All Saints a thriving, not just surviving, Aussie drama
AAP, 19 April 2007
By Michael Gadd, National Entertainment Writer
© 2007 Australian Associated Press Pty Ltd. All Rights Reserved
It wasn't long ago that All Saints was threatened with the same scalpel which has claimed so many quality dramas before it.
But the move of its key characters from a regular hospital ward to a more exciting emergency room, the inspired casting of John Howard as the gruff boss Frank Campion and a top-rating show as its lead-in, has seen the show cement its place as Australia's top-rating homemade drama.
The Seven Network hospital drama achieved a season high audience this week with 1.6 million viewers.
It was a figure which matched its intense season finale last year and one which its only real rival, McLeod's Daughters on the Nine Network, has only occasionally reached.
Sure, it followed a season high audience of 1.9 million viewers for Dancing With The Stars, but the consistent performances are hard to ignore.
An original cast member of the 10-year-old program, Judith McGrath, admits All Saints had reached a lull before the slow-moving Ward 17 was traded in for the bustle of emergency in 2004 but only to highlight the impressive return to form.
"When we went into the emergency ward there was a different feel and dynamic to the whole thing," she says of the major change at the start of the 2004 season after a year of show-threatening ratings.
"The characters were already well developed so for them to make any further developments their environment needed to change. With the emergency room comes instant drama."
As a star of other hit Australian dramas, such as Prisoner and A Country Practice, McGrath had heard the death knell for a show before but was confident All Saints had legs even when Seven axed Blue Heelers after 12 years.
The end of Blue Heelers came amidst a host of failed Australian programs such as Last Man Standing, which were highly regarded but simply didn't rate with viewers.
When Blue Heelers went many thought All Saints would follow but it was given the best drama slot on TV following the country's favourite show, Dancing With The Stars.
McGrath represents the entire All Saints camp when she denies All Saints' impressive ratings can be directly attributed to a flow-on effect from Dancing.
"There's always some sort of flow-on, but the two shows together are just a wonderful contrast. It's one good show followed by another good show," she says.
Both All Saints and McLeod's Daughters have pulled strong audiences this year with averages of 1.4 million and 1.2 million respectively, while Ten's Neighbours and Seven's Home and Away continue to justify their primetime slots.
While it won't promise programmers surefire hits, the numbers would give Seven and Nine hope that their up-coming contributions to the much maligned genre of Australian-made drama, City Homicide and Sea Patrol, could actually succeed and not just fulfil their compulsory Australian content quota.
Sea Patrol is already a success story after it was sold this week to more than 100 overseas markets and became the first Australian product sold abroad before going to air. It is expected to air in July.
But for now, All Saints is doing the business for Seven.
As the axe shadowed McLeod's earlier this year before the show was finally signed-up for an eighth season, All Saints was dominating its timeslot and bringing unusually high late primetime audiences to Seven.
National Institute of the Dramatic Arts (NIDA) graduate Andrew Supanz joined the cast in February last year after a guest spot on the show as a different character led to a regular place as the cocky young Dr Bart West.
He says he arrived on a set which was grateful for being revitalised.
"I think the show had been running so long it lost its edge, but it had really been turned around," he says.
It's not often a show is given the chance to reinvent itself when its numbers dip but Seven's faith has been rewarded.
As McLeod's has struggled in the absence of its original stars Lisa Chappel and Bridie Carter it has changed focus to feature its ensemble more evenly and that appears to have worked.
All Saints lost its most popular stars too, in Georgie Parker and Libby Tanner, who went on to act in axed dramas Fireflies and HeadLand.
But some old hands and new talent, not to mention some impressive guest stars such as John Waters, have held the show together and in many ways taken it to a new level.
Supanz, who is nominated for the best new male talent Logie, says there was apprehension about his first job out of acting school.
"You call yourself an actor but the reality is there isn't much work.
"And to be honest, TV isn't really thought of as a realistic option with such a small amount of Australian drama around."
He says the perception of TV drama within the acting community is also changing.
"I've been told that there was a time when the show was struggling to get guesties (high-profile guest stars) but now they're lining up and it's considered a great show to be associated with," he says.
"It's incredible how much work went into bringing it back from the brink."