Out of the Blue: articles

Neighbours evicted as BBC goes Blue

THE BBC's sudden commissioning this week of a new daytime Australian soap to replace Neighbours was, well, out of the blue.

But Southern Star Entertainment's John Edwards said Julie McGauran's drama, Out of the Blue, had been in development for some time.

"When Julie came to work with us a little time ago, we began developing, not absolutely out of the ether, a serial drama idea that had been precious to her for some time," he said.

"It was a bit of a dormant dream and we began to take it forward bit by bit, and we established the relationship with the BBC. These things you develop quietly because there's nothing to be gained by creating a big fuss."

Their timing was perfect. The BBC dropped out of negotiations to continue screening Neighbours late this year when it was asked to triple its buying price by Fremantle Media.

According to former BBC One controller Peter Fincham, Fremantle Media asked for 300 million ($700 million) over eight years to screen the soap.

Subsequently, Neighbours will move to Britain's fifth terrestrial channel, Five, in 2008; Fremantle and Five are owned by the RTL Group media company. British ratings for Neighbours have fallen from the 19 million peaks of the early 1990s to four million to six million this year, although it is consistently the highest-rating non-news program in British daytime television.

Edwards, who produced The Secret Life of Us and Love My Way, said Out of the Blue would present a less-cliched, more urban view of Australian life, with a 30-something cast based in Sydney's Manly.

"One of the things about Secret Life was it was a view of Australia that a lot of people hadn't seen before," he said. "(Out of the Blue) is a little more along that line than say Home and Away."

Not that the BBC has been prescriptive in what it required, Edwards added. All the national broadcaster expected was a high-quality show at a lower cost than a British drama.

"They rarely buy Australian dramas," he said. "This will be a unique drama, and what excited the BBC is the show itself.

"It's got a very big plot arc for the first couple of weeks, a bit like a telenovela, a big whodunit is the central question over the first 13 weeks as well as containing traditional serial elements."

The first 130 episodes, or half-year run, will begin filming on Sydney's northern beaches in January. The production is at the casting stage.

There is no commitment to air the program locally although Edwards said he would no doubt talk to networks.

"We always had the strategy from the first place that it's easier to develop a show for one end-user than to develop it for many," he said. "And we realised the environment wasn't there for local networks to take it on cold."

That environment has changed quickly, with the commercial networks potentially facing drama content-compliance issues this year.

The Ten Network would be an obvious home considering Edwards's prior relationship there, its audience demographic and its relatively low local drama output in 2008.

But Edwards doesn't appear harried into making a local sale. "Everybody's viable, we'll talk to everybody," he said.

So Out of the Blue, if it airs in its homeland, will be a rare drama indeed, one that is delivered complete to a broadcaster rather than tailor-made by a broadcaster.

By Michael Bodey
December 06, 2007