> Susan Bower
It's just over 12 months since we last spoke to Neighbours newest executive producer Susan Bower. Now she's settled in to the job, we thought it was a good time to ask for her thoughts on Neighbours 2008 and what's ahead in 2009...
Thanks for agreeing to chat to us again, Susan. How have you enjoyed your first year in charge of Neighbours?
Loved it! Exhausted at the end of last year too. I’m totally in love with the show.
When we last spoke, you had plans to 'bring Neighbours into the 21st century with contemporary characters and storylines and up to date production techniques'. How do you feel that's worked in the past 12 months?
Everyone has worked so hard to bring this aim into a reality. I believe the teens dialogue and storylines are more age appropriate and that the structure of each episode has more flow – like a movie. This helps the audience attach emotionally. Stories come from character rather than that being imposed on the character. The shooting style enhances the drama – the camera moves with characters and draws the audience in to the emotion and/or story. The show looks amazing. Hair, make up, wardrobe, lighting. Everything is more comparable to other series on TV. The use of split screens and music have helped modernise the show as well.
Do you envisage making more 'modernisation' changes in 2009, or are you now happy with the way the show is looking and sounding?
Although I’m very happy with the show at present Neighbours must keep moving with the times like everything else. So we’ll constantly be evolving, but we’ll always be “Neighbours”.
The Australian press frequently gives Neighbours a hard time for its rollercoaster ride in the ratings. Are you pleased with the way Neighbours is rating at the moment?
Of course I always want ratings to be higher – it’s a competitive industry but in Australia Neighbours has begun 2009 with very high ratings beating competitors in the same timeslot for the first time in years. We’re growing the numbers in all demographics too.
Neighbours has continued to be criticised in 2008 for its lack of non-white characters, and you have spoken openly about your attempts to phase in more extras, guest characters and now a regular character of different ethnic origins. Do you feel that you've succeeded in making the show more diverse, and will we see more minority characters as 2009 continues?
Cultural diversity is still an issue in Neighbours. We are getting there in “background characters” that is extras, but I would still like to mix it up with larger roles. What makes it difficult is that most of our families are white so if a relative comes to visit or to stay they will usually be from the same cultural background. You will soon see a delightful (and feisty) new character arrive when the Kennedy house accepts an exchange student from Korea.
Still on the same subject, Tom Oliver has recently expressed a desire for Lou's daughter Mai-Ling to return to Erinsborough with her mother. Do you feel that this idea could work in both adding diversity and giving Lou a much-needed storyline of his own?
Tom’s character has been given heaps of stories since Harold left. And there’s more to come.
With the permanent departure of Ian Smith this year, and Tom Oliver appearing less, are there any plans to introduce any new characters in the over-60s age bracket, as this has always been an important aspect of the multigenerational feel of the show?
I think it’s important to keep the cross generational feel of Neighbours but not just for the sake of it. The characters have to be part of the stories.
2008 saw Kym Valentine replaced by Michala Banas, as Libby, for five weeks. Was the recast the only option you considered when Kym was taken ill? Were you pleased with the job Michala did, and her reception from fans?
A recast was the only option. The stories for her character were very big. It would have been ridiculous for the show to stop them. Poor Kym was so ill and she just kept pushing herself to fulfil her working commitments. We were worried that pushing her would have made things worse. I thought Michala did a great job but there’s only one Libby Kennedy!
2009 is a major year of celebration for many cast members, with the Kennedy family celebrating 15 years on Ramsay Street and Steph celebrating a decade. 2010 also sees 15 years since Toadie first appeared. Are there any plans to celebrate these milestones on screen or off?
2010 also sees Neighbours turn 25 and reach it's 6000th episode - have you started planning for these events at all? Do you think we can expect celebrations similar to the 20th anniversary week in 2005?
2010 is a very big year for Neighbours and naturally there will be celebrations but I can’t give away the surprises, can I?
The returns of past characters always prove popular with viewers, with the returns of Libby and Valda in 2007, and Lyn in 2008. Can we expect any more old faces to come back this year?
Yes… and no. The past can be reintroduced to the show by story means not necessarily old characters. See below.
What led to the decision to reintroduce the Ramsay family after many years of absence of the surname from the show? What can we expect from Kate, Harry and Sophie?
The Ramsay family are a way of connecting with the show’s past. How do you guys know about this family? They haven’t appeared on air in Australia yet. That’s two bits of gossip. Very interesting.
Neighbours has increased its music content in 2008, with the arrival of Dean Geyer in the cast, and more live bands at Charlie's. Do you feel that the music has been successfully blended into the show? Will we be seeing less of this with Dean's upcoming departure?
Neal Kingston, the Producer is doing an amazing job of the music. It’s not just the choice of actually tracks but the incidental music as well. He works with Chris Pettifer, the composer. Music is part of the contemporary feel for the series too. How do you know about Dean Geyer’s departure?
You are known to be quite a fan of the Parkers. Are you disappointed to be losing them? How will their departure affect Ramsay Street?
It is always sad to say farewell to characters (and cast members!) but this is all part of the evolutionary process. Neighbours come and go from suburbs and Ramsay Street is no exception. The exit story is very dramatic.
Neighbours has never been traditional in terms of families, however Libby is now the only 'child' to have both her biological parents around. Whilst 'nuclear' families are certainly not the norm these days do you think that perhaps Neighbours has gone too far in its bid to diversify and are there any plans to rectify this?
I must say this question arises mainly from the UK. Of course there will be a time when a so called “nuclear” family re appears in Ramsay Street but everything takes time. There are also questions (and dismay) about the cast changes too. To get another family in usually means that another has to go. So they can be pretty hard decisions.
Which characters shone for you in 2008, and who should we be looking out for in 2009?
Every character had their place in the sun this year. I regularly ring the cast after a screening to say how fabulous they were in this or that storyline. In fact, I’m about to ring Carla Bonner and Pippa Black but I can’t tell you about the stories – that would spoil the surprise!
What can we look forward to from the show as 2009 continues?
There is so much to look forward to. Someone falls in love, someone reconnects with an important family member, someone moves house, someone expects a baby in unusual circumstances, there’s a wedding… and a funeral.
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Interview by Steve. Added on 4th April 2009