> Jenny Lewis
name Jenny Lewis has regularly featured in the writing credits
of Neighbours over the years, particularly in the late 1980s
and early 1990s when she also worked as a storyliner and story
editor. Last summer, Jenny returned to work on Neighbours
Ďin-houseí for the first time in ten years, and we caught
up with her to chat about old times - and new...
you give us a background on your career before Neighbours?
I worked as a travel agent in Melbourne for most of my working
life and, although this afforded me opportunities to travel
the world for free, I was very disenchanted. Iíd always wanted
to be a writer and the fact that I wasnít reaching for my
heartís desire made me very angry with myself. So I started
writing and I was lucky enough to be noticed by the Executive
Producer of the Comedy Company, a successful local comedy
show in the late 1980ís and he invited me to join their writing
team. Shortly after that Ė sometime in 1988 I think - I was
offered a storylining position with Neighbours in Sydney.
did you come to work on Neighbours?
Iíd always enjoyed Neighbours so, when I decided to
get into the TV industry as a writer, this seemed like the
most obvious production to approach. My expressions of interest
were ignored time after time so I just kept nagging the producers
and story editor until they finally gave me an opportunity
to work for them Ö probably to shut me up more than anything
else. This, of course, was the first time Iíd worked with
them. It was the late eighties and I was about 27.
does a typical writing assignment on Neighbours work?
Iíve been talking about storylining up till now, and writing
is a totally different kettle of fish. While I was employed
as a storyliner, I also wrote scripts and I have been off
and on since way back in the eighties. A writer basically
is given a block of scene breakdowns from the story department
and they are assigned one episode to write. The scene breakdowns
are quite detailed and they provide all the information the
writer needs to write a script. The writer puts the episode
into script form. Itís given the once over by an editor and
this is used as a shooting script.
well as writing for Neighbours, you also worked as
a storyliner, and later as a story editor in the early 1990s.
What did these roles entail?
How do you know all this stuff about my background?! Freaky!
Working as a story editor... I can tell you itís the hardest
job in the business. My skin is not thick enough for all the
responsibility. Ben Michael who story edits now (the role
is now called Script Producer), is so calm and laid back (and
talented), but I was always a mess! Storylining is actually
a lot of fun; you sit around a table with a few other storyliners
and throw ideas around and the story editor decides what stays
and what goes. The stories are divided into episodes and we
all structure the episode, scene by scene. The storyliner
is then responsible for writing up one or two episodes per
week in scene breakdown form, and this is mailed off to the
writer. When youíve got a good team, itís a fabulous job.
your time on the show, many long standing characters departed
the series within a short space of time, such as Jim Robinson,
Paul Robinson, Madge Bishop and Todd Landers, and newer characters
were introduced to fill the large gaps they left behind. How
did their departures affect the series?
Thereís always a slight sense of unease when a popular and
long-standing character leaves a show, but most of the time
thereís no need to worry. More often than not, departures
open the gate for fresh and interesting new characters and
stories and I think our audience are always very welcoming
to new characters. A show couldnít survive as long as Neighbours
has with the same cast; fresh blood is necessary to keep the
ideas coming and the show interesting. Even though the characterís
you mentioned all left within a short space of time, thereís
always new people with new backgrounds to fill the void.
did the decision come about to bring the Martin family into
you have any scenes or moments you wrote that you were particularly
As far as the Martin family are concerned, I really canít
remember exactly why we introduced them. However, Iím pretty
certain it was because they had a link with the street Ė through
the Robinson family Ė and we have always tried to keep family
connections with the street alive. Even though the audience
may not know these people, they know their blood-line and
thereís a certain comfort and familiarity in that.
This is really testing my memory Ö. My favourite single episode
of all time would have to be the fancy dress party, where all
of the street had to come as one of the neighbours Ė the episode
ended with Jim and Dorothy waking up together and both being
uncertain of what went on. I loved bringing Melanie and Joe
together Ė finally! Even though this strand has been criticized,
I really enjoyed plotting the Todd/Phoebe love story, her pregnancy
and Toddís ultimate death.
you ever have a hand in creating any Neighbours characters?
Heaps. Too many to mention. Iíve spent many years working
on the show, and Iíve done many a character breakdown. Some
of these characters include the Willis family, Beth, Todd,
Dorothy, Phoebe, the twins Ö thereís so many other characters
I can see in my head but I just canít remember their names
Ė isnít that awful!
have been your favourite characters to write for, both past
there ever any storylines planned that never went ahead?
Iíve always loved the more eccentric and lively characters.
I loved writing for Dorothy and Mrs Mangel because they were
allowed to be catty and just a bit evil. The Willis family
were an absolute favourite of mine as they all worked so well
together. For the most part, however, I enjoy writing kids.
No matter how old I get, I never lose that teenage mentality.
