Network TEN hosted its second media event in two days yesterday with a brunch to mark the 6000th episode of the famous soap.
Cast joined network execs and media ahead of the episode’s airing next month.
Drama boss Rick Maier gave his second speech (following the Offspring launch the night before) in as many days, acknowledging the show that the network purchased from Seven after it was axed in 1985 after 170 episodes.
Maier said TEN’s Bill McKenzie and Programmer Tom Warne were instrumental in acquiring the soap, but the first months were a trial.
“We got absolutely smashed. It was (rating) a seven, a third of what it had been doing at the time. I know the number vehemently because I was the Script Editor at the time. I remember talking to a colleague at the time saying ‘What’s your next job going to be?'” said Maier.
He also paid tribute to TEN’s early marketing and publicity team, headed up by Eileen O’Shea and a young Brian Walsh. The two drove a massive marketing push that turned the show around.
“Once the audience came and sampled it, they liked what they saw and we were away.
“At the end of the first year, before Kylie and Jason even, the show had critical mass.
Maier said in the mid-80s Australia was singing the Mojo song, “We love football, meat pies, kangaroos and Holden cars.”
“But Neighbours held up a mirror to society and we said, ‘Ok, that’s who we are”” he said.
“When the show popped in the UK it got over the cultural cringe and we hit markets we had never hit before.
“It’s been absolutely colossal for us and we’ve enjoyed every second of it.”
The show also a breakthrough for other Australian productions in cracking the UK market.
“Prior to Neighbours you couldn’t sell a show into the UK. They weren’t interested in our voices, they weren’t interested in our characters. Producers couldn’t sell shows. But that all changed with Neighbours,” said Maier.
“Suddenly they could sell shows.
“This show has been such a great training ground for technicians, script people, directors, actors, post production. You cannot swing a cat in a television network in Australia without hitting someone who has a direct connection to Neighbours. And it’s the same in production companies.
“If they didn’t work on Neighbours, then they were trained by somebody who worked on Neighbours.”
Three people were singled out for their contribution to the show.
“Mike Murphy was the backbone of this show and very important in terms of the UK push,” he said.
He paid tribute to casting guru Jan Russ, who discovered so many young actors.
“You can get lucky with casting, you can maybe fluke it a few times, but you can’t fake it for 20 years. She was brilliant.”
And there was praise for creator Reg Watson, including a push for him to be inducted into the Logies Hall of Fame.
“He created The Young Doctors, The Restless Years, Sons and Daughters, Prisoner. He is a quiet, unassuming guy, a terribly modest man.
“Reg put the motor under the bonnet of the car that has driven us for 25 years.”
Producer Susan Bower, who thanked cast and crew, also read a congratulatory note sent by Reg Grundy before acknowledging the show’s longevity.
“We are the longest running drama in Australia and the fourth in the world. This is a huge achievement and something we are very proud of.”
Episode 6000 will air in August.
Top L-R: Stefan Dennis, David Mott, Jackie Woodburne
Middle L-R: Eve Morey Rick Maier, Carla Bonner
Bottom: Cast (absent Tom Oliver, Kym Valentine)