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'General Hospital' celebrates 50th anniversary

The Nurses Ball begins airing the week of

The Nurses Ball begins airing the week of April 1, 2013 on ABC's "General Hospital." Credit: ABC

Few television programs even get close to marking a 50th anniversary.

As other daytime serials were taken off the air, it was possible "General Hospital" might fall just short of that mark ... but it didn't, making the celebration all the sweeter.

The residents of the fictional Port Charles will fete the milestone in Monday's episode of the enduring ABC soap opera (2 p.m., ABC/7). Actually, the festivities have been going on for a while, since beloved cast members and characters have made returns leading up to the newly revived Nurses' Ball that will mark the anniversary week.

Among them: Genie Francis (who plays Laura Spencer), Kin Shriner (Scotty Baldwin), Jack Wagner (Frisco Jones), Jacklyn Zeman (Bobbie Spencer), Vanessa Marcil (Brenda Barrett), current-season "Dancing With the Stars" contender Ingo Rademacher (Jasper "Jax" Jacks), singer-actor Rick Springfield (Dr. Noah Drake) and Rachel Ames (Audrey Hardy), the performer who's had the longest run on "General Hospital" to date (1964-2007).

"When you undertake such a massive celebration that not only happens on camera but off camera as well, there are so many moving parts, we're just trying to stay on top of all of them," says Frank Valentini, executive producer of "GH" since early 2012, after "One Life to Life" (on which he worked for 26 years, the last nine also as executive producer) ended its ABC run. "It's slightly overwhelming, but it's exhilarating at the same time."

The 50th-anniversary plans, Valentini reflects, are meant "not only to celebrate what's happening now -- the resurgence of 'General Hospital' and a spike in its ratings in the past year -- but what it means in terms of the history of the show. And how I and the head writer could best honor and thank the audience for being such loyal, dedicated viewers and having such passionate feelings about the show. And what it means for the folks who are on the 'General Hospital' canvas right now, and how to showcase them in a way that also celebrates the show."

Another "GH" actor who certainly has put in his time is Anthony Geary, with a record seven Daytime Emmy Awards as outstanding lead actor to show for it. In tandem with the series' writers, over two sizable stints (1978-84, 1993-present), he has made the iconic Luke Spencer a man of many colors ... not all of them admirable, as Geary is the first to acknowledge, since Luke controversially assaulted Laura before he turned heroic.

"I think the big appeal of daytime is that the audience gets to live these characters' lives with them in real time," Geary says. "That's certainly the way I feel when I still see characters who were there 35 years ago, when I first came onto the show. Maybe they've been gone awhile, but they're all coming back for one story reason or another, and it's really an extraordinary and wonderful experience. It feels like a family reunion every day."

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