CHANNEL 4 ANNOUNCE SHOCK LATE NIGHT SOAP OPERA
The UK broadcaster Channel 4 has been known throughout its history to take bold and brave risks with it’s content choices. Often intending to remain on the cutting edge of televised drama, although with varying degrees of success. However as ratings for soap operas decline across all channels and traditional television wanes in popularity for the easily bingeable streaming alternatives, the channels decision to launch a new soap opera hasn’t just raised eyebrows across the television industry, it’s seen them superglued to people’s ears.
Launching a soap opera alone is quite brave in this era, that’s before you consider the show will be broadcast at 10.35pm. A slot directly after the evening news on the main channels when the traditional soap opera audience are surely more inclined to pour themselves a cocoa and nip off to the comfort of their bed, and then there’s the fact it will be on five nights a week! Although a 9pm omnibus on E4 on a Saturday night has already been greenlit for the less late night hardy - and of course like all modern shows it will be available on demand.
The show is set in a post-Covid return to normality era - which might be it’s saving grace among the soap viewing public, weary of the face masks and overt social distancing so evident in the likes of EastEnders, Emmerdale and Coronation Street over the last year or so. The show boasts an open public house, cafe, shop and restaurant - as well as an office and factory in it’s nearby vicinity among many signs of the return to normality - so much so it could almost be classed as fantasy telly.
The show began filming it’s first batch of 20 episodes in December, with the cast - who as we’ll discuss later in this article is rather impressive - being moved into a stately home where as well as the show’s indoor and outdoor sets a custom built living quarters has been built for the actors allowing them to be considered as one household for filming purposes.
With many screaming 'not another soap opera' and many open minded we spoke to the show’s Executive Producer R Cobbles sat down with us to discuss the show - and what he expected from the show’s initial run. We’re excited to announce that TV Toilet Paper has exclusive interview rights with R Cobbles for the first six months of the show’s run, so you’ll get his opinion here.
You’ve very little experience in television, it has to be said. There’s a few veteran soap producers looking on in bemusement at your appointment, how confident are you that you'll make a success of this?
The whole idea behind this show is to offer something more fresh and innovative, I think Channel 4 deliberately wanted someone without preconceived notions of the restrictions of soaps to be heading this project up. There's a very stuffy approach to these sorts of shows in some quarters, an approach Channel 4 wanted to completely avoid with this.
It’s fair to say an excessive amount of money has been ploughed into this show- an estimated £50m - given it’s essentially an experiment. Does that make you feel more pressure?
Whenever a large amount of money is spent on a new TV show, there’s certain pressures to bear. An example is with the cast for example, our initial plan was to get up and coming nobodies so the characters we’re fresh in everybody as the character, however when you're given a casting budget in the region of what we got, there’s a certain amount of pressure to get household names. Thankfully a lot of them have spent the last year or so twiddling their thumbs and we’re only too happy to oblige.
Whilst you obviously can’t go into specifics presumably some of the higher profiler actors are going to be written out once the working landscape changes for them. Thinking in particular with regards to the likes of Maggie Smith and Ian McKellen here?
Provided their characters are still surviving a purpose in the show and they want to stick around, I can’t imagine the production team is going to choose to write actors of that calibre out of the show. I mean I certainly wouldn’t want to be the one to do it. Their wages certainly take into account what else they could be doing, and we’d hope they’d respect that.
Could you put an end to the rumour that you specifically refused a pre-watershed slot because you wanted to take the show in a much darker direction than you perhaps could have managed in such a slot?
I mean you just have to look at other soap operas such as Corrie to see quite clearly that incredibly dark subject matters can be tackled in pre-watershed slots from domestic violence to drug themes and child abuse - all covered in detail. The show is intended to have a substantially darker baseline than the other soaps, and we’ve already been compared to Brookside in that we’re operating on a slightly parallel reality - however the main driver for the chosen broadcast slot is to avoid direct competition with existing soaps, it’s almost impossible to schedule a pre-watershed offering without clashing with them. Obviously we’d then be bonkers not to take advantage of that broadcast time to have some fun.
The comparison to Brookside doesn’t quite end there though does it in that you’ve built a custom housing estate at the undisclosed filming location. Can you talk us through the physical sets?
We’ve gone for a mixture of traditional soap sets and building an outside estate. I’d probably say we’re closer to Corrie than Brookside though. We’ve built the outdoor lot to represent the estate that the show’s being filmed on, but built the internal sets inside a large warehouse - we’re actually using the factory building that can be seen on the outdoor set to house the indoor sets for the houses and things, it just gives slightly more flexibility in terms of camera work. But there’s a lot of outdoor filming going on, I’m not sure filming in all weathers went down well with a few of the cast - but a bit like the long days it soon becomes second nature.
That leads me into a nice segway question here, filming for five episodes a week surely requires a bit of flexibility, is it right the show shoots on a 20-hour day?
Whilst it’s correct the show shoots on a 20-hour day, six days a week, it’s important to work out what that means in reality. No single crew or cast works more than the 48 hours unless it’s a big story - which gives us leeway to 60 hours, no-ones working a 120 hour week - can’t imagine the cast we’ve got would have agreed to that. Or the crew. It’s all block filming a bit like any other soap opera or TV show, we’ll throw the cast together to film as much as they can in two to three days a week. Monday is the ‘all hands on deck’ day where we film big ensemble pieces like the pub being open, or a few of the storylines I don’t want to go in too much detail here, and then the more familial stuff and one on one done the rest of the week. If it ain’t broke don’t fix it, it works for the other shows.
You alluded to a storyline there that’s been doing the rounds, partly because of a viral video, regarding the terrorist siege of the entire community. It’s a bit sensationalist for a soap opera no?
Even in the earliest stages of discussing the show we were quite clear that we had two choices. We could either play this as a straight down the line soap opera and lull viewers into a false sense of security then gradually plop in the loony bin stuff we’ve had planned or we could be upfront that this show is a basket case. We figured that the audience we want are the one that’s happy to go down the loony bin road from the start, you see it all the time with serial dramas that start soft and go sensationalist that original viewers get vitriolic and jaded. If we start in the bizarre we cut that natural progression out and we’re honest about our intentions from the off.
Will you be watching the first episode when it goes out on Monday 8th then? Or hiding in a broom cupboard?
I’ll be sitting at home watching it, I mean there’s not much else to be doing at the minute, right? We’re looking at possibly throwing a zoom watch along with the cast and crew and all that media jazz but not sure who’s available yet. I haven’t actually seen the final cut yet, so there’ll still be some surprises even for me.
Thanks a lot for talking to us, I look forward to seeing the reaction to first episode on Monday.
In tomorrow’s edition of this paper we’ll be breaking down the full cast soon to move in to Blackhill Terrace and our TV screens, given a brief overview of the characters, so don’t miss that!!