“It’s as surprising to me as it is to everyone,” admits producer Imogen Banks.
“By the time we got together we all walked in with this very serious stride and then we all saw each other and remembered, ‘Oh that’s right. It’s really fun!’”
As Offspring‘s return nears, Banks concedes it’s a day she never really expected to arrive. After all the show had ended in 2014, tieing up loose ends and being well-received by fans. Actors had been let go from contracts and creatives had moved onto new projects.
But never say never. The show joins an increasing suite of revivals, both here and overseas, that are refusing to go quietly. A Place to Call Home, anyone?
In the case of Offspring, producers sounded out its two leading ladies early on -without them, there is no show. While almost all of the cast are returning (but not all for the full season), Banks explains the story was crafted in tandem with cast negotiations.
“All of the early conversations about coming back heavily involved Asher and Kat and the writers,” she says.
“Obviously you have a bit of a sense of the where the cast are and what they’re doing, who might or might not be interested.
“But we’ve always been able to write people in and out when you have enough notice.
“For Season 6 we needed to set a cat amongst the pigeons, and create a reason for it happening with something that would shake the Proudmans up.
“Often we go into the Writer’s Room and say ‘We don’t quite know if we’ve got this person, or we don’t know if they will be back for 2 weeks or a whole season.’ So you’re often writing with one ear on the telephone.”
“As much as we wanted to go there the Sound Dept would just go nuts”
The series picks up 18 months after the end of S5, with Nina now living in a new home. While her distinctive Fitzroy warehouse was still available, there were reasons why a new address made sense. The key was incorporating it into the story authentically.
“We were going to go back there but we were a little bit worried about having a toddler in that house with all the stairs. That house is so beautiful, and we were concerned about changing too much,” Banks explains.
“But there was a building site across the road and we realised as much as we wanted to go there the Sound Dept would just go nuts with the jackhammers!
“Then we found a great place and it felt like the right evolution in Nina’s real estate. So we moved her.
“But we always work to boundaries. After the first season we realised we weren’t going to have Don (Hany) so that created S2 in a way. So you are always doing that and working with the restrictions you are given. They make you think harder and creatively. Sometimes they are a nightmare, but often they are great for triggering story.
“When someone comes in with a problem, they often come in with an ‘Opportunity!’”
Thankfully hospital sets remained intact above their Collingwood production base, also used for The Beautiful Lie and Party Tricks.
The 18 months story shift roughly reflects the time show has been off screen for the audience and cast.
“We wanted to feel like it was real time,” she continues.
“It enables us to age the children slightly, which is a good thing. Billie and Mick were moving to London at the end of the last season so we didn’t want to do a series without her. So there were certain things we set up last series that we wanted to allow to play out on screen and come back with time having passed.
“And how has Asher changed since she’s had a baby? Kat’s filming 5 weeks after giving birth. Richard has been doing other stuff. So you look at everybody and think ‘Your life has changed.’”
Having surpassed Screen Australia’s 65 episode quota, the show is now without subsidy. Renewing actor contracts presumably invites pay rises too.
“Everything goes up, yes,” she acknowledges.
“But it demonstrates the enthusiasm of the network and of everybody who came back. If they’d been unrealistic about things like that then it wouldn’t have happened, either.”
“We’d been thinking about it as a bit of a Goldilocks-season for Nina”
Of course returning a show after a pretty-satisfactory finale is not a decision to take lightly. Offspring fans are a devoted bunch and very vocal on social media. Isn’t there a risk it may not live up to its reputation?
“Yes but there is risk in every season,” Banks observes. “There was risk when we got Nina pregnant, or when Patrick died. There’s always risk if you’re not feeling the pressure and the sense of responsibility to a fanbase. Then it’s probably time to stop, frankly.”
So as fans sit down on their couch and reacquaint themselves with its loveable, awkward family, what can they look forward to across the season?
“There are a couple of things I can’t say because it will give away the arc,” Banks teases.
“We’d been thinking about it as a bit of a Goldilocks-season for Nina in terms of the way she views men and the world. It’s about finding that ‘just right.’
“Essentially it’s got all the elements of a season of Offspring. There’s romantic surprise, and all of the emotional arcs within family and all of the push and pull between sisters. There’s all of the laughs, tears and ridiculous shenanigans that hopefully you want in a season.”
And will fans need a box of Kleenex at the ready?
“Of course they need them!” she declares. “But for happy tears as well.”
Offspring returns 8:30pm Wednesday June 29 on TEN.