‘General Hospital’ Goes High-Def.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009 1:23 AM EDT | By Scotty Gore


(SoapOperaNetwork.com) — Port Charles is about to get a makeover as ABC prepares to launch “GH” in HD.

Brian Frons, president of daytime at the Disney-ABC Television Group, announced Monday that the network’s senior daytime drama will be begin broadcasting in 720-line-progressive high-definition format on April 23rd. The move will coincide with the unveiling of a new hospital set, designed by “GH” production designer Chip Dox, and possibly a new, or updated opening sequence.

According to Frons, “Our loyal viewers will be very pleased with the technology that provides top-notch video and audio quality, and shows our commitment to the production of this long-running series, as well as the daytime drama genre. The people and places in Port Charles will never look better.”

However the move to HD didn’t come cheap, as Broadcasting & Cable is reporting that the Alphabet Network spent $3 million to make the necessary upgrades to help transition “GH” into the new format. Aside from equipment, expenses also accounted for the renting of a second control room, which the soap used from January 4th until March 13th while the main studios were upgraded. Dom Nuzzi, senior VP of production for ABC Daytime, explains the difficulty in the change, “Doing an HD upgrade on a show that’s in production 48 to 50 weeks a year takes some logistical juggling.” According to Nuzzi, “GH” had the fortune of being able to use an empty control room adjacent to the show’s Stage 4 at ABC’s Prospect Studios facility in California. The move to HD began late last year, during the daytime drama’s two-week hiatus around the Christmas and New Year’s holidays. It was during this time that Nuzzi and his staff installed rental equipment from Sweetwater Digital in the temporary control room, while crews dismantled the old command center.

Broadcasting & Cable states that “ABC had already purchased high-definition Ikegami HDK-725 cameras (six and a backup) for ‘GH.’ Key new gear added since January includes Fujinon HD lenses, a 48-input Grass Valley Kayak production switcher, and an upgraded Avid Unity ISIS server system with Nitris editors that uses Avid’s DNxHD 145-megabit-per-second compression rate. The system is capable of storing 20-30 episodes for post-production and on-air promo applications. The new control room takes a scaled-down approach to monitoring; instead of a giant virtual monitor wall, it uses five 65-inch Panasonic professional plasma monitors fed by an Evertz MVP multi-image display processor system.”

During the week of March 16th, while “GH” took a break from filming, crew members installed the new hospital set and upgraded the lighting (which operates at lower levels) in the show’s 20,000 square foot studio. Also, camera operators and technical directors received training regarding the 16.9 aspect ratio associated with HD, and the make-up team experimented on the show’s cast to determine the best look for high def. Nuzzi comments, “We wanted to make sure that the actors were comfortable. But we’re settling into a good routine.”

As for the new medical center set, the network was able to salvage bits and pieces of sets used in the suder’s prime-time spinoff, “General Hospital: Night Shift,” and incorporate them into the set deign for the new hospital. The new set is made up of 14 pieces and “will allow the realism of ‘General Hospital’ to grow bigger than it’s ever been,” according to Frons. The old “GH” set was recently destroyed in an explosion, as part of a major storyline on the show. The carefully crafted tale laid the groundwork for the construction of the new set.

From filming to post-production, it takes approximately three to four days to complete an entire episode of “General Hospital,” which are usually shot about three to four weeks before being scheduled to air. The March 30 episode was the first to be filmed in HD, meaning it will air on April 23rd, which is also the first day of May sweeps.

Impressed by the initial HD test shoots, Frons expressed his enthusiasm for the project. “Because the cameras operate in less light, you get much more of a filmic, primetime look,” states the ABC Daytime head.

“General Hospital” becomes only the second daytime drama to make the switch to HD. “The Young & the Restless” has been broadcasting in high def. since June 2001. In addition, “GH” is also the second show on the ABC Daytime programming block to be produced in HD, following “The View” which made the transition in 2006.  ABC currently broadcasts most of its primetime schedule in HDTV, in addition to both the weekday and weekend editions of “Good Morning America” and the the late night talk show “Jimmy Kimmel Live.” 

As for ABC’s two New York based soaps, “All My Children” and “One Life to Live,” Frons laments that the network has no definite plans to convert either soap to HD in the short-term. However, he is hopeful that the entire ABC Daytime lineup will broadcast in HD within the next two years. “In this economic environment, it’s about two things. One: how much life the equipment in the studio has left. Two, can you get the capital expense [for new equipment] approved? The second one is a little different now than it’s historically been, but we hope to coax it along.”

“GH” recently celebrated its 46th anniversary on April 1st, and is ABC’s longest-running daytime serial. Created by Frank and Doris Hursley, “GH” has won a record ten Daytime Emmys, six Soap Opera Digest Awards, and 4 Soapy Awards for Best Daytime Drama, and has aired more than 11,780 episodes. Jill Farren Phelps in Executive Producer, while Robert Guza, Jr. serves as Head Writer. Senior cast members include Leslie Charleson, Jane Elliot, Anthony Geary, John J. York, and John Ingle. Full episodes of “GH” are available on ABC.com the day after airing on the network for users to watch online.

“General Hospital” airs Weekdays on ABC. Weeknights on SOAPnet. Check local listings.


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