The show was created by husband-and-wife soap writers Frank and Doris Hursley, who originally set it in a general hospital (hence the title), in an unnamed fictional city. In the 1970s, the city was named Port Charles, New York. From its beginning, General Hospital starred John Beradino and Emily McLaughlin, and both actors stayed with the show until their deaths in 1996 and 1991 respectively. They were joined a year later by Rachel Ames who remains to date the longest serving actress on an ABC soap opera, having been continuously on the show from 1964 to 2007. General Hospital was the second soap to air on ABC (after the short-lived Road to Reality, which aired for several months during the 1960–61 season). In 1964, a sister soap was created for General Hospital, The Young Marrieds; it ran for two years, and was canceled because of low ratings. General Hospital also spawned a primetime spinoff with the same name in the United Kingdom from 1972 to 1979, as well as the daytime series Port Charles (1997–2003) and the primetime spin-off General Hospital: Night Shift (2007–2008) in the United States. Taped at The Prospect Studios, General Hospital aired for a half-hour until July 23, 1976. The series was expanded from 30 minutes to 45 minutes on July 26, 1976, and then to a full hour on January 16, 1978.
Ever since the late 1970s, most of the storylines have revolved around the Quartermaines and the Spencers. From 1979 to 1988, General Hospital had more viewers than any other daytime soap opera. It rose to the top of the ratings in the early 1980s in part thanks to the monumentally popular "supercouple" Luke and Laura, whose 1981 wedding brought in 30 million viewers and remains the highest-rated hour in American soap opera history. The soap opera is also known for its high-profile celebrity guest stars who have included, among others, Roseanne Barr, James Franco and Elizabeth Taylor. In 2007, the program was listed as one of Time magazine's "100 Best TV Shows of All-TIME." On April 23, 2009, General Hospital began broadcasting in high definition, making it the first ABC soap opera to make such a transition. The serial aired its 14,000th episode on February 23, 2018.
General Hospital became the oldest American soap opera on September 17, 2010, following the final broadcast of CBS' As the World Turns. On April 14, 2011, ABC announced the cancellation of both All My Children and One Life to Live, leaving General Hospital as the last remaining soap opera airing on the network after January 13, 2012. The show celebrated its 50th anniversary on April 1, 2013.
General Hospital was created by Frank and Doris Hursley and premiered on April 1, 1963. The first stories were mainly set on the seventh floor of General Hospital, in an unnamed midsize Eastern city (the name of the city, Port Charles, would not be mentioned until the late 1970s). "They had this concept of the show that it was like a big wagon wheel – the spokes would be the characters and the hub would be the hospital," John Beradino (Steve Hardy) later reflected to Entertainment Weekly in 1994.
Launched in 1963, the first stories were mainly set at General Hospital in an unnamed midsized Eastern city. The name of the city, Port Charles, would not be mentioned until 1976 by headwriters Eileen and Robert Mason Pollock. Storylines revolved around Dr. Steve Hardy (John Beradino) and his friend, Nurse Jessie Brewer (Emily McLaughlin). Jessie's turbulent marriage to the much-younger Dr. Phil Brewer (originally portrayed by Roy Thinnes; lastly by Martin West) was the center of many early storylines. In 1964 Audrey March (Rachel Ames), a flight attendant and sister of Nurse Lucille (Lucille Wall), came to town, and was the woman who won Steve's heart.