Thursday, July 25, 2024

6 ways Neighbours changed television forever


Please, pass the tissues! Neighbours is coming to an end after 37 years. The soap will end later this year, despite an outpouring of affection, a passionate fan campaign, and attempts by production company Fremantle to find a new broadcaster.

It’s a big sorrow to see Neighbours come to an end after defying the odds so many times before, but fans have been guaranteed that the serial will have the send-off it deserves.

So, as we commemorate Neighbours’ 37th anniversary today (March 18), let’s take a look back at how this iconic show influenced not only the soap opera genre, but the entire television landscape during its run.

1. It popularised a greater number of episodes per week

When Neighbours first aired in the United Kingdom in 1986, it’s fair to say that the five weekly episodes were a bit of a shock to viewers. It’s hard to believe now, but Coronation Street, EastEnders, and Emmerdale all ran two episodes per week when Neighbours first aired.


This greater level of dedication to keeping up with Erinsborough’s goings-on could have been off-putting to viewers, especially in a period when it wasn’t as easy to catch up with on-demand services.

Of course, Neighbours was a big popularity, and after demonstrating that it wasn’t a passing craze, the other soaps began to take note, with Coronation Street adding a third episode in 1989, EastEnders in 1994, and Emmerdale in 1997. Beyond that, the production of UK soaps increased even more.

Would our television schedules be the same now if Neighbours hadn’t demonstrated that there was a need for more soap? It’s unlikely.

2. It marked the beginning of a new age of youth-oriented soap operas

We don’t want to generalise, but soap operas were not a young person’s game for a long time. That’s not to suggest there weren’t any younger characters in the show, but were they at the forefront? Rarely.


Neighbours, with its colourful, appealing group of teenagers and 20-somethings, comes to mind. Scott, Charlene, and Jane were on par with Jim, Madge, and Mrs Mangel in terms of character development.

The multi-generational approach of Neighbours was crucial to its success, and there’s no doubting it was unlike anything else on British soap at the time.

The needle had shifted forever by the time we got to the 1990s and beyond. An infusion of young characters began to steal focus away from the soap heartthrob, who had established himself as a genre fixture. Consider Corrie, where characters like Nick, Leanne, and Sarah lead plots and become the show’s faces.

The great success of Neighbours with younger audiences was impossible to ignore, and the time had come for Phil Redmond, who had spent years trying to get a British youth-focused soap off the ground.


Prior to the premiere of Hollyoaks in 1995, Redmond made a point about the dearth of a youth-oriented soap on British television, saying: “We don’t have one. Why do we have to have everything from Australia?”

We wouldn’t quite put it like way, but the popularity of that “Australian crap” could very well be the reason Hollyoaks survives and thrives today.

3. It laid the path for other Australian long-running dramas

Neighbours is Australia’s longest-running soap opera, with a 37-year run, but prior to the show, the idea of a long-running drama on Australian television was unheard of.

Looking back at all of Australia’s popular soaps, Sons & Daughters, The Young Doctors, and Prisoner all aired for less than a decade. Only A Country Practice lasted longer, spending 14 years on the air before being cancelled.

Because of Neighbours’ international fame, the show was just too profitable to cancel when the numbers started to fall. Rather than cut their losses, Channel 10 reworked and retooled the soap multiple times over the last three decades to assure its continued existence.

The success of Neighbours as a long-running television institution opened the ground for Home and Away’s 30-year run. Both operas would have ended up in the Australian TV graveyard a long time ago if it hadn’t been for Neighbours exhibiting the virtue of perseverance.


4. It marked a watershed moment in Australia’s LGBTQ+ representation

Our soaps have had numerous LGBTQ+ characters at the forefront for UK viewers, particularly in the last 15 to 20 years, but the same cannot be said for our Australian soap counterparts.

While the portrayal in Neighbours wasn’t always flawless, there’s no doubting it was a true trailblazer on Australian television in recent years.

