Interview: Former General Hospital Writer Karen Harris. (Part Three)
A writer and a fan.
In the final installment of Soaps.com’s interview with former General Hospital writer Karen Harris, she shares her thoughts on the Quartermaine family, the future of Daytime, and what’s next for her.
Soaps.com: Another issue with the fans is that the Quartermaines have been greatly diminished over the years. Why do you think they don’t focus more on the core family?
Karen Harris: You know, well because I think the Spencers and the Quartermaines are the two core families, but now the Corinthos’ are too. Sonny’s been there for eighteen years. It’s hard to deny that impact, but the Spencers…I don’t know. I mean I love Edward, I love John Ingle, he’s in my Internet pilot, Life in General. I love John. I think Tracy’s [Jane Elliot] great. I think we’re seeing more Quartermaines now because we’ve got Luke [Anthony Geary] and Tracy connected. I think sometimes we make choices along the way that we have to make and I don’t even remember why Alan was killed off. I know we tried to make it as impactful and dramatic as possible. And did. I loved that he came back as a ghost for awhile. I thought that was wonderful and I’m a big fan of Stuart Damon. I just adore him. I liked all of them. But once Lois [last played by Lesli Kay] was gone, Ned [Wally Kurth] was gone. It was just, what there’s room for to play in a way that will do justice to everyone.
One of my favorite scenes I’ve written over the last five years was with John Ingle. I actually wrote it when Alan died. He made the speech about Joe Kennedy. He was talking about how the man he idolized, who was rich and all that when he was a young man, and he watched him grow old and the man lost his family one by one to assassins’ bullets and to drugs and to airplane crashes. Edward said, “I wanted to be him when I grew up.’ He said, ‘And now I am. I’ve lost them all,’ basically. Because I looked and I went, Justus [last played by M’fundo Morrison] is gone, Alan is gone, Emily [Natalia Livingston] is gone now. It was when Alan died that I wrote it, but we couldn’t use it because the show was too long, but they saved it and did it later when Emily died. They revived it, the thought, the idea. It didn’t matter when it happened. I look back and from a storytelling point of view you look at a man who has watched everyone die around him. He’s a shell of who he used to be. He’s trying to hang on to his power and whatever control he has and all he’s got left is Tracy for the most part. That’s why he grabs on to Maya [Annie Ilonzeh] when she shows up. It’s like, oh, someone I can tell what to do.
I think it was not a conscious thought. I think it was a gradual thing that happened over time. I don’t think there was a conscious effort to get rid of the Quartermaines. I think little by little that’s just how stories started to play out. It wasn’t a plan. It wasn’t “Ten Little Indians.” Ten Little Quartermaines.
Soaps.com: Are there any storylines that did not come to fruition that you were looking forward to writing? For instance, the Valentin Cassadine storyline?
Karen Harris: Because the Franco story, when he became available, that took front and center. That's my understanding of why [Valentin] didn't happen. No, I mean, there's always something to play and always something to do. My favorite moments are the smaller moments, more than the bigger moments. It's the smaller moments within the big stories, you know, scenes. It was when Ric [Rick Hearst] and Alexis [Nancy Lee Grahn], that whole business of Alexis finding Sam [Kelly Monaco] and Ric together. I thought that was astonishing. Playing the end of their marriage broke my heart. I mean I loved writing those scenes. There was a scene I wrote just before it happened where he bought her the miniature Eiffel Tower and he's made dinner for her and it was so sweet and so loving and she was so happy for one brief shining moment and then the shit hit the fan and it was done. I loved doing that. Like I said, it's the build up to the big moments…the big moment itself is usually just, okay, are we done yet? [laughs] I wasn't there for the hotel fire, everybody I know loved that, but I did love the Jerry Jacks [Sebastian Roche], Metro Court hostage crisis.
Soaps.com: I did too. Sebastian Roche was a great villain and just fun to watch. It had been a long time since I'd been that excited to see what was going to happen the next day.
Karen Harris: He wasn't Jerry Jacks at the time.
Soaps.com: Right. He was Mr. Craig. He was exciting to watch. What do you think "General Hospital" is doing right and what are they doing wrong right now?
