SeaChange: articles

Sigrid Thornton

Sigrid Thornton: Return to Pearl Bay?

How Laura changed our lives

Breaking up is hard to do. Just ask Diver Dan, Max and Laura, Angus and Karen, Meredith or even Bob and Heather Jelly. Television won't be the same without them and without that much-loved comedy-drama series SeaChange.

The ABC is expecting a national audience of up to 2.5 million and its highest drama ratings on record for tonight's final episode.

The word is that Nine Network boss David Leckie, whose flagship current affairs program 60 Minutes suffered rare timeslot defeats against the show, has tipped a 40 rating. Certainly, it should be the biggest gathering of SeaChange viewers.

Few Australian television series have identified so cleverly and with such timeliness the feelings and attitudes of its audience as Deb Cox and Andrew Knight's SeaChange.

It's a story of an overwrought big-city lawyer who escapes the stultifying greed, devious politics, and an impossibly neurotic family life to find an almost spiritual refuge in the simplicity of a small seaside community.

We all wanted more of Pearl Bay.

Well, don't give up just yet. It appears that the ABC, which itself undoubtedly wonders about some of the attractions of a sea change right now, isn't ready to accept that life for Laura tonight.

Sympathetic to the needs of the writers for a break, it is looking at various ways to take SeaChange beyond the third series… perhaps with a future run of spin-off telemovies, a mini-series or an acceptable shorter series.

Sue Lester, the ABC's program director, says talks are continuing with the show's creators and that SeaChange is just what it wants for its Sunday-night programming schedule.

“Writing comedy or light drama is very difficult, a reason that good series like this are so rare,” Ms Lester said. “We tend to forget why Fawlty Towers had, what was it, only 12 episodes?

“Well, SeaChange must be very draining, too. It borders on comedy and quirkiness, has all those things, all those lovely elements. You can understand why Deb and Andrew need this break. It wouldn't be the same if anyone else wrote it. Particularly Deb… I mean, I think it's come straight from her heart. So we

hope they will think about it and when they come back we'll start talking about it again early next year. But our discussions are very friendly, very positive. They're not saying ‘No', just saying ‘We'll see'.”

One of the obvious benefits of SeaChange to the ABC has been its reinforcement of what has become very much a “family viewing” timeslot at 7.30pm on Sundays. This has proved one of ABC TV's most popular attractions, with imports such as Ballykissangel, Monarch of the Glen and Walking with Dinosaurs as well as some local light opera, concerts and ballet.

Ms Lester says that this sort of programming will continue. There are new series of Ballykissangelth an Australian priest) and Monarch of the Glen, which will be screened in the new year. There is also a BBC series called Down to Earth, which stars Pauline Quirke and Warren Clark as a couple who go through their own “sea change”, leaving London to start a new life in the Devon countryside.

The idea of families watching television together seems almost an anachronism. More usual, perhaps, is the multi-TV home with members of the family scattered and watching different programs alone. And soon, Ms Lester agrees, the technology will allow video on demand and personalised programming to follow the whims of the individual viewer.

But right now the “family viewing” timeslot is working well for Auntie.

“It's what people need on a Sunday night,” Ms Lester says. “After the weekend you don't want heavy, confronting television. We find that even at 8.30pm, in our later quality-drama slot, we do much better with programs that are less confronting on a Sunday night… the Pride And Prejudices and Wives & Daughters, or Hornblower at the moment.”

She adds that in recent discussions with the new drama chief, Tony Virgo, and his deputy, Valerie Hardy, the question of priorities had arisen. She had told them her number-one priority was that 7.30pm timeslot.

“So it will go on for us,” she says. “It's a very important start to the week. I think it helps people get ready for the week ahead; it's relaxing, it's entertaining. You can still sit around the television with your family, relax and watch it. We've tapped something and we really want to continue with it.”

Tonight, Sue Lester says she plans to be watching SeaChange with her husband and her son as usual.

“If we missed an episode, of course, it's always been very much, `Can you get the tape from work?' But, yes, I'm a fan. We'll miss Laura, of course… I think Sigrid (Thornton) has done such a great job in this. It's the perfect role for her. Loved David Wenham, miss him still. Not to say I don't like William McInnes… I do, but differently than Diver Dan. Yes, we're hooked.”

By Brian Courtis
December 10, 2000
The Age