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Interviews > Jason Herbison

It's been just under a year since we last interviewed Neighbours' then new series producer, Jason Herbison, in which he promised a year of stability, a pot-stirring minx and the exploration of Lucy Robinson, so we thought it was time to find out how he thought 2014 went and what 2015 will entail...

Spoiler Warning! Please note that this interview contains spoilers!

It’s been over a year since you took over as series producer, are you happy with the changes you've implemented to the sets and the cast?
Very happy. We've welcome four new regulars to the cast in the past twelve months - Morgana, Tim, Olympia and Meyne - and I couldn't be more proud of them. I wasn't involved in casting prior to this role and I've thoroughly enjoyed the process. It's also been wonderful to see how the regular cast have embraced them. Regarding the sets, we haven't been in a position to make many major changes, but we did introduce the new Waterhole. I'm thrilled with the way it turned out.

Neighbours has often struggled to cover darker storylines within its time slot and rating, but recently the show has successfully managed to incorporate scenes such as Sonya's mugging and those surrounding Nate's PTSD, which wouldn't look out of place in primetime dramas. Are these grittier scenes something you felt to be missing from the show?
I'm not setting out to make a grittier show. However, I believe it's worth pushing the envelope in order to tell certain stories in a more authentic way. Sonya's mugging was part of the Erin storyline, which I felt had value as it tapped into Sonya's established history as an addict. With Nate, our story producer, Stephen Vagg, had an idea to bring in a character with PTSD. It meant that we had to occasionally go into dark territory, but it was warranted. I'm grateful that our broadcasters trust us to do this, whilst keeping the show G rated at the time.

Did you feel the pressure of adding the son of two of soap's most iconic characters with Daniel? Are there plans to have him interact with a wider range of characters and develop relationships outside of romance?
Definitely. I was particularly keen to find an actor who looked like he could be the offspring of Jason and Kylie, as they are still so well known today. It was a long process and Tim only arrived at the eleventh hour. Regarding his interactions with other characters, absolutely. We're very aware that he and Amber have spent a lot of time in their own little bubble. Part of that is driven by our production model, as we can't have as many crossovers as we did in the past. It's a challenge but we work hard to maintain a community feel.

2015 has seen a new retro logo replacing the more corporate logo of recent years. Did you feel it was important for the show to have clearer brand identity?
Yes. I think there's something to be said for the spirit and personality of the original logo. With the 30th anniversary upon us, we had an opportunity to make a change. The directive we gave was 'back to the future' and Visual Playground came up with a great, retro take on the heritage design. So far the viewer response has been pretty positive, which I'm happy about.

This year has also seen new credit sequences and a new theme tune. What were the reasons and inspiration behind the revamp?
With the roll out of the new "old" logo, there was a natural opportunity to refresh the titles and we grabbed it. We actually had quite a detailed criteria - we wanted to include the cast names; fresh and vibrant imagery but not cheesy; the sequence to begin and end in the street; small groups that could be easily updated; and an aerial title card that could reflect the new reality of the backyards. Visual Playground came back with a fantastic design and the wiping mechanism, which I think works a treat. Regarding the song, we were keen to move away from the duet and do a simple, faithful rendition of the classic tune.

The cast was very stable in 2014 compared to 2013; can we expect any major comings and goings in 2015, or will this be another year of stability?
I'm certainly hoping for stability. With a show like Neighbours, there are always comings and goings and there will be some movement in the coming months. We have a very small cast - perhaps the smallest of all the soaps - but I'm really happy with the current balance of characters.

They've had their own small stories during 2014, as well as the wonderful episode celebrating 20 years of the Kennedys, and Susan's involvement with Nate's PTSD, but it's been a while since Susan and Karl have been at the centre of a big, long-running story of their own. Is there anything like that coming up for them?
Karl and Susan will be getting an extended visit from a family member in 2015, which will bring new challenges. Whilst it may not seem like they have major stories, we see them very much as the foundation of the show and we try to have them interact with a cross section of people. I can promise that we won't be breaking them up or having either stray. I don't think Jackie and Alan would let me either!

The new set for The Waterhole has been a big hit; are there any more set changes planned for 2015?
We are always striving to improve the sets but it naturally comes down to time and budget. I'd love to give Harold's an overhaul. It's actually very difficult as at any given time there is always a long list of outstanding scenes to be shot there. You can't change the set over the weekend and then change it back for a pick-up scene! But yes, one of my favourite things is to walk around with our Production Designer, Peta Lawson, and muse on what we might do!

