Neighbours spoilers follow.
After 37 years in the air, Neighbours will come to a close for good in a few week’s time and the final scenes for the show have already been recorded.
While we don’t know how the show will wrap up yet, although we do know that lots of old faces will be back to see it off, it is clear from recent months that it will be going out on a creative high.
One of the key people involved in bringing Neighbours to a close is the show’s script producer, Shane Isheev, who is moving to Hollyoaks, and he has been chatting with Digital Spy about his time on the show, and how they tackled the monumental task of ending it.
How long did you know that the show was at risk of cancellation, and how did that impact you when it came to plotting long-term stories?
“We knew coming into the second half of last year that it was a possibility that it may wrap in June, but there was also hope that a new contract would come. So, it was in the back of our minds, but we were plotting as normal and just focusing on telling good stories. It wasn’t confirmed until the news broke and we found out like everyone else found out. And then it was a case of having to do a 180 with some of our stories and change our approach.”
Was there ever the risk of the show coming to an abrupt end last year?
“From my perspective, it was business as usual. We did know at one point last year that our contract had come to an end and we were waiting to find out what the new one would be, and that was the extension that saw us through to June this year.”
How was it trying to plan for things such as key events when the scheduling for the show went off track here and in Oz?
“The biggest concern for us what knowing exactly when Neighbours was going to air where. That was my biggest concern, making sure we knew what our season finales were and that we serviced both places as best we could.
“It was tricky. We like to keep things consistent with the real world, public holidays, and real-life events. And with the characters, we do try and stick to birthdays and anniversaries, and it got to the point where we weren’t sure anymore. So that all kind of went out of the window and we just focused on telling the best stories we possibly could.”
Was it frustrating for you when Channel 5 dropped down to two episodes a week in 2020 while you were still business as usual?
“I wouldn’t say it was frustrating. We understood. There was so much uncertainty and productions around the world shut down, and so did we for three weeks. So, it wasn’t a shock and I understood them being conservative about it. It was when they maintained the two episodes and we were still going that I got concerned. More for the fans really as we know that the show works best when the show airs at the same time as all the fans can engage with the various podcasts and everything that are about. But no, I don’t blame Channel 5 for what they did because it was unknown territory.”
Were there any stories for Neighbours that you were really keen to tell but didn’t have the chance to?
“We had so many plans, so many exciting things in the works. We’d started planting some seeds for things that went nowhere, and the season finale for 2022 was set to be really exciting and would have been iconic in Neighbours history. I’m always wary about revealing what could have been as you never know, if the show is revived in five to 10 years’ time they might use them then, or I might like to use a few for Hollyoaks – or a Neighbours spin-off. It’s always heartbreaking when there is a story that you can’t tell and that happened even before the show ended.”
Are there any examples of stories from the past that you wanted to tell but couldn’t?
“I could tell you a hundred stories I wanted to tell over the years but a lot of the time the timing isn’t right. There are two that spring to mind. I always wanted to revisit Susan’s euthanasia story with her mum, how she would face that same dilemma today if she was faced with it again or if someone else was. We just couldn’t go there, the network was reluctant and in Victoria, the laws changed significantly around euthanasia so it wouldn’t have had the same impact.
“The other one I had my heart set on, but it just didn’t work out with timing was I really wanted to revisit Cody’s death with the then-current version of the Willis family. I always had this vision of Piper doing a podcast and tracking down the guys involved in the drug bust and the shooting that killed Cody all those years ago.
“Obviously, this is Neighbours, things would have gone wrong, the guys seemingly had been redeemed but they get too infatuated with Piper, and she finds herself in over her head – I always loved revisiting the show’s past and putting a modern spin on it.”
We have seen a fair few cast members leave Neighbours this year, were they always leaving, and did you already have plans of who could replace them?
“We had really planned until the end of the year so cast changes, like Jemma and Ben, we knew about before. So, it was very much the plan, and we didn’t really deviate from that after the end was announced.
“A good example is Jane’s son, Byron. He is a character that we would have got a lot of mileage out of, and he would have stuck around long-term. We had plans to bring in Jane’s ex, Vic too and we would have had a ball with that. We didn’t want to miss out on seeing some of those faces show up, so that’s why we still have Byron, and we still have Estelle – just so we can see them. We had another really big story for Terese and Estelle that we sadly can’t tell now.”
What about the Rodwell family? Did you have plans of where you wanted to take them?
“Well, the Rodwells are now the last new family on Ramsay Street, they were going to be our big new family and we had planned to grow them – bring in some more kids. That plan was obviously changed when the show was rested, but they were a new fun working-class family.