Karen Harris: That's hard for me to say. That's not a question that I'm qualified to answer. I think they're trying to get a good balance of character and story. I think there's a lot more romance than there's been in awhile. Which is great. I think the kids are wonderful actors. I think that both the Davis girls [Lexi Ainsworth, Kristina; Haley Pullos, Molly] and both the Corinthos boys, all three of them, but the younger ones [Chad Duell, Michael; Aaron Sanders, Morgan], it's so nice to see those young stories not with your typical, pardon the expression, soap actors. Mark [Teschner, casting director] has always gotten really quality actors, including Jonathan Jackson [Lucky] and Amber Tamblyn [ex-Emily]. And Tyler [Christopher]. He was young when he started as Nikolas. The character was 16, but he was only about 18. I think he really finds quality people and I think that's really a benefit to the series and the fans and the writers. It's so nice to write for those actors.
Soaps.com: Do you watch the show regularly when you write?
Karen Harris: Because of the schedule I have fallen quite a bit behind. I have them all on TiVo and I try to catch up when I can. I will get back into the rhythm of it, but I've been really, really busy since I left the show. So, we'll see. I'd like to get back into it because, again, those are characters that I just love. And my friends are on the show so it's nice to keep up and watch it.
Soaps.com: I'm sure you get asked this all the time, but what do you think Daytime needs to do to stay relevant and stay on the air?
Karen Harris: I don't know that we in the creative areas can do much. We do the best we can. We do what we're asked to do, including the head writers and the actors and the directors. We give what we're asked to give under conditions that can be quite difficult, you know, budget cuts and no second takes and no money to spend on sets and no money to spend on costumes. It should be about the words and the words should be given a little more…I think that everybody gets hung up on get it out as fast as possible and don't worry about how it reads. When you're cutting everything else, how it reads and how it plays is all that's left. Taking time with the stories is the one thing you can do that isn't, and I don't mean taking a long time to build a story, I mean taking the time to write it right is the one thing you have to do that shouldn't cost you any money. You're paying the writers anyway and it can make the difference. I think people get so caught up in the hectic pace of the production side that they just like grabbing scripts out of the air. Just send it. Just send it. I'm not saying we should have weeks and weeks, we never did, but the seven days we used to have was really very helpful.
I think that as long as it's cheaper to do talk shows and games shows, I think we're always going to be in jeopardy unless the audience comes back. I don't see the audience coming back. Just like in Primetime. Daytime may be in jeopardy, but Primetime is in just as much jeopardy. Their fall off is almost as great. I do think that if Daytime is going to have a future, I believe it's going to be in cable. I believe it's going to be on the Internet. I used to know every soap that was on the Internet, now there's so many I can't keep track of them. That's great news. You just have to figure out how to monetize them and pay your rent while you're writing them. Serialized storytelling is not going away. Dickens used to do serialized storytelling in magazines. It's been going on for a long time and I can't see it disappearing. In some form it's going to reappear.
I'm sad to see SOAPnet go. I think with a little bit of nurturing that could have served us all well. I knew it was doomed when, I think it was my agent who called and I had a project I wanted, oh, we were talking about taking "Life in General" and the word had come down from on high that they weren't looking for anything to do with Daytime for SOAPnet. 'Don’t pitch us anything about Daytime.' So, I thought, well. And that was like two and half years ago, three years ago.
Soaps.com: You worked on "Night Shift" too.
Karen Harris: I worked on "Night Shift." Yeah, I did two the first season. I did two the second season. I had known Sri a long time ago. Sri Rao, who was the head writer, he had been out here as a very young man when I was co-head writer of "GH" in '96, I think. He'd been out with a play he had written, which was awesome. A friend of mine introduced me to him and I went to see the play and I said, 'What can I do to support it?' And ultimately he called me and said he and his mom were huge fans of "GH" and could he bring his mom to the set? So they came around and I gave them a tour of the set. And here it was twelve years later and he was suddenly writing the spin-off. I was very pleased when he called and we talked and I was happy to be able to work…I was only going to do one, but they asked him to do an extra episode with all the flashbacks, the fake flashbacks where Robert [Tristan Rogers] remembers the past and Luke shows up and Sean [John Reilly]. So I got to write that, which was so much fun because I had written Sean and Tiffany [Sharon Wyatt] back then. I never wrote Robert until this time around, Robert and Anna [Finola Hughes], because I was on five or six years this last time. I was on '93 to '97 the first time and I left in '97 and then I went to "Port Charles" in 2000-2001, and '02, and I came back here in 2004, I think. I wrote one year on All My Children and then I left there and came back to "General Hospital." Right around the time AJ [Billy Warlock] kidnapped Michael [then played by Dylan Cash] to the island. That was my first episode back. That was fun. I didn't get to write the woman, who was so great, the villain.
