This is a class blog run by Dr. Carolina Acosta-Alzuru and her students in the course "Telenovelas, Culture and Society" at the University of Georgia during Spring 2011

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Bucking the trend: James Franco's appearance on General Hospital

Of the many distinguishing characteristics between telenovelas and soap operas which we have discussed in class, one of the one's which stuck me the most was the discrepancy between how the actors are treated in the respective genres. First and foremost, let me start with a disclaimer: most of what I know about both genres I have learned in the last week. I have a vague familiarity with General Hospital, based on the fact that every time I got home from track practice my senior year I'd plop down next to my mom (an avid watcher) on the couch and try to pick up what I could while guzzling gatorade and mumbling nondescript answers about how my day went during commercial break. That being said, I was not surprised to find out that the people from soaps have traditionally had a hard time entering the more glorified side of showbusiness. I remember little tidbits from my mom such as "oh you see he was on the show when we lived in Seattle, he disappeared for a while but now they've brought him back and now he's a bad guy." Hmm, we last lived in Seattle in 1992. I could not figure out what would make someone want to return to a daytime television show after so many years.
This is why James Franco's guest appearence on General Hospital was so surprising to me. When my mom told me it was happening (yes: she actually tries to keep me updated via phone) I couldn't really believe it. Pineapple Express had just been a tremendous success, and I thought he surely must have had more fruitful endeavors to explore. I looked it up online and found a pretty useful interview from the Wall Street Journal on the topic. Despite speculation that this was some sort of mean prank or silly pet project, “General Hospital” executive producer Jill Farren Phelps revealed that Franco was the one who had brought the idea up, and that his negotiations with them had been sincere from the very start. Although nobody knows for sure what the inspiration was for Franco to pursue this role, it marked a never before seen action from an A-lister to a humble daytime role. Don't get me wrong here, Franco never harbored plans of becoming a permanent cast member on the show, but it is still refreshing to see someone of his esteem making an appearance. Says Phelps of his move "It makes “General Hospital” — and hopefully all of daytime television — a cool place to be. At this point in our lives, we could use the reminder to the audience that this is not an old tired industry."
In light of the flop of mynetworktv's attempt at an American telenovela, I cant help but wonder if a touch of starpower could garner the interest necessary to make one of the world's most successful television formulas catch on in the US. Could a move like Franco's (were a big name actor to take on a telenovela) catalyze the paradigm shift needed by actors and audiences alike to embrace the telenovela format? I guess only the actualization of such a hypothetical situation could tell us, but it is fun to speculate. Here is the promo for Franco's role in GH:

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