SeaChange: articles

Farewell, SeaChange, it is truly time to go

Mercifully, the end of SeaChange is nigh. I never thought I would say that, but the ABC's top-rating show — which ends on Sunday night after three seasons — is not what it was.

It has transformed from a charming, gentle and reasonably plausible fable into something so fantastical, so totally unbelievable and sometimes so downright silly that it resembles a live-action cartoon.

If you dispute that, watch Sunday's final episode. A wedding. A disaster. A tragedy. It has everything. It should rate its pants off.

But it's too late. While it was good to have SeaChange back this year after its top-rating performance in 1999, I wonder, admittedly with the benefit of hindsight, whether it would have been better to let the show rest on its laurels after its highly successful first two seasons.

It seems to me that the writers may have run out of ideas and cobbled the third series together at a moment's notice.

It has had its good moments, and I confess that I have not missed an episode (although more out of professional interest than anything else). But it's not the old SeaChange. Many viewers agreed, and switched off. On average, about 160,000 fewer Melburnians have watched the show each week this year. Its average audience has slumped from 693,000 last year to only 532,000.

True, that probably is at least partly the result of the ABC's on-again, off-again scheduling of the show during the Olympics and the Paralympics. But I reckon many viewers have tired of the angst-riddled Laura, who has displayed the romantic maturity of a pimply teenager; the personal and publishing travails of the self-centred Max; the billing and cooing of Warwick the Dork; and the will-we-or-won't-we-get-married saga of surfie Angus and Renaissance woman Karen.

Performances remain first class. The characters are bigger and bolder than ever, although I reckon that has been at the expense of the show's credibility. And it's still funny. But I am relieved that it's all over.

It's no longer an hour of whimsy that offered viewers a seaside retreat from life in the ‘burbs. It has become totally unreal. The original Pearl Bay — circa 1998 and 1999 — could never have existed in the real world. But it could have in our dreams. Not so Pearl Bay 2000.

When we look back on SeaChange in a year or two, it will be the first and second series that come to mind, not the third and final one. It was great while it lasted. But perhaps it lasted too long.

I have been just about alone in advocating a wait-and-see approach to the new Jonathan Shier-led management team at the ABC. Give them a chance to prove their mettle, I have implored. Wait until we know what they are going to do with our ABC before we cast our vote.

But after what they have done to Media Watch host Paul Barry, and to Quantum, they are looking like a horde of vandals. It is bad enough that the Communications Minister, Senator Richard Alston, has never shown any passion for the ABC, only suspicion and loathing. Now, it seems that his new-look executive hit squad (drawn mainly from the commercial sector) is determined to knacker the ABC completely.

Barry may have been a rather dour host of Media Watch, but it is one of the ABC's best performers. It is hard to avoid the conclusion that Barry has been let go as punishment for daring to criticise the ABC on the program, and showing up its chairman (and Prime Minister's friend) Donald McDonald and managing director Shier as most unimpressive leaders.

And how dare they axe veteran science show Quantum? It is exactly the sort of program the ABC should be producing. No one else will. There is talk of a replacement program later next year, but will it be produced in-house, or will it be tainted by outside interests and by commercial involvement? I fear we are all beginning to suspect the answer to that one

By Ross Warneke
December 07, 2000
The Age