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Reference > Erinsborough News > Good Neighbours

Evil twins, bogans and psycho psychics are being evicted from Ramsay St as Neighbours goes back to basics.

The new family-friendly Erinsborough hits our screens on Monday when Steve Bastoni, Nikki Coghill and Jane Hall move into Australia's most famous street, marking the start of a six-month renovation. Production company FremantleMedia is sparing no expense in the long-overdue resuscitation of the iconic soap. Executive producer Ric Pellizzeri says new writers, actors and sets will steer the soap back to its glory days. "Neighbours is a massive monster -- it's a bit like trying to turn a passenger liner in the middle of the river," Pellizzeri says. "The changes will be made gradually to bring Neighbours back to its heartland. There won't be as many people falling off cliffs or explosions. We got too caught up in what looks good in a 15-second promo rather than creating sustained drama. We moved too far into event-driven stories rather than the character-driven stories that made Neighbours what it is. I see this as an evolution, not a revolution."

Pippa Black has played Elle Robinson for two years and says the cast and crew felt re-invigorated by the shake-up. "It's fabulous that Channel 10 and Fremantle have recognised the value of Neighbours and injected finances into a 22-year-old show that was really starting to show its age," Black says. "People aren't going to tune in on July 23 and see a completely different show. Aside from two new families coming in, a lot of the changes will be technological."

Black, whose character has been at the forefront of some of the more over-the-top storylines, is relishing the opportunity to be involved in something more substantial. "There have been explosions and a lot of big bangs... I guess it had taken a somewhat fanciful direction," she laughs. "Things were happening so quickly, stories began and finished in an episode. It's exciting to be doing some more realistic stories. It's still a soap opera; it's still entertaining every night. But the stories will be more believable."

The revamp has actor Stefan Dennis, who has played Paul Robinson since the first episode, feeling a sense of deja vu. His character recently suffered a "convenient" brain tumour, forgot the past two years of outrageous behaviour and reverted to his 1980s nice-guy persona. "People keep saying 'the new Paul', but to me it's 'the old Paul'," Dennis says. "Things have gone full circle. I understand why this had to happen, but playing evil Paul was a lot of fun."

Network drama executive Dan Bennett says the famous opening theme song has also been refreshed as part of the multi-million-dollar facelift. And, on a technical note, the show will be recorded in high definition to improve its picture quality from next year. "We now have a big injection of funds to build new sets, shoot on location more and tell the stories we want to tell in the way we want to tell them," Bennett says. "It's no secret that the show has been seriously under-resourced for some time. But the figures already seem to be moving in the right direction. We are back around 800,000 when it's fair to say that late last year and at the beginning of this year they weren't where we want to be. People are really spoiled for choice these days. It's a really tough timeslot going up against two very strong current-affairs programs."

The soap, a powerhouse in the '80s, now lags behind Today Tonight and A Current Affair at 6.30pm. The recent lucrative deal between FremantleMedia and the UK's Five network ensures the show will be around for at least another 10 years in Britain. But Bennett says its future has never been in doubt locally, either. "Neighbours is as safe as houses," he says. "It continues to be the backbone of our nightly schedule. The changes were being implemented well before the new contract happened."

The new contract with Five means Neighbours leaves the BBC, its UK home of 21 years. BBC spokesman Peter Fincham says it was being asked to pay more than it could afford, reportedly an additional $108,000 an episode. "We were being asked to pay the best part of 300 million ($721.33m) over an eight-year period," he says. "We would have loved to have kept it, but not at any price."

This article originally appeared in the Herald Sun newspaper, dated 18th July 2007

Article submitted by Steve