I love the current cast too. I think Lyn Scully is an absolute
gem, as is Izzy, Susan, Karl, Harold the Bishops, and of course
the Hoyland family work a treat. Iíd hate to lose anyone weíve
got now Ė as an ensemble, they work seamlessly.
Every day we have to throw out stories for a variety of reasons
Ė usually because theyíre not quite right for the show Ė and
sometimes it hurts. The most famous story-that-never-was that
I was around for happened back in the late eighties. The show
was really slipping in the ratings and a very high up person
at the time decided to boost the ratings by revisiting a time
when the ratings were huge. Weíd bring back Scott Robinson Ė
Jason Donovanís character. He would arrive back in the show
with his face (and body, I think) fully bandaged and, as he
lay in his hospital bed, weíd show flashbacks of the whole Scott/Charlene
strand. This was supposed to bring the audience back in droves.
However, as the bandages would be removed to reveal not Jason
Donovan but another actor playing the part, the powers that
be finally decided that perhaps the audience would feel cheated.
Therefore the move may very well have been counterproductive.
I canít tell you how relieved I was that this story didnít go
do you think are the strengths and weaknesses of the Neighbours
The showís main strength now is the same as itís always been
Ė itís got a lot of heart. No matter whatís going on, the
underlying message and tone is that people are basically good
and thatís a very infectious message to be sending out to
an audience. Who doesnít want that validated? The show, overall,
has a feel good quality and thatís why I enjoy writing for
it. I hate the dark stuff.
I believe the weakness is all to do with the time factor.
We have to churn out five episode a week and itís sometimes
difficult to get the very best out of the show with so little
time to tweak and rehearse. However, in saying that, I am
often gob-smacked that the makers of this show come up with
the quality that they do. I think all critics of soaps should
really stop and think just how much these people are achieving
in an impossible period of time. The performances from the
actors are sometimes truly outstanding, particularly when
you consider the short rehearsal time and the cracking pace
they have to work at.
did your recent return to the Neighbours story team
after a lengthy absence come about? How much, if at all, had
Iíve always been part of the Neighbours family Ė even
when I wasnít on the story team, I was an occasional writer,
and Iíve always been very fond of Ben Michael who is now the
Script Producer. When Delta Goodrem (Nina) had to suddenly
leave the show due to illness, the team found themselves in
a bit of a storylining crisis. They had to re-plot all the
stories Delta was involved in, while at the same time keep
the current episodes coming. Ben rang and asked if I was available
for a couple of months to help out and I was. That two month
gig extended to about six Ė they canít get rid of me Ė and
Iím even coming back this year for a few guest appearances.
had you done in the intervening years?
I moved back to Melbourne when I left Grundyís and Iíve basically
continued my career as a freelance writer ever since. Iíve
been lucky enough to rarely be without work, but there were
some pretty scary times when I couldnít find work or the quality
of my work slipped. I wrote more sketch comedy, and joined
the Blue Heelers writing team. I did some Bananas in Pyjamas
Ö. Stingers Ö All Saints. Iíve worked in-house quite a bit
and Iíve developed a lot of shows that have never seen the
light of day. Iím currently working on my first book and one
day I might get around to writing my movie. And now here I
am, back with Neighbours doing the job I started out
doing and loving it.
return of old characters such as David Bishop and Sky Mangel
have coincided with your return to the Grundy offices. What
do you think of bringing back past characters? Should Neighbours
use its rich history more? Are there any characters from the
past that you would particularly like to see return?
Iíve always been an advocate of digging into the past and
bringing back old characters, and I think this is part of
the showís ongoing success. Weíre able to combine the old
with the new Ė we can keep the sense of tradition and comfort
by returning old characters, but we also keep the show moving
forward with new characters. Not that Iíd necessarily agree
with bringing back a past character unless they still had
a remaining link with the show. David Bishop and his familyís
return was a perfect way to freshen up Haroldís life and to
give him new story material. And if Susan and Karl ever get
boring Ė not that thatís likely for a while, stay tuned! -
we can always bring back their children to complicate their
do you think accounts for the huge success Neighbours
has continued to enjoy over the years?
Iíve pretty much answered this early on. I do think itís all
to do with the way the show validates humanity. That good
is stronger than evil and that we can rely on each other.
Itís a feel-good, life affirming show that tackles real life
issues with honesty and optimism. The audience subconsciously
dearly wants to believe in these values so they tune in to
get a reinforcing fix. As time moves on, the world gets a
little scarier, so it has become even more important for our
viewers to hang onto their positivity. This is why shows like
Neighbours succeed when their darker counterparts have
fallen. We can all see the dark side of life by reading the
papers so why would we choose to watch a drama that confirms
our very worst fears? Neighbours has been very lucky
in its life to continue to hire people who have gorgeous,
warm hearts because this is what goes into every word and
Interview by Moe. Added on 21st February 2004