“Wendy has been a hit judging by reactions online. You grow to love her. Wendy would have been one of those characters who is definitely a gossip, but she doesn’t thrive on it as people like Sheila did – her heart is always in the right place. She always puts her foot in her mouth and that came from watching the actress in the police ball – we took what Candice gave us and ran with it.
“She’s an amalgamation of so many classic characters, Lyn Scully, Valda, Sheila – we wanted another busy body. The Rodwells were the first piece of the puzzle on what the next phase of the show would have been.”
Where do you even begin with trying to draw something this big to a close?
“When we knew that Neighbours was going to be finishing up, Jason [Herbison] and I had a meeting with just the two of us and I went to pitch my version of the ending. I was ready with my pitch, so we started the meeting, he went first and told me his thoughts, even the final scene, and the final line, and when he told me I got goosebumps, burst into tears and it was just perfect. I didn’t even bother telling him mine as I just knew that is how I wanted the show to end too.
“I know that wrapping up a 37-year-old show is an impossible task to please everyone, but I thought the only path we could take was to think about what we would want to see at the end – because Jason and I are both huge fans too. If I was just watching this at home and hadn’t been a part of it, I think I’d be chuffed with it as it’s got everything I wanted.”
How did you approach the task of deciding on returning characters with so many to choose from?
“When it came to deciding who to bring back, and how we were going to honour the past, we wanted a similar feel to the 35th in the sense that are lots of easter eggs – that people are already finding – and from now until the end it is riddled with all that. If you think something is there as a nod to the past, then you are probably right.
“Jason asked for my wishlist, he had his, and we discussed who was on there – it was extremely long I won’t lie. I got to the stage where I kept pushing for more and more, but Jason is the one who worries about the budget, and he stopped me and made me count who we had already got, and, well it was a lot – it’s known that there are more than have been announced – and it was a ridiculous number.
“Having said that, the numbers just kept growing and growing without us really even having to push it. Will everyone coming back have a major story? No, but I don’t think that was the point. I feel like we just want to see people again who we have loved over the years and even if it’s just a small cameo, it’s a thrill and it makes the whole last four weeks really special.
“It was a combination of what made sense for the story, as well as who we wanted to see back. Jason has always been big on only bringing people back if it makes sense, but we loosened that for this, and rightly so. And with a lot of them, if someone isn’t back, it wasn’t through lack of trying. Sometimes things just couldn’t be worked out with schedules as we had a very small window.”
If there is any time for fan service, it’s now, right?
“Correct. We just want it to be a celebration and for people to feel wonderful after watching it.”
Speaking of fan service, there have been some fans that have been name-dropped into the show for the final stretch. Was that your idea and how did that come about?
“It was. I started naming a few of our guest characters after fans who have been very active in the fan community and who had done a lot for the show, so I had started that before we knew the show was ending a little. But as soon as it was confirmed it was the end, I just did it even more.
“We name characters after people we know anyway, the last name from one person and first from another, and I just thought that now was the right time to do it to say thanks to some of the people who have helped keep the show going these last 37 years. I can’t wait for certain people to see or hear their names mentioned, it’s a lot of fun.”
If you can, how would you sum up your years on the show?
“I really can’t, it’s still so surreal. I still have trouble believing that not only did I get the chance to work on the show, but I was part of the core team who wrapped it up. There are all these things that have happened along the way, and I still can’t believe it, it feels like a dream, and I still think I’ll wake up in true soap fashion.
“I remember when I first got the job on Neighbours and I thought I had missed out on working on the show in the golden eras, the ’80s, some of the ’90s, and the Izzy era, but look at who we’ve got, and had back? Characters like Harold, Des, and Jane. And with Dee, when I got the job my first pitch was how to bring her back, not knowing that it was everyone’s first pitch!
“This has ended up being the perfect period for me to have worked on the show. And not just because of the characters we got to bring back. But also, the representation of diverse ethnicities and sexualities – it’s just been absolutely perfect. Everything I wanted to watch as a fan happened.”
How excited are you to be joining Hollyoaks, and how are you finding the idea of switching from one set of iconic characters to another?
“I’m equal measure nervous and excited. It is a new playground for me, but I am also nervous because I’m not used to dealing with so many regular characters. The amount that Hollyoaks has compared to Neighbours is quite the difference.
“The pace that Hollyoaks moves is a lot quicker, so that will take a bit to get my head around. But I’m really looking forward to it. There are quite a few heightened soap stories that I couldn’t do on Neighbours that I hope to do there, and the trick is trying to find something that they haven’t done yet. I’m really excited about the challenge.”
Neighbours airs weekdays at 1.45pm and 6pm on Channel 5 and streams on My5. In Australia, the show airs Mondays to Thursdays at 6.30pm on 10 Peach and streams on 10 Play.
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