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Comment > The Heart of the Matter by Callum

When The Perfect Blend launched in 2003, Neighbours was entering a renaissance, it had strong family units in the Kennedys, the Scullys and the Hoylands, plus a share house to provide humour and a revolving door of eye candy. News soon followed that Sky Mangel & David Bishop would be returning to Ramsay Street, along with David's family, providing Harold with a much needed focus following the death of Madge and the departures of Tad & Paul. This coupled with news of guest returns for the Rebecchis and the son of one of Erinsborough's Golden Couples, Jamie Clarke, had Neighbours viewers jumping for joy. The blend of old and new faces and Neighbours' winning formula of love, heart-warming and heart-wrenching drama as well as its trademark comedy truly provided the series with the perfect start to a new Golden era.

Roll on 2004, where this continued with Izzy Hoyland causing havoc with the Kennedys and the constant trickle of news regarding plans and returnees for Neighbours' 20th anniversary in 2005. As friends from the past made guest returns and cameos, no-one could have predicted what was to come...

The axing of the popular Bishop family - David, Liljana & Serena, as well as the much-loved, comedic Sindi Watts sent shockwaves through the online community and, as we saw Sindi turn psychotic and the Lassiter's Joy Flight crashed into the Bass Strait, a change began in Neighbours that would throw it off course for several years.

2006 into early 2007 saw a combination of evil twins, psychos and car bombs as the drama became more sensationalist following the success of Home and Away's Sarah Lewis & Summer Bay Stalker storylines, but, despite the side show, Neighbours managed to retain its heart and humour through characters such as the Kennedy-Kinskis and the Timminses. However, as ratings dropped, news of a 'back to basics' revamp followed, with a new logo, new titles and a new theme tune arrangement. Ironically, as the show dropped the sensational storylines in the build up to relaunch day, the show began to feel more like Neighbours again, but the plans were already in place, the Timmins family were to leave, to be replaced by the Parkers. As the day of the relaunch arrived, surrounded by much hype and promotion showing Neighbours favourites from the past and defining moments, over one million viewers tuned in with much anticipation, but somewhere amongst the increased production values and the drama the show began to lose its identity and its viewers.

In the years that followed, whilst a scene or two may have pulled at the heartstrings or made you laugh out loud amongst the usual teen relationship drama, it was rare that a whole episode would capture the Neighbours magic and as the revolving door on the share house became more like a spinning top, it became harder to commit yourself to a new character as they would quickly leave.

Meanwhile, badly burnt by the viewer reaction to the Parker family, with online comments complaining of too much screentime, amongst other things, the show became reluctant to introduce another family all in one go, focusing on the early reactions to the previous new families rather than the long term success of the Kennedys and the Scullys. The lack of a traditional family unit left Neighbours with a hotchpotch of unrelated characters, taking away the internal family dramas of the past and leaving the show feeling less like itself than ever.

2013 however saw massive changes to Neighbours; new producers brought in new families headed by past characters, Brad Willis and Lauren Carpenter (now Turner), albeit with new actors in the roles. Much like the Bishops a decade before them, the Turners provided long time Ramsay Street resident Lou Carpenter, who had spent several years playing musical houses, with a much needed focus and Neighbours with a much needed multi-generational family unit. The Willis family, although providing familiarity in name only, opened up possibilities for old faces to return down the line that we may never have expected to see again. Terese's role as Hotel Manager also saw the running of Lassiter's return to focus after many years, with Lucy Robinson filling the Rosemary Daniels role, popping in to oversee things and to play peacemaker. With Lauren and Lucy both having previously dated Brad, his return suddenly began to make sense to viewers and has provided writers with a rich backstory to work from as well as fill in a few gaps which weren't there before, as is the world of soap. The year also saw a wedding for Toadie & Sonya, cementing the Rebecchis as a family unit and the reunion of Karl & Susan, ensuring that the show had the strongest of foundations on which to be rebuilt.

Whilst 2014 is seeing a multitude of guest returns announced, new Series Producer Jason Herbison has told The Perfect Blend that the year is about "stability", which will hopefully allow viewers to connect to the new families and friends, as well as taking the stroll down memory lane with the familiar names returning. Online comments have already mentioned how scenes and episodes are beginning to feel like "classic Neighbours" - engaging and amusing, pulling at the heartstrings and then warming them back up again, from comedic scenes such as Sonya & Susan talking in riddles using Nell's toys, to simple but effective scenes such as Kyle crying alone over the loss of his unborn child. It is these moments of comedy and real human drama which Neighbours had done so well in the past that it is great to see returning again. Add to that those scenes where the matriarchs come together to put the world to rights over a cuppa, or in Rebecca & Susan's case, a glass of wine and you have Neighbours at its best.

With set changes announced, I can only hope in time that we see Number 24 return to the glory of it's pre-2005 layout and Number 26 move away from being the share house and return to being a family home with its full-sized kitchen, but one thing is for sure, Neighbours feels in safe hands with Jason Herbison and already lapsed viewers have commented that they're watching regularly again. Neighbours' heart is beating once again and that's what matters most, now for us viewers it's just a case of sitting back and watching, literally!