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Interviews > Rick Maier

Until earlier this year, Rick Maier was Executive Producer for Creative Development at Channel Ten, and one of his main responsibilities was shepherding Neighbours from the network's point of view. Of course, Rick's association with Neighbours stretches back further - to the arrival of Neighbours on Ten in 1986. He worked on the show as script editor from the start of its life on the new network until the following year, and continued to write for the series for a few years after. In this exclusive interview, Rick discusses his involvement with Neighbours from both sides of the fence and shares his thoughts on the success and strength of the series...

How did you first start in the television industry?
I was writing sketches for pub theatre when one of the actors in the show had just been cast in a new TV show called The Restless Years. She suggested I try writing for television. I called Grundys, had an interview, and started as a trainee storyliner on The Young Doctors.

You joined the Neighbours team as script editor in 1986 when the show debuted on Channel Ten. Can you tell us a little about the changeover to another network? Was there a lot of pressure to succeed after the axing of Neighbours by Channel Seven?
Actually, no. The programme was successful on Seven - the ratings were solid, but the programme had an early evening slot and was not economically viable there. At the time they had no alternative. History probably sees it as the luckiest pick-up by another Network ever.

What do you think were the main differences between the Neighbours on Channel Seven and the revamped version for Channel Ten?
I think the different time-slot and different network gave Reg Watson a chance to re-invent a little - and I recall he was very keen to see more comedy, or at least comic moments coming through character.

How important do you think the newer characters - such as Madge, Mike, Clive, Zoe and Charlene - were in the new episodes? Was it a conscious decision to add some younger characters and fill out the cast a bit more?
No, the show has always had a broad base. The balance of the cast, to my knowledge, has never really varied greatly from the original blue-print. The programme has always been about families. Mike Young was so named because we knew the character was young. Clive Gibbons got his name because he was the singing telegram guy in a gorilla suit. Nothing too sophisticated in the logic there... but absolutely, the initial engagement the audience had with these characters laid the platform, especially with Madge and Charlene.

Not long after the Channel Ten episodes were underway, Francis Bell departed the series suddenly and one of the leading original characters, Max Ramsay, needed to be hurriedly written out. How did this affect the production of the show?
To be honest I don't recall. Story teams on these shows become used to the odd emergency and writing out characters suddenly is part and parcel of the game. It often means extensive re-writes and can put a huge strain on production personnel and cast, but it will happen on most shows. Neighbours has had plenty. This is where a good story team really excels. Neighbours has always been blessed in this regard.

One storyline that was reported to have caused controversy during your time as script editor was when Scott and Charlene talked about sleeping together. How much of a fuss did this actually cause? Were there ever any storylines you had planned that never went ahead?
Great question. Yes, it was a particularly hot topic at the time, and I remember Scott was still wearing his school uniform when the affair was taking place - racy stuff then and now... and in a way put the show on the map. Jason and Kylie were fantastic together and their decision to live together was very sensational at the time. This was all - from memory - Reg Watson at his very best, knowing what the audience was ready for, and working to the strengths of his cast. I don't recall any elements falling by the way-side, and there certainly wasn't any negative impact from the Network that I remember. Looking back, it is part of the show's history that is often quoted when people query the boundaries of acceptability. He was a school-boy, she was a mechanic, their families were at odds... classic stuff then and now.

When did you begin to realise the enormous impact the love affair of Scott and Charlene was having on viewers? Do you think a lot of the show's massive success at that time was purely down to those two characters, or was it due to the entire cast of that time?
The story certainly had terrific impact, but the programme was really hitting its straps everywhere - and it was a great cast.

What did a typical day working on Neighbours as a script editor entail for you?
Same as today I would imagine. Working from very detailed scene breakdowns the writers would deliver their scripts and the editors would see them through to production. If the characters are well-developed, and the stories are well-plotted - as these were - editing is a straight-forward process of trying to protect the writer's vision, while maintaining continuity.

As a script editor and writer of Neighbours episodes during the show's peak in the 1980s, you wrote for many of the most popular and prolific characters in the series' history. Who were your favourite characters to write for from that period, and why?
I don't think there's any one character that stands out. They were all terrific to write for.

What projects did you move on to after finishing as script editor on Neighbours?
Most of the other Grundy projects at that time: Bellamy, Taurus Rising and Richmond Hill.

You continued to write for the show for a few more years, most notably scripting Madge and Harold's wedding episode. Can you tell us a little about writing that memorable episode?
To be honest I don't recall. Weddings are usually tightly plotted by the story team and are a gift for the writer. When you have two major characters walking down the aisle, it's a great honour to get the script.

In 1997, you renewed your association with Neighbours when you became network script consultant for Channel Ten, and later Executive Producer for Creative Development at Channel Ten, with responsibilities for Neighbours, and other drama series such as the hugely successful The Secret Life Of Us. Can you explain to us what this job entails?
Network Ten is the domestic broadcaster of Neighbours. My involvement was to make sure the programme played to its strengths. Fortunately that was never at issue, and the show continues to be produced with great care and attention. The story development is outstanding, the casting invariably brilliant, and the directors on the show create magic on a very tight turnaround. There have been millions of words written about why Neighbours works... I frankly have no idea, other than the programme appears to have a kind heart. Most people who have an association with the programme understand that. In the case of Secret Life the producers have a very definite vision for the programme... hopefully your job at the Network is to make the best of that and not get in the way.

Fans have enthusiastically welcomed new executive producer Riccardo Pellizzeri's plans for Neighbours, which have included a more dramatic feel to the show, a return to the premise of inter-generational and family conflict, making the characters more individual and less flawless once more, and to the delight of many fans, the return of characters from the past, such as David Bishop, Sky Mangel and the Rebecchi family. How do you feel about the direction Ric is taking the show? Do you think the series should acknowledge its rich history and heritage more?
Ric has been terrific since he came on board, but he has also inherited a programme that was in good shape. Like football clubs, casts on long-running series will often under-go rebuilding periods. Revisiting the heritage of the show can be a great reward for the regular viewer, I agree.

What have you most enjoyed about your long involvement with Neighbours?
Anyone who has been privileged enough to work on the programme will tell you the same thing - there is a real camaraderie, and it is a great honour just to be associated with the show.

What do you think accounts for the continuing success of Neighbours over the last 18 years?
As I said before - I think the programme has a kind heart. You can't fake that.

Finally, having finished with Channel 10 in March of this year, what's next for Rick Maier?
I am currently working for a production company called Screentime developing new projects for television. Oh, but I still watch Neighbours... and loving it!

Interview by Moe. Added on 30th August 2003