Neighbours broke boundaries in 2018 when it aired Australia’s first ever same-sex wedding, according to executive producer Jason Herbison. “Until recently, our [LGBTQ+ community’s] own love stories haven’t been aired, out of fear of offending some of the viewing population,” Herbison wrote in a column for The Huffington Post at the time.

With David and Aaron’s wedding, that dread was banished: it was a celebration of a classic Neighbours romance, and an episode every bit as memorable as Scott and Charlene’s.

Neighbours cast and crew attended Sydney’s Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras in 2019 with a Ramsay Street-themed float, filming scenes for the soap.

The unique moment, which Fremantle termed as a “thank-you” to the LGBTQ+ audience, made it obvious that this wasn’t Mrs Mangel’s conservative Neighbours of old, but rather a modern, varied, and representative of contemporary life and viewers.

Mackenzie Hargreaves was introduced in 2019, marking another watershed milestone for the serial as the show’s first trans character.

While Mackenzie isn’t the first trans character on an Australian soap (a trans character was on Number 96 for a brief appearance in the 1970s), trans representation is still uncommon.

Georgie Stone, who plays Mackenzie, collaborates closely with producers and scriptwriters to ensure that her narrative is told accurately, and it’s encouraging to see trans people involved in the creation and telling of trans stories.

“There was no-one on Australian TV screens, on any TV screens really, that had a positive depiction of a trans person, specifically a trans young person,” Georgie said in an interview with the Herald Sun at the time of her casting.

“There was no one with whom I could connect, and as a result, I felt pretty alone, which is why I am so happy about this opportunity.”

Mackenzie’s journey has been tracked by viewers since her arrival, as she has taken a road never seen before on Neighbours. Mackenzie’s gender confirmation surgery and her sexual identity exploration with Richie and Hendrix are significant firsts for the show.

What will you do with the remainder of your time? Mackenzie is depicted like any other adolescent, going through the regular ups and downs of adolescence, but through a trans lens – and this is absolutely groundbreaking television.

5. It helped to dispel the stigma of being a soap star

It should come as no surprise that when it comes to soap stars, there may be a tinge of elitism. For a long time, any soap performer who left the show to explore other chances was met with a sneer.

To say that many Neighbours alumni have gone on to achieve success after the programme is an understatement at this point. You don’t need us to list the former Neighbours stars who have continued to work in cinema and television since their departure from the show, but it’s worth noting that many of them express open gratitude for the experience they had on the show.

When Guy Pearce celebrated 35 years of filming, he tweeted that he’d “always appreciate this amazing chance,” while Margot Robbie acknowledged Neighbours as a “brilliant training ground” that prepared her for Hollywood during an interview on Lorraine.

Not only have these performers proven that’soap actors’ are just as skilled as anyone else, but they’ve also shown that success in other mediums is possible.

Soaps as a genre are a terrific breeding ground for fresh and future talent, and previous Neighbours performers’ sustained success proves that the larger acting industry is taking notice.

6. During the pandemic, it paved the door for television and film production

Please be aware that a pandemic conversation is about to begin. Neighbours, like existence itself, was placed on pause when COVID-19 hit the earth in early 2020. Production ceased on March 27, and despite optimistic expectations that it would last two weeks, this was not the case.

Neighbours surprised everyone when it declared in late April that it would continue production, making it one of, if not the first, television dramas in the English-speaking world to try to get back on track following the outbreak.

Camera tricks, no physical contact, crew members doubling as extras, and breaking cast and crew into smaller bubbles were all used to guarantee that filming on Neighbours could restart while keeping cast and crew safe.

Chris Oliver-Taylor, the CEO of Fremantle Media, said at the time: “It’ll have an unusual appearance. Neighbours, on the other hand, is a show that can get away with it. It’s critical that we keep producing a show that reaches millions of people in the United Kingdom and a sizable audience in Australia.”

The New York Times suggested that Neighbours’ filming safety precautions could provide “a path ahead for the troubled entertainment sector” in response to the show’s return to filming. Neighbours found a way to innovate and break new ground even in the midst of a global crisis.

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