Everyone knows soap fans are passionate about their shows, but just how passionate can sometimes even surprise network executives.
When Disney/ABC Digital Media Studio launched a six-episode online series, GH Now!, — a talk-show comedy hybrid hosted by General Hospital’s Nancy Lee Grahn — in January, the hope was to engage fans on the abc.go.com Website.
Hosted by General Hospital‘s Nancy Lee Grahn (“Alexis Davis”), GH Now! takes a lighthearted behind-the-scenes look at the iconic soap. Each 7-10 minute episode contains man-on-the-street segments, comedic bits — anything from comparing soap stars’ dressing rooms, to engaging the cast in a gurney race, to imagining what various characters’ online dating profiles would be — and a panel segment where Grahn tests co-stars and superfans’ knowledge of the show and its characters.
Chris Thomes, vice president, Disney/ABC Digital Media Studio, Disney/ABC Television Group, says online originals like GH Now! are more important that ever now that audiences have so many ways to consume content.
“Talking about a show, driving tune-in, and using social media isn’t enough anymore. You actually have to create short-form programming to run on those platforms in order to gain interest,” he says.
“We’ve done programming like this before for Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., but the audience for General Hospital is voracious,” Thomes says. “I was really blown away by its performance.“
The final installment was posted in late February, but all six episodes continue to be viewed.
“We’re seeing an uptick because they’re not only entertaining, they’re funny, they’re irreverent, and people are watching them more than twice,” Thomes says.
Instead of making a pilot, the decision was made to go ahead and make six episodes, post them and see how they did.
“The investment was small enough that we deficit-financed it. We felt it was really worth it,” Thomes says.
It took three months to complete taping since they worked around General Hospital’s production schedule.
“Because we didn’t have a sponsorship commitment or a particular air date to launch with, we had the flexibility of investing time.”
ABC’s digital platform is typically ad-supported, yet GH Now! held its own in terms of impressions. Pre-roll advertising helped make the project profitable.
“We looked at how well it performed against our standard inventory, and it did gangbusters. So from a business standpoint it’s fantastic inventory, and I want to create more because there’s a benefit and we’re making a profit off of it,” Thomes says, noting more episodes are highly likely. “Although we haven’t given it an official green light, all indications are that we will. It’s just a matter of when.”
Before that happens, Thomes and his team will regroup, take a post-mortem look at all six episodes to see what worked, what didn’t, and figure out how to improve on its success and keep production costs down while showcasing Grahn’s impressive comedic skills.
“You’ll probably see more man-on-the-street or sketch comedy segments,” Thomes says, noting that Grahn as well as General Hospital showrunner Frank Valentini will have considerable input into future episodes.
Despite having no official renewal, feelers are already out for possible sponsors, but Thomes says new episodes are not contingent upon landing a sponsor.
“We’ll do this one way or another. It would be great to have a sponsor, and I’m sure we will, but I’m bullish on making this happen because the fans really, really enjoy it.”
The first season managed nicely without real sponsors: Grahn starred in fake ads for her character’s law firm, Alexis Davis, Attorney at Law, and real-life brothers Derk and Drew Cheetwood pitched Corinthos Coffee in character as Max and Milo.
“The most important thing for us is General Hospital,” Thomes says. “That comes first. We’ll do what we need to, and if a sponsor is willing to come along, that will be a win-win.”