The last scenes for the 37-year-old television series Neighbours have already been taped. Neighbours will end permanently in a few weeks.
Even though we don’t yet know how the show will end, we do know that many familiar individuals will return to watch it off, and recent episodes have made it plain that the show will end on a creative high.
The show’s script producer, Shane Isheev, who is leaving for Hollyoaks, was a vital figure in bringing Neighbours to a conclusion. He recently spoke with Digital Spy about his tenure on the show and how they approached the difficult process of terminating it.
How long were you aware that the programme would be cancelled, and how did that affect your ability to plan out long-term stories?
“We were aware that it would end in June going into the second half of last year, but there was also optimism for a new deal. So, even though it was on our minds, we continued to plot as usual and concentrated only on making great stories. It wasn’t confirmed until the information became public and we learned the same thing as everyone else. After that, we had to adjust our strategy and perform a 180 with some of our articles.”
Was there ever a chance that the show would terminate suddenly the previous year?
“It seemed like business as usual to me. We were aware at one point in the previous year that our contract had expired and we were awaiting the announcement of the new one; this awareness led to the extension that carried us through to June this year.”
How did it go trying to schedule important events when the show’s scheduling got off track both here and in Oz?
“Knowing exactly when and where Neighbours would air was our biggest worry. Making ensuring we were aware of our season finales and providing the best possible service at both locations was my main priority.
“It was difficult. We prefer to maintain consistency with real-world events, legal holidays, and public celebrations. We do our best to keep the characters’ birthdays and anniversaries consistent, but there came a time when we weren’t sure any more. So, all of that kind of fell by the wayside as we concentrated only on telling the best story we could.”
Was it upsetting for you when Channel 5 reduced the number of episodes it aired each week in 2020 while your business continued as usual?
“It wasn’t frustrating, in my opinion. We realised. We stopped producing for three weeks because there was so much uncertainty in the world. So, it wasn’t a surprise, and I appreciated their caution. I started to worry when they continued airing the two episodes and we were still moving along. More so for the fans because, as we all know, the programme works best when it airs simultaneously so that everyone can interact with the various podcasts and all they cover. But since it was uncharted area, I don’t hold Channel 5 responsible for what they did.”
Were there any stories you really wanted to tell for Neighbors but didn’t get the chance to?
“We had a tonne of great ideas and plans in the works. The season finale for 2022 was planned to be extremely thrilling and would have gone down in Neighbours history, but we had already begun sowing certain seeds for things that never materialised. I’m always reluctant to discuss what may have been because you never know whether they’ll use them if the show is revived in five to ten years or if I decide to use some of them for Hollyoaks or a Neighbours spin-off. When there is a tale you can’t share that occurred even before the performance finished, it is always upsetting.”
Do you have any examples of past stories that you wished to tell but were unable to do so?
“I have a hundred stories I’ve wanted to share with you throughout the years, but often the timing isn’t perfect. Two immediately come to mind. I’ve always wanted to go back and talk to Susan’s mother about their experience with euthanasia to see how she would react if the situation came up again or if someone else did. We just couldn’t travel there because the network was reluctant to do so and because Victoria’s euthanasia rules had changed dramatically, so going there wouldn’t have had the same effect.
“I really wanted to revisit Cody’s death with the then-current Willis family, but that wasn’t the other one I had my heart set on due to timing issues. I’ve always imagined Piper recording a podcast and looking for the men responsible for the drug bust and shooting that claimed Cody’s life all those years ago.
“Obviously, this is Neighbours, things would have gone wrong, the guys ostensibly had been redeemed but they grow too smitten with Piper, and she finds herself in over her head – I always loved revisiting the program’s past and putting a modern spin on it,” said the creator of the show.
This year, a good number of Neighbours cast members have left the show. Were they always going to depart, and did you always have replacements in mind?
“Cast changes, like Jemma and Ben, were anticipated because we had truly planned till the end of the year. So, it was very much the plan, and once the finale was revealed, we very well stuck to it.
“Byron, Jane’s son, is a prime illustration. He is a character that we could have used repeatedly and who would have endured throughout time. We intended to invite Vic, Jane’s ex-boyfriend, as well, and we would have had a blast doing so. We still have Byron and Estelle simply so we can see those faces since we didn’t want to lose out on seeing some of them appear. We had another, far larger tale for Terese and Estelle that we regrettably cannot share at this time.”
The Rodwell family, what about them? Did you have a destination in mind for them?
“The Rodwells were going to be our large new family, and we had intended to enlarge them by bringing in more children. However, they are currently the last new family on Ramsay Street. They were a new, entertaining working-class family, but that plan was plainly altered after the show rested.
