On this day in 1963, the ABC television network airs the premiere episode of General Hospital, the daytime drama that will become the network’s most enduring soap opera and the longest-running serial program produced in Hollywood. On the same day, rival network NBC debuts its own medical-themed soap opera, The Doctors.
By setting their new shows in a hospital, both networks were attempting to capitalize on the popularity of prime-time medical dramas such as Dr. Kildare and Ben Casey. Set in the fictional upstate New York town of Port Charles, General Hospital focused on the lives of the doctors, nurses and patients of the town’s General Hospital, including Dr. Steve Hardy (John Beradino) and Nurse Audrey March (Rachel Ames). The central character of The Doctors was Dr. Matthew Powers (James Pritchett), chief of staff of Hope Memorial Hospital, located in the fictional New England town of Madison.
In contrast to General Hospital, The Doctors first ran as an anthology series, with each episode focusing on a single plotline. It later ran as a weekly serial and became a full-fledged daily soap in March 1964. For most of its run, the show was largely sponsored by the Colgate-Palmolive Company, makers of Fab detergent, Palmolive dish liquid and Irish Spring soap, among many other products. The tagline of The Doctors, announced at the beginning of each episode, was “a daytime drama series dedicated to the brotherhood of healing.” The Doctors won numerous Emmy Awards, including Best Daytime Drama in 1972 and 1974, Best Actress for Elizabeth Hubbard (who played Dr. Althea Davis) in 1974 and Best Actor for Pritchett in 1978. Some of the notable actors that have appeared on The Doctors include Ellen Burstyn, Alec Baldwin, Kathleen Turner and Armand Assante. With ratings declining steadily after 1975, The Doctors was canceled in 1982, just months before its 30th anniversary.
For its part, General Hospital has remained on the air for more than four decades, making it ABC’s longest-running soap opera. Though falling ratings in the late 1970s threatened the show’s existence, it turned things around and become a hit with younger audiences in the early 1980s. Some of its more popular ongoing storylines involved the “super couple” Luke Spencer (Anthony Geary) and Laura Webber (Genie Francis), whose 1981 wedding was the most-watched event in daytime television history. In June 2008, the show won a record-breaking 10th Emmy Award for Best Daytime Drama.