Nestled just below the Hollywood Hills on a largely residential street, ABC Studios is easy to miss. Up past the gate, the tree-lined parking lot is unassuming enough — until you spot the rows of trailers that usually house the actors of Grey’s Anatomy, which also films here. The Seattle Gracers are done for the season, though, and I’m here to check out SOAPnet‘s General Hospital: Night Shift, which premieres in prime time July 12.
The 13-episode, hourlong show features a setup that’s new to both SOAPnet and the daytime genre as a whole. Taking the action out of a long-arc format and into one of stand-alone episodes, the show, as the name would suggest, focuses its action on the night shift of the titular hospital’s ER — with locations including, I’m told, a tryst-ready supply closet or two. There’s none of that tawdry action going down today (darn), but there’s plenty else for me to see.
Entering the General Hospital building, I’m a little surprised at how nondescript it all is. Dorm-like hallways are lined with dressing rooms, hair and makeup, and such. I quickly find that the real hub is the centrally located green room. Lined with comfy couches and stocked with a healthy supply of tabloids, this room seems to multi-task as a home base for extras, a meet-and-greet lounge for fans, and a perfect spot for doing an interview or sneaking in a quick nap.
Upstairs, the dimly lit and very quiet set is peaceful, and the cast members are completely at ease. Steve Burton, who plays GH regular Jason Morgan, later gives me his explanation for that. “We’re a factory,” he says. “The crew’s been doing it for 40 years, a lot of the people from GH have been doing it a long time, so it’s nothing new for us. You kind of have to learn quick, or you’re going to fall off.” The Night Shift cast features familiar faces including Burton, Rebecca Herbst, Kimberly McCullough, Jason Thompson, Bradford Anderson and others, plus a handful of newbies trying to take that learning curve in stride. Dominic Rains, who plays the idealistic and cocky — but “very caring human being” — Dr. Leo Julian, admits that he was a little overwhelmed by the pace at first, but has learned to go with the flow. “You get that fire going, and you keep the momentum. You learn to get from one place to another a lot faster,” he says. “It’s great to indulge in a moment, but actors indulge period, so if you give them a moment, they milk the hell out of it!”
With a one- or two-take system, it quickly becomes obvious that there’s no chance to milk anything — a reality that star Billy Dee Williams is still adjusting to. “It goes so fast!” he laughs. “I’m always ready to go for another take!” As head janitor for the night shift, Williams’ Toussaint Dubois is a mysterious guy with a nosy streak. “He’s into everybody’s business!” the one-time Lando Calrissian tells me. “He knows everything that’s happening at the hospital.”
Knowing what’s happening at the hospital during the night shift is not, it turns out, dependent on watching the original GH during the day. In fact, some storylines will be told only on Night Shift. When I sit down with the hilarious Anderson, whose Spinelli is a fan favorite, I can’t help but notice he’s sporting a cast on his foot. Burton, who, Anderson jokes, “kind of unofficially runs the show here,” fills me in on his onscreen sidekick’s injury. “Spinelli will be shot on Night Shift, but he’ll be walking around over on General Hospital.”
Longtime GH resident McCullough (Robin Scorpio) is looking forward to fans making that leap with them. “I’m sure we will get crossover fans from General Hospital,” she says. “But I also hope we get new people watching it. Maybe we’ll get As the World Turns fans!”
Whether they’re fans of GH or most any other soap, viewers can expect the same dramatic bent to Night Shift as they’ve come to love on daytime — but with a decidedly prime-time feeling. And if you’re worried that you’ll miss a moment of the current Jason/Elizabeth/baby storyline, fret not. Surprisingly well-behaved little triplets charmed everyone on set, and caused an interesting interruption to my sit-down with Thompson, who plays the dreamy Dr. Patrick Drake. “It’s been a really positive experience,” he was telling me when the intercom cut in with a “stand by for baby” notice. “Stand by for baby …” Thompson ponders. “Sometimes I can’t believe this is my life!”