“According to online comments, Wendy has been well received. You start to fall for her. Wendy would have been one of those characters who is undoubtedly gossipy, but her heart is always in the right place, unlike Sheila, who thrives on it. Watching the actress at the police ball taught her to always stick her foot in her mouth. We ran with the idea Candice offered us.
“We wanted another busy body, and she’s a combination of so many iconic characters, like Lyn Scully, Valda, and Sheila. The Rodwells were the first component needed to determine what would have happened with the show’s following phase.”
When attempting to wrap up something this significant, where do you even start?
“When we learned that Neighbours would be ending, Jason [Herbison] and I had a private meeting and I went to present my proposed finale. We began the meeting after I had finished preparing my presentation. He spoke first and shared his ideas with me, including the final scene and line. When he finished, I broke down in tears because it was so beautiful. Since I already knew how I wanted the concert to conclude, I didn’t even bother to share my thoughts with him.
“I am aware that it is hard to satisfy everyone when wrapping up a 37-year-old programme, but Jason and I thought the only approach we could take was to consider what we would want to see at the conclusion. It had everything I wanted, so even if I hadn’t been involved and was simply watching at home, I think I would have been happy with it.”
“We wanted a similar vibe to the 35th in that there are tonnes of easter eggs — that people are already uncovering — and from now till the end it is riddled with all that. That’s why we chose who to come back and how we were going to honour the past. You are probably right if you believe that something is there as a tribute to the past.
“Jason asked for my wishlist, I gave him my, we spoke about who was on it, and I’ll be honest, it was a really big list. I reached the point where I kept pushing for more and more, but Jason, who is the one concerned with the budget, stopped me and forced me to count the people we already had. Well, it was a lot – it’s known that there are more than have been declared – and it was an absurd figure.
“Needing said that, the growth in the numbers continued without our even having to exert much effort. Will everyone have a significant tale when they return? No, but it wasn’t the point, in my opinion. Even if it’s just a little cameo, it’s exciting and makes the past four weeks extra meaningful. I think all we want is to see the individuals we’ve loved throughout the years again.
“It was a compromise between what made sense for the plot and the characters we wanted to see return. Jason has always been adamant about only bringing back characters when it makes sense, but for this, we have loosened that up, and for good reason. If someone isn’t back with a lot of them, it wasn’t for lack of trying. We had a really small window, so there were instances when things simply couldn’t be sorted out with scheduling.”
Right now, if there was ever a time for fan service.
“Correct. We simply want it to be a celebration and leave viewers feeling good.”
Speaking about fan service, there have been a few instances where names of fans have been included during the show’s closing moments. Did you come up with that and how did it happen?
“It was. Before we knew the programme was ending a little, I started naming a couple of our guest characters after fans who have been highly involved in the fan community and who have done a lot for the show. But as soon as it was made clear that it was the end, I just kept doing it.
“Since we already give our characters names that are a combination of the last name of one person and the first name of another, I figured this was the perfect opportunity to recognise some of the people who have supported the show over the course of its 37-year run. It’s so much fun when specific folks see or hear their names discussed.”
How would you sum up your time on the show, if you could?
“It’s still so unreal that I truly can’t. I still find it hard to believe that I was a key member of the core team that finished the show in addition to having the opportunity to work on it. Despite all that has transpired thus far, I still find it hard to accept it, it still feels like a dream, and I continue to believe that, in typical soap opera style, I will awaken.
“When I first started working at Neighbours, I used to feel as though I had missed out on the show’s golden years—the 1980s, some of the 1990s, and the Izzy era—but look at who we’ve gotten back! characters like Jane, Harold, and Des. And I didn’t realise it was everyone’s first pitch, but when I got the position, my first pitch for Dee was how to get her back!
“It turned out that this was the ideal time for me to work on the show. And not just because we got to bring back some old favourites. Additionally, the portrayal of various sexual orientations and racial groups has been flawless. As a fan, everything I hoped to see happened.”
How enthusiastic are you about working on Hollyoaks, and how do you feel about changing from one set of recognisable characters to another?
“Both anxiety and excitement are present in me. I’m concerned since I’m not used to interacting with so many normal characters, even though it’s a new playground for me. When compared to Neighbours, Hollyoaks has quite a few more characters.
“It will take me some time to adjust to Hollyoaks’ faster pace because it is so different from its own. But I’m eagerly anticipating it. The trick is trying to find something that they haven’t done yet. There are quite a few heightened soap stories that I couldn’t do on Neighbours that I hope to do there. The challenge has me incredibly pumped up.”