Earlier this year, ABC daytime drama General Hospital hit 15,000 episodes… which is 14,973 more episodes than the primetime spinoff General Hospital: Night Shift got.
Yes, Night Shift aired just 27 episodes across 15 months, a blip on the radar — or on the EKG, if you will — for soap fans.
SOAPnet, the now-defunct cable channel, announced Night Shift in February 2007. At the time, the Disney-owned station had been focusing on repeats of soaps — including ABC’s All My Children, One Life to Live, and General Hospital — and Night Shift marked its first original scripted series.
With an initial order of 13 episodes, SOAPnet said that Night Shift would “delve deeper into the relationships, friendships, and medical cases seen at the hospital,” with self-contained episodes featuring younger characters from the world of Port Charles. The idea was that Night Shift would lure younger watchers to both SOAPnet and to General Hospital — and at a discount, since Night Shift would use writers and sets from the mothership show.
“We are committed to growing the soap genre and the General Hospital franchise by expanding its storyline only on SOAPnet,” Brian Frons, then the daytime president of the Disney-ABC Television Group, said at the time, per Soap Central. “General Hospital: Night Shift will launch with an audience that is already dedicated and compelled to know more about what happens on the night shift at the hospital.”
Night Shift has strong vitals at first. The series premiere on July 12, 2007 attracted 1 million total viewers, including nearly half a million 18-to-49-year-old women, per Broadcasting & Cable. The latter total made the Night Shift premiere the second-most viewed cable program in that demographic that night, which was particularly impressive considering SOAPnet reached 64 million U.S. households, while leader USA Network reached 94 million.
On the show, new faces — including Star Wars veteran Billy Dee Williams — made the rounds with known General Hospital entities — including Kimberly McCullough, Antonio Sabato Jr., and Steve Burton.
After just five weeks of Night Shift on air, though, viewers learned of complications behind the scenes. “We didn’t know what kind of physical and creative toll [Night Shift] would take on the GH team,” Frons told TV Week that August. “While the GH numbers have been great, people are getting tired. So I have to figure out how to keep the energy in both programs.”
And critics gave dire prognoses to Night Shift’s first 13 episodes. Soap columnist Marlena De Lacroix trashed the freshman season as “an incoherently written and produced mess.” De Lacroix added, “Daytime should have learned its lesson: You just can’t get two soaps for the price of one.”
But with Season 2, which premiered in July 2008, a new head writer and executive producer “transform[ed] what had been in its freshman season a perfectly putrid spin-off of a soap opera that is now a mere shadow of its fantastic former self into a sophomore series that embodied almost everything that was sublime about its mothership back in its heyday,” as critic Ed Martin observed.
Even De Lacroix came around. “Darlings, if they could only bottle [Night Shift Season 2], they’d save soap operas,” she blogged. “[It] expertly delivered traditional soap opera in a modern form while reinforcing love as the center of the medium, instead of devaluing it as so many soaps do today.”
Unfortunately, for reasons not entirely clear, SOAPnet pulled the plug on Night Shift after Season 2, with TV Guide Canada reporting in December 2008 that the network had “no plans” for a third season.
At least fans still get glimpses of Night Shift on General Hospital from time to time. Sonya Eddy, for example, is still playing Epiphany Johnson on GH, more than 13 years after working her last Night Shift.