Karen Harris: Faith [Cynthia Preston]. Yeah. She died like in my first week back. I loved her. She was great. She was a lot of fun.
Soaps.com: What is next for you?
Karen Harris: What's next is already happening. What's next is I have a wonderful reality show that I'm in the process of doing a reel for about veterans and Shakespeare. A friend of mine has a group called the Veterans Center for the Performing Arts. He's a veteran. He was in the first Gulf War and Shakespeare basically was his touchstone coming back to the world and he's been helping a lot of vets. He brings them into productions and stuff so I want to do a reality show about that. I'm doing a sizzle reel for it. In fact, I'm editing it tomorrow. I'm working on a musical with another woman. We're doing a presentation to the widow of someone who is no longer with us, obviously, and seeing if we can get the rights to his music. We've already worked out the whole story. And I have a book my agent brought me, which was optioned by one of his clients who is not a writer and we're supposed to present that to Hallmark as a movie of the week. So, I'm doing all kinds of things, but I was also approached about doing a late night half hour telenovela that would be an International co-production. I was approached by a company out of Canada and we would shoot it, not in the States, which is pretty exciting. And not in Canada. I don't want to say where yet, but it would be pretty exciting. And they're trying to raise the financing, but they've asked me if I would be the head writer.
Soaps.com: So you've got a lot going on.
Karen Harris: And you know what? Working on all of it is a blast. The other day I spent three hours walking around Costco saying, 'I don't have a deadline.' [laughs] 'Oh, look at all the printer cartridges.' It was so different. It's so nice to have the freedom. It's been really good for me. I'm on six writers guild committees. I’m still chair of the Daytime Writers Committee. I plan to stay there for awhile and I’m chair of the awards committee, the Writers Guild Awards, which I'm also nominated, which was a nice surprise.
Karen Harris: Thank you. I'm hopeful for the show and I can't wait to see everybody there. And I'm on two jobs committees that I think are really important about broadening the kinds of work writers can do and accessing areas that aren't traditional. And I'm on a committee called Career Longevity, which is interesting because, there's a statistic that the Guild came up with that the average writer's career life is eleven years. I've been working non-stop for thirty. Except for maybe a year and a half in there – a year here, three months there. I have worked pretty much non-stop. I have one year where I didn't have income. That's practically unheard of. I always say it's because I've stayed flexible and I reimagined myself and reinvented myself. When one area would dry up, I'd go, 'What do I want to do now?' That’s how I got into Daytime. That's how I got into the Internet.
It's fun for me now because I get to write what I want on my own schedule and it's very satisfying. I worried that I'd be lazy and not want to write at all, but it's not true. In fact, I find myself wanting to write about things I'm passionate about. The projects I mentioned are all things I'm passionate about. I get very excited about them and I'm hoping that something will pan out, but if not, I'm enjoying what I'm doing and I'll find something else. If the musical doesn’t work out, there's a dramatic play I want to write based on a screenplay I did. I always felt it would make a good four person play. And we want to travel a lot. We're looking at spending part of our year in England because I'm from there originally. I'd like to get a cottage in the country or probably in London and live there part of the year. Go travel around the world.
Soaps.com: So, leaving "General Hospital" was a positive move.
Karen Harris: It was the right time. It was time for me to go and I wouldn’t have even thought about walking away from a job in this climate, but it turns out it was just time. I've worked a long time. It's time for me to be able to do the things I want to do. All my friends on the show say, 'Is there life after "General Hospital?"' And I'm very happy. It's been a good lesson that things happen the way they're supposed to. I'm obviously opinionated, but that will always be a piece of home for me. You don't spend as long on a show as I did and not feel a special connection. But I'm not heartbroken, I'm not crying about it. It's a little bittersweet, because it's nice to have a place to be home, but you have to want to walk in the door every day. [laughs] It was time for me to move on. It was time for me to really remember who I am creatively. It probably sounds like so much bullshit, but it's not. It's really authentic. It's really true. I think I had to reach this point in my life to get that anything is possible. When things don't happen exactly the way I think they should, that's okay too. So, I'm great.
Soaps.com: It sounds like it. You look happy.
Karen Harris: Thank you. I feel happy.
- Lori Wilson