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Interviews > Ric Pellizzeri

At the start of the 2003 production block, Riccardo Pellizzeri took on the huge task of Executive Producer on Neighbours. Last year he shared with us some of his visions for the programme and the thoughts he had on the state of the show when he took over. Now, a year on, Ric kindly gives us further insight into the programme as well as some exciting glimpses into the future!

A year on from your appointment, how much 'healthier' do you think the
show is now compared to the end of 2002?
Every drama must evolve and grow or it will wither on the television vine. The pressure on a show that is now in its 20th year is even greater. The question is at what pace do you make changes and what are they going to be?

What we've done over the last 12 months is build on the bedrock that has always been here and utilised the imagination and skills of the team to develop the content and condense the timeframes of the stories. We are striving to be a little bigger and to do things a little quicker. This has occurred hand-in-hand with intensifying the conflicts in the lives of our characters. We want to continue to surprise and delight our audience, to come up with the unexpected, the challenging, the witty and the warm.

So I would hope that the leaner, fitter and more courageous Neighbours of 2004 is a 'healthier' show.

Of the 'developments' and 'improvements' you wanted to implement, which
have been adopted already and which remain to be fully seen on screen?
I think that most of what we set out to do at the beginning of 2003 has been put in place in one form or another. We are still evaluating how 'big' some stories should be and exploring the types of stories we haven't told in the past and whether they can be told in a Neighbours' framework. There are a number of form and episodic structure issues that we are working our way through, exposition needs and styles, placement of stories, comedy/drama balance and so on, but these will always be an area of on-going debate, scrutiny and modification.

I see development as a continuous process. I made a half-joke once when I ripped off Phil Spector's 'Wall of Sound' saying that we are doing a similar thing but I call it 'Wall of Story'. Coming to your screens soon, a bigger, better, stronger, taller, unrelenting Neighbours!

Has the situation with Nina's absence resulted in a shorter state of wedlock for Lou, now that Wendy Stapleton has departed as Trixie? Would you consider the return of Lou's biological children in order to inject some more life into him?
Nina's sudden exit forced us to re-think many of the plans we had in place, but it was always intended that Lou's marriage would be a rocky affair. The path of serial love can never run smooth; it is a basic staple. Everything is possible with any of our characters; we don't close any doors. We are story sluts and emotion junkies, so we will consider anything that gives us a first-class, touching story. Then you have the practical realities of cast availability, how it fits with other stories etc. We have discussed Lou's kids, but there is nothing pinned to the 'wall of story' at this point

With the news that Todd MacDonald is back on set as Darren Stark, is his return solely to interact with Libby now she's a widow and does this story in anyway have links with the publicised spoiler that a returning female character will cause trouble for an established set of characters?
I don't know the spoiler you are referring to… Lori and Michelle? But whatever it is, it has no connection with Darren and Libby. With Kym Valentine coming back onto the show after being away on maternity leave we threw around a couple of ideas for a romantic liaison and bringing back Darren was one of them. Todd was contacted and pitched the story and he was happy to come back, so we went ahead and plotted the story and it is working a treat. Kym is doing wonderful work and she has returned to the show with some very strong storylines and this is one of them and Todd is just a standout. I'm sure that fans of the show will love seeing them together again.

Last year I wrote an essay entitled "A Woman's Place is in the Show?" and recently co-wrote one about the lack of a central matriarchal figure in Neighbours. Perhaps viewing the show's set up as an outsider for a moment, would you agree there is a lack of a strong older female in the show along the same vein as Helen, Madge, Cheryl, Dorothy or Rosie?
I understand the need for the show to have a strong matriarchal figure. It's a long-standing tradition. To a certain degree Valda has been performing this role on a semi-regular basis, but not in the same way as the characters you mention.

We have plans in place to redress this, but it will be a while before it hits the screen; at this point it's only in the planning stage. But you're right, Neighbours needs a new matriarch. Mrs. Mangel; where are you when we need you!?