The 30th anniversary is fast approaching on screen what can we expect from these episodes? Was it difficult to come up with something big enough to mark three decades of Neighbours?
It was an exciting process. We actually planned the storylines a year in advance and pitched them to our broadcasters, who gave great ideas and feedback. As the UK is two weeks behind Australia, we needed a story that would contain peaks a fortnight apart. We came up with the idea of the Festival - it opens on the UK 30th and closes on the Aus 30th - with big, noisy events at either side. These events also provided a natural reason for old faces to pass through.

One returning character that many fans were delighted to hear about was Des Clarke what can you tell us about his return?
It was a true thrill to have Des back on set. Paul is instrumental in his return, which makes sense as he's the only other character from the original cast. It's only a small appearance but Paul Keane did a fantastic job. I really hope to be able to bring him back again.

Do you intend to continue to celebrate the 30th anniversary, with more stories and blasts from the past, throughout the rest of 2015?
We have a big story planned for Toadie later in the year, which will provide a reason for characters connected to him to return. It's also Ryan Moloney's 20th anniversary this year. Of the characters who return in March, some will definitely make further appearances throughout the year.

The show now has five married couples (with a sixth wedding close on the horizon) - is it difficult to find varied stories for them all?
It hasn't been. They are all quite different in terms of age and stability. The Turner/Willis marriages are laced with history and baggage, which generates certain kinds of stories.

The long-running introduction to Paige has meant that Turners and the Willises have at times interacted mainly with only each other. Are there plans to integrate them more with the rest of the street?
It's always the goal. When the families first arrived, I think there was an effort to have them to interact with everyone on a small level - perhaps at the expense of concentrated friendships and relationships. But there are some great dynamics. I love Terese's relationship with Paul, for example. With Brad now at the school, we see him interact with Susan a lot. And Matt's job as a policeman puts him in contact with just about everyone at some time or another.

With Lauren & Brad having taken the lead in terms of stories so far, will we learn more about Matt & Terese's backstories in the coming months and who they are outside of their respective careers?
Admittedly back stories are sometimes kept a little vague, so as not to box the writers into corners and create continuity problems for a time when the areas are properly explored. We'll be meeting Terese's brother Nick very soon. He's also very driven like her and we get a sense of these two characters going down the career route, almost in defiance of a humble upbringing.

Is the fabled Piper Willis going to return from Canada to join her family in the near future or is she being saved for if and when her siblings start to depart, as her dad and Auntie Gaby did back in 1991?
You guys have been watching soaps for too long! In fine tradition, Piper has keen kept in reserve, but I'm sure her time is coming. Terese will be making a couple of trips to Canada in the interim. And as for Gaby, I would love to see Rachel Blakely back in the show. We haven't had an opportunity yet but I hope it comes in the future, if the actress is willing.

When last we interviewed you, you mentioned that you saw 2014 as a chance to make Ramsay Street more diverse. Do you feel that you achieved that, or is it still a work in progress?
With a regular cast of 21 - and most characters now related to each other - it's always a challenge. But I do feel it's important that the show always strives to reflect the audience. I'm very happy that we have two gay characters in our regular cast.

The show has received praise for taking on such a progressive issue with the baby storyline with Lucy and Chris and for raising awareness of the condition they are both carriers of. Will we see Lucy and Chris continue along their paths to become parents either together or separately and will Lucy have a bigger presence on the show in light of this?
I love Lucy and I see her as being part of the extended Neighbours family. As Paul's sister, she will always have a reason to pop in and out of the show. I can't reveal what is going to happen but the storyline is far from over.

Finally, can you give us any hints about what¹s to come for the Erinsborough residents this year?
It's going to be a huge year, kicking off with the 30th events. We've got a wedding, a funeral, a surprise pregnancy. As well as the big stories, we have lots of heartland Neighbours - the fun rivalries, the neighbourly squabbles. Watch out for Karl and Lou in lycra. We'll also be bringing in a new regular character who will have quite a big impact on the street. This character has a major connection to one of the sustainers.

A huge thanks to Perfect Blend. Happy to answer your questions any time.

To discuss this interview and what's to come in 2015, click here. The password is 'spoilers'.

Interview by Callum and Steve. Added on 11th February 2015