As 800 Words embarks on its third season star and producer Erik Thomson is ready for storylines that extend beyond the premise of widower looking to settle down.
Now that the Turners are established with viewers, the New Zealand-filmed series opens with a search and rescue operation with three locals potentially lost at sea.
“We wanted to come back in with a bang,” he says. “We really wanted to move into the melodramatic area with a series finale cliffhanger and we hadn’t done that, because we established our tone quite nicely over the first seasons. So when something real happens in a small community and a couple of guys go missing we could head into that area, whilst still retaining the tone of the show.
“We wanted to grab the bull by the horns and do something ambitious, tense and heart-rending as well. I’m really pleased with how it all turned out.”
Season 3, which will comprise 8 episodes this year, continues Seven’s success with Tuesday night dramas, notably with Thomson’s previous hit Packed to the Rafters. He describes the show as an accessible family drama, but notes a deeper theme at its base.
“Sometimes 800 Words has been dismissed as light territory but we actually move into some pretty heavy emotional stuff,” he explains.
“We set the perameters quite wide in the beginning. We have quirkier characters and there is humour that is implicit in the show as well, but we underscore everything with a family who is recovering from a deep grief. That’s always there.
“So some episodes are lighter but some have a heavier subject matter.”
“Women mourn, Men replace”
Yet after two seasons of being the object of affection for Weld’s single ladies, Thomson knows the storylines have to mine new terrain.
“With the first season there was a lot of focus –not just in the show but the promos for the show- about George’s love life and a fixation on the fact that you have to move on,” he says.
“There is a line in the third series that says ‘Women mourn, Men replace.’ And that’s been at the forefront of the show, where George has felt under pressure to find his new love. But given what’s happened in the last series, he’s very much focussed on the community and his place in it and help his mate Woody negotiate a difficult period in his life.
“So he takes his eye off the ’love ball’ and there is that old adage that love will find you when you least expect it.”
“It’s the job of the Promotions dept to get people to turn the show on”
Yet he acknowledges the romantic hook for season one, together with the inviting geography, helped the show to find an audience.
“With a single guy arriving in a small town populated by a bevy of single, gorgeous women, you can only go so far with that.
“What I learned years ago is that it’s the job of the Promotions department to get people to turn the show on,” he continues.
“I think the Promo dept does a great job on 800 Words but sometimes (some shows) aren’t fully representative of what happens in the episode… they grab hold of aspects of an episode to sell it to the public and get a bit of ‘cut through.’ ”
800 Words films in several north island locations including Walkworth, Piha and Huia, collectively creating the town of Weld. During filming this entails considerable travel for cast and crew.
“We have a map with a fictional layout of Weld but there isn’t one specific place. The studios are west of Auckland and most of the stuff is in the western half of Auckland and the coast,” Thomson reveals.
“The NZ audience, because they know the place, like to piece it all together.
“It feels like a rugged South Pacific island”
“Our hero location at Piha beach on the west coast features very strongly in the first episode of this season.
“The west coast is always a little bit more inhospitable and wilder but much more magnificent than the east coast, which is gentler. We talked about placing the show on the east coast, but I’m glad we went with the west because it has the black sand and those big headlands rolling into the sea.
“It feels like a rugged South Pacific island, I think, and we wanted to offer that to the Australian audience so that there is a little bit of an exotic feel.”
Thomson remains tight-lipped about Season 3’s guest performers and a ‘big reveal’ happening around episode 5 or 6.
“We have a big cast so we need to make sure we don’t spread ourselves too thin with story and making sure our principals have some good, meaty stuff. That’s always a bit of a juggle.”
“Sometimes people get a little bit obsessed with the Overnights”
Whilst he juggles duties between performing and producing with South Pacific Pictures, Thomson is also passionate about ratings and the need to put full context around a show’s performance.
“Sometimes people get a little bit obsessed with the Overnights, but as important as they are you really have to take the bigger picture into consideration these days. People are getting used to watching Dramas when they want as opposed to being told when to watch it,” he says.
“We all feed off the television landscape but we have to be careful that we don’t throw too many rocks at it. It’s going through a big transition very quickly and everybody is playing catch-up all the time.
“Everyone is trying get their head around it and trying to find ways to make and pay for Drama. That’s the hard thing,” he insists.
“I always break it down to ‘How many times are you filling the MCG on a Tuesday night?’ When you are pulling 1.4m it’s like 14 times the MCG –that’s a pretty big number. But because things have happened so rapidly people are still judging things based on the numbers of 6 years ago. That’s what we have to get out head around and change the way we appraise what is a success.
“I think you know when you are walking down the street and the amount of people who come up to you and say they love the show. I’ve been in shows that people haven’t loved –although they tell you that as well. Most of the time people say nothing, but I get a lot of positive feedback so I know we have an audience and hopefully we’ll continue for a while yet.”
800 Words returns 8:45pm Tuesday on Seven.