ROBERT SIEGEL, host:
And we turn now to a very well known hospital, at least well known on television, ABC is hyping it as the most anticipated star turn on daytime TV since Elizabeth Taylor crashed Luke and Laura's wedding.
(Soundbite of TV Series, �General Hospital�)
Unidentified Man #1: James Franco guest stars in a shocking �General Hospital� event.
Mr. JAMES FRANCO (Actor): (as Franco) I like it here in Port Charles, folks are so friendly.
SIEGEL: That's right, movie star James Franco is joining the cast for a special limited storyline. He made his first appearance today. He is one of the original Judd Apatow proteges and he has a �Spiderman� franchise under his belt. Franco doesn't need �General Hospital� to boost his resume. So, Jesse Baker tried to figure out what he's doing on daytime TV.
JESSE BAKER: It's a happy puzzlement to �General Hospital's� executive producer.
Ms. JILL FARREN-PHELPS (Executive Producer, �General Hospital�): We too thought, really, he really wants to do soap, really?
BAKER: Jill Farren-Phelps says there was no deal making or sweet talking involved. Franco's manager brought the idea to �General Hospital.�
Ms. FARREN-PHELPS: The truth of the matter is I think that James is not in any kind of a box. I think that's part of why he's here. I don't think it has to do with the fact that he has, you know, soap opera roots anywhere.
BAKER: Franco's career is 12 tiers above daytime TV. From roles as James Dean to a weed connoisseur, the guy is already high in Hollywood.
(Soundbite of TV Series, �Pineapple Express�)
Mr. FRANCO: (As Saul Silver) What you do is you write all three ends at the same time�
Unidentified Man #2: Really?
Mr. FRANCO: (As Saul Silver) �and then the smoke converges, creating a trifecta of joint-smoking power.
BAKER: And last year, earned acclaim as Harvey Milk's boyfriend in �Milk.�
(Soundbite of movie, �Milk�)
Mr. FRANCO: (As Scott Smith) If you say anything about politics or the campaign or what speech you have to give or anything, I swear to God, I'm going to stab you with this fork.
BAKER: Whether Franco is scratching an itch or researching for his next role, he's not giving interviews. But he has mentioned it's like performance art. It's not just a cameo though. He spent three days on the set, which means his character, oh-so originally named Franco, will be hanging around Port Charles through at least the start of 2010.
(Soundbite of �General Hospital�)
Unidentified Man #3: An artist, who canvas is murder.
Mr. FRANCO: (As Franco) Silenced cells, heard all about it, right?
Unidentified Man #3: No one is safe.
Mr. FRANCO: (As Franco) We may be dealing with a whole different kind of animal here.
Unidentified Man #3: Not even an expert killer.
Mr. FRANCO: (As Franco) I need to know who took this�
BAKER: Okay. So, if he can't figure out what's in it for James Franco, at least we know what �General Hospital� hopes they'll get out of it.
Ms. FARREN-PHELPS: We think it has sort of a cool factor that definitely freshens the image of daytime, which is something that, you know, is devoutly to be wished.
BAKER: And daytime needs some freshening. It's not a secret that soaps are in a state of depression. Ratings across the industry are down.
Professor SAMUEL FORD (Professor, Massachusetts Institute of Technology): It takes a lot to get people really engaged on a full-time basis with one of these shows.
BAKER: Samuel Ford has lectured on soap operas at MIT. And he says one rebel Hollywood actor won't do much to breathe life back into �General Hospital.�
Prof. FORD: A lot of times, audiences shift in and watch in the short term. But because they have no support group to watch this show with and talk to about it, they shift back out.
BAKER: Regardless, �General Hospital,� is keeping James Franco's storyline open. If he ever wants to give up movies, Jill Farren-Phelps says he'll always have a home in Port Charles.
For NPR News, I'm Jesse Baker.
(Soundbite of music, �General Hospital Theme�)
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