For a long time, I’ve joked with family and friends that my job is to go to work and pretend to be someone else all day. After the laughter has died down, I consider how one of the greatest privileges in my life has been pretending to be “Paul Robinson” on Neighbours for nearly 40 years.
I would have laughed maniacally if you had told me in 1985 that I would be playing the same character on a soap for the majority of my days (with that laugh, perhaps “Paul” was already there), but here I am, the physical home of possibly the best-loved and longest-serving villain in Oz television history.
Paul attempted to poison Erinsborough’s drinking streams, set fire to Lassiters, killing Gus Cleary in the process, attempted to bulldoze Ramsay Street and everything on it, and, worst of all, blew up a gorgeous 1960s convertible E-type Jaguar. That isn’t even taking into account his six marriages.
He is the villain who we all despise. In fact, in the late 1980s, I was dubbed “The Junior JR,” a moniker I proudly donned.
Living with this heinous guy would seem to cause me a slew of troubles in the real world, but it’s always the contrary. Instead of booing, shouting, and throwing stones, I’m usually greeted with “Hey Paul… legend!” Isn’t it a strange old world?
It’s unusual for a professional actor to work for a living for the majority of their lives. Though it’s widely known that I left the show and returned 12 years later as the same character, it was largely due to my Neighbours fame that I was able to secure steady high-profile work in the UK for the entire period. Many others, including Kylie Minogue, Guy Pearce, Russell Crowe, and Margot Robbie, have risen to global superstardom thanks to that fantastic training field.
Neighbours is known for its trend-setting (remember Scott’s mullet? ), moral conscience, groundbreaking storytelling, mentorship and training, and tourism influence in Australia. Knowing that this tiny show from Melbourne went on to become one of the most talked about and successful soaps of all time fills me with pride.
So, why is it that such a spectacle is coming to an end? Simply put, it’s about the rapidly changing landscape of how we watch our favourite television series. Drama on free-to-air television is rapidly dwindling because viewers have grown accustomed to being able to watch whatever they want, whenever they want.
The tide has turned in favour of streaming and catch-up viewing, and sponsorship dollars are now being focused toward these platforms rather than traditional free-to-air television.
Though I had hoped for Neighbours to create a new precedent by becoming the first well-known commercial soap to go to a streaming service, there were no takers. My concern is that if a soap opera does not make that shift quickly, we will see the end of these cherished programmes all around the world.
That would be a terrible tragedy since, like them or not, they provide a lot of entertainment for spectators and a lot of labour and training for individuals in the profession.
As a result of all of this, I am very disappointed that Neighbours is coming to an end, both for selfish and selfless reasons. But no amount of trendsetting, mentoring, or developing our national brand – or crying and outrage from fans – will be enough to prevent Channel 5 in London from making an incredibly difficult economic decision.
Finally, Neighbours is a product in the vast industry of film and television, and just like any other business, if a product isn’t profitable, it will be replaced.
Even long-running classics like Coronation Street and Days of Our Lives will come to an end at some point. The survival of these shows is in the hands of the audience.
Finally, it is really unfortunate that such an important piece of television history is being lost all over the world as a result of its native country’s desertion, which does not comprehend what it genuinely offers other than very watchable entertainment.
On August 1, the final episode of Neighbours will air on 10 Peach.