Ron Tom/ABC
Abby West
October 21, 2008 AT 04:00 AM EDT

You don’t have to have been a long time General Hospital fan to appreciate the stellar performance that Tristan Rogers has given on the prime-time SOAPnet spinoff, General Hospital: Night Shift (the network’s most-watched series of all time, in its first season). For most of the second season of Night Shift, which airs its finale tonight (Oct. 21), Rogers has played the aging super spy he originated and brought to fame on GH in the ’80s, Robert Scorpio. Head writer Sri Rao sought him out to do an arc in which he found out that he had cancer, and, in coming to terms with it, he reconnected with his family. To say he was happy that he signed on would be an understatement.

”The only other experience I had that was as significant was in 1981 on General Hospital, when we were the biggest and the baddest, and whatever we did just soared,” said the Australian native. ”This [storyline] was about the deconstruction of an iconic character done in a way it hadn’t been done before. Characters like mine don’t get colon cancer. They get shot, they get beaten up, they get hit by trains. They don’t get colon cancer. It’s not very glamorous. I thought it was a hell of a challenge, more than the usual fare that you’re given going into this: Go through the investigation, find the bad guys, have a gunfight, get a schmooze….This was a whole different animal.”

Working with co-stars Kimberly McCullough and Finola Hughes was a given, and Rogers relished building on all the history they shared. But the special treat was getting to have a dream sequence with his old GH buddies Tony Geary, Sharon Wyatt, and John Reilly.

”I have to say it was like we had never been apart. We all just saw one another and it was like any other day that we had worked together. It was like no time at all had passed. Of course, 20 years had passed,” he said. ”We just started being wise-asses with each other.”

There was also a personal aspect to playing a cancer patient for Rogers. ”My father had gone through this and lots of friends. And they’d all died. So I thought, maybe along the way, if somebody watches this and sees what we’re doing, they might go out and get tested. And if we inspired that, then it’s a bonus.”

As for whether he could take the growth that his character has made and move it over to GH, Rogers doesn’t think that should even be an issue, because what they’ve done on Shift is so uniquely it’s own thing that it doesn’t ”fit in over there.”

Night Shift now doesn’t even need the term General Hospital. It’s got its own identity. This is the real significance of what we’ve done,” he says. ”We could do that with any of the ABC soaps. Literally, they can reinvent themselves. We’re not just talking about shows that are there [right now]. We’re talking about shows like Ryan’s Hope, Edge of Night, and The City. Dig in, grab a piece of their history, pepper it with a couple of vets as an anchor, bring in new people with their issues…and awaaaay we go. We’ve reinvented the entire genre. That, to me, is the real significance.”

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