head writer and we did Carly's [then played by Sarah Brown] arrival, we did the return of the Cassadines with Nikolas [Tyler Christopher] and Stefan [Stephen Nichols], "Clink…Boom." We had some really good storylines going on. We were clicking. That was really nice stuff. When Bob got "Sunset Beach" on the air he left and Richard Culliton came in and I was co-head writer. Richard wasn't interested in co-head writer and I was offered a job as an associate head writer. I came from Primetime where you don't work your way up and then work your way down again. I thought well, gosh, either you want me or you don't. I thankfully moved on and did some other stuff, but I came back to ABC when they asked me to head write "Port Charles" after Lynn Latham left. Scott Hamner had worked with Lynn and he was there in the interim and then I came in. I brought in a co-head writer with me, someone from Primetime, but that didn’t work out so that's when Barbara Bloom came down from the tower. Julie Caruthers and I encouraged her to give up the tower and come join us in the trenches. And then I left there when they started doing the 13-week cycles.