All Saints: articles

Gerogie Parker

Heart and soul: Georgie Parker

Cut and trust

All Saints gets an extreme makeover, writes Debi Enker.

This week, veteran All Saints character Von (Judith McGrath) turns off the lights in Ward 17, where the Seven soap has been based for the past six years. From next week the action shifts to the emergency department, and Seven’s head of drama, John Holmes, says the changes represent major surgery.

New characters will be introduced and a few familiar ones will check out. The changes were initiated last year by Holmes and Seven’s script executive, Bevan Lee, to give the show a new lease of life and stem a drift of viewers. “We were seeing the scripts and watching episodes and we were feeling that there was a little bit of a sameness in it,” Holmes recalls.

Although cop shows and hospital dramas are TV staples, Holmes notes there are fundamental differences between the two. “A police show like Blue Heelers goes out to a case every week. On a hospital series like All Saints, the stories come into the wards, so there can be a bit of a sameness about it.”

Initially, Holmes and Lee thought about a spin-off series—an Accident and Emergency All Saints. But they decided instead to focus on revitalising the existing show. They gambled on the belief that it’s harder to launch a new drama than change an existing one, something borne out in Australia during the past few years.

“We’ve gone into it and said, ‘What are the strengths of the show? … Which bits really work and which don’t?’ Holmes says. “It’s been a real rework but, with all of these reworks, the one thing that you don’t want to chuck out is the heart and soul of the program.

We believe that we’ve kept that intact and I put that down to the strength of the program.”

As well as the change of setting, the rosters have also been revised. Out go Martin Lynes (Dr Luke Forlano), Jenni Baird (Dr Forlano’s on-screen love interest, Paula Morgan), Henry Nixon (“Sterlo” McCormack) and Fletcher Humphrys (Alex Kearns), although Lynes’s character might return in guest spots. In come a handful of regular and semi-regular cast members, including John Howard, who has signed-on for three years to play Dr Frank Campion, staff specialist and head of the emergency department.

Also joining the cast are newcomers Wil Traval, as intern Jack Quade, and Adrienne Pickering, who has been contracted for a 10-episode stint as nurse Sophia Beaumont, younger sister of Charlotte (Tammy McIntosh). Natalie Saleeba, who plays an emergency-department nurse, and Alexandra Davies (Young Lions), who plays an ambulance officer, have also signed on.

“We’re losing some cast but we’re doing that for various reasons,” Holmes says. “One or two of the actors didn’t want to continue. With a couple, we decided that the characters hadn’t worked. And we also needed to create space for some new characters that we’ll meet in the emergency department.”

A new chapter is also set to open for All Saints’ pivotal character, Nurse Terri (Georgie Parker). Since the death last year of Mitch (Erik Thomson) she’s been in mourning, but that is about to change. “Without that relationship driving the central focus of the show, we’ve lacked an ingredient and we’ve not given Georgie enough material to put her centre stage often enough,” Holmes says. “Our first preference would have been not to have lost Erik but he wanted to go off and do movies.” Viewers can also expect tension between Terri and the head of emergency.

A radical makeover of an established show is always a gamble as it runs the risk of alienating loyal fans. There’s always the possibility that such substantial alterations will further weaken an ailing program, although a failure to make changes could be equally damaging if the show continues to decline. Seven is hoping that the new-look All Saints will survive and thrive, and make a rapid return to the healthier ratings it enjoyed before.

By Debi Enker
April 13, 2004
Sydney Morning Herald