From interviews we've conducted with writers and storyliners on the show, all are aware of the greater range of stories they're allowed to plan out and the freedom they can have when constructing episodes since your arrival. There's also been quite a regular rotation in the story lining team this year with Piet Collins and Elizabeth Packett returning to the show after a few years' absence. What alterations have occurred in the story and writing staff/freelancers and the way their work is conducted?
I think that creating the show is more like jazz than an orchestra with a pre-written score. The team tends to improvise more and let the stories play out. In good story telling nothing should be off-limits; we let things play and are sometimes surprised where they go; good and bad. You never know you've gone too far until you've gone too far: then you just pull it back a fraction and it should be perfect: or you hope it is.

The team changes are mainly driven by practical necessity. People want to take breaks or move into different areas for a change and if we can accommodate them, we do. It appears that no one has the stamina to churn out thousands of stories day-in and day-out for forty-eight weeks. What a bunch of wimps! Seriously though, we have an unstructured system where we turn people around when they think they are going to start chewing the carpet and murdering their families in their sleep. It is the least we can do to keep Melbourne safe from demented Neighbours' storytellers.

The increase in pace and depth to the stories this past year has been largely welcomed by Neighbours fans, however, we have sadly seen the break up of Karl and Susan, Harold is still a widower, Max and Stephanie are not yet married and with Joe and Trixie now off air there will be no married couples living in the street. Will happy families be restored?
You've forgotten Liljana and David! Max and Stephanie may not be married but they are almost the ideal couple and you never know what the future may bring them!

Families are today more complex than just Mum, Dad and the 1.7 kids. There are blended families, single parent families, and friend families. Our stories should reflect and deal with these complexities. Marriage doesn't necessarily make a stable relationship and a more grown-up Neighbours is reflecting this. These are happy families, just not 'traditional' happy families. We want the show to be more complex and layered and therefore it will deal with a number of variations that mirror the real world; society as it is today.

Were you concerned that taking Harold down the 'change of character' route after his stroke could spark off a similar negative reaction to the amnesia story with Susan in 2002?
I have seen the results of the story and they are a delight. Ian Smith is such a fine actor and he has had a ball with the material. I wasn't concerned because again we based the story on real changes that occur in some peoples' personalties after they have had a stroke.

I wasn't here for the negative amnesia reaction, but I would be surprised if an audience doesn't enjoy the story as much as we have.

It was fantastic to see the return of the Rebecchis for Dione and Toadie's 'big' day; the interaction of the Bishops and Sky with the new Neighbours and seeing Lou get some much needed material in the form of marriage. What stories and/or characters are you most proud from the past twelve months?
That's an impossible question. You want to be proud of all the characters and you want each new story to be the best one. I have my own personal likes and dislikes but you try to maintain an objective viewpoint because it is a complex and varied world out there: one person's poison is another's caviar. You have to be as impartial as possible and judge what is happening on its merits and not let your own tastes rob an audience of what might be a significant or moving experience.

I do have to give a special mention to Ryan Moloney for the work he did after Dee's tragedy. It was very moving, emotional work. We have a truly wonderful collection of actors who have proven they can do anything that is thrown at them; therefore it is hard to pick and choose.

And finally, out of interest, do you know why the opening titles of 2003 with the split screen device were dropped for 2004 in favour of abstract geometry and rather intense colour filters, especially after last year's titles were so well received? Do you agree that the graphical presentation of Neighbours should be consistent for a few years - e.g. the 'map' titles of the eighties and house stills closing credits?
I do not believe in change for change's sake. Change must be a process that is introduced with purpose and for a particular outcome.

I do want Neighbours to achieve a more contemporary look. It is important that the show talks to its audience from a modern viewpoint in both story content and visual appeal. Neighbours has to be relevant to an audience in 2004. You will see the beginning of this when we revamp the Scully house in Making Mansions (it looks great) and over the next few years we will be touching on all aspects of the way the show presents itself visually. God only knows what we are going to burn down in the future!

The titles are part of the change that we slowly hope to filter through to the rest of the show. There were a number of things that didn't work for the 2003 titles and with the changing faces of the cast we thought it would be appropriate to update the titles.

The show will take on a more modern feel over the next few years.

Interview by Rhys. Added on 13th March 2004