On Monday night I was fortunate enough to attend the AACTA Awards, happily enjoying new-found freedoms and safely seated at socially-distanced tables.
It has been a punishing year for all so everybody was elated, if not disbelieving, we were actually seeing faces without a Zoom meeting.
In the room were the best of the best: cast and producers from such fine shows as Stateless, Wentworth, MasterChef, Bluey, Upright, Mystery Road, Mad As Hell….
All were being feted for their 2020 work, several of which achieved the near-impossible in 2020.
But as I looked around I couldn’t help but notice… where was Neighbours?
Sure, it may not a front-runner for Best Drama series, or necessarily a first choice for the Acting, Writing and Directing gongs.
But if there’s one series that set the model for restarting in 2020, it’s Neighbours -not just in Australia, but a model that was replicated around the world.
Bloomberg: No Kissing, No Extras: How to Make TV in the Age of the Virus April 2020
Variety: ‘Neighbours’ Iconic Australian Soap Opera Resumes Production April 2020
New York Times: An Australian Soap Opera Returns, With Distance (and No Kissing) May 2020
It feels logical now, but back in April when we faced so many unknowns it took Series Producer Natalie Lynch to find a working model.
The studio was divided into quadrants, with an operational hub, three distinct production teams and only three actors allowed to cross between the units. If someone became sick, producers could close down one hub and keep others operational.
There was different catering for everyone, males went with no make-up, women’s make-up was not be touched up, there were no intimate scenes.
As director Kate Kendall told TV Tonight earlier this year, “(Natalie) left the building for two days and just put her head down and started drawing out a document to see how we could keep people employed in a safe way. We’re very blessed because we’ve got so much space. We’re all on site. We don’t have to go off-site to shoot locations and stuff. We’ve got our backlot here so it’s about minimising the risk.
“She put in place procedures that would mean if someone did have the virus or something, we’re three steps ahead of the game to shut it down.”
Since the Neighbours model was put in place under Executive Producer Jason Herbison, other dramas from Hollywood to London have adapted their own working equivalent.
As we look back on the best of 2020, it would have been fitting to recognise such creative enterprise.
TV Tonight is a partner of the AACTAs.