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Here you go des.

Heelers' Long Kiss Goodbye

Seven Days, Daily Telegraph, March 29 2006

After 12 years, it's the end of a dramatic era as the sun sets on a TV institution. But at least it's going out on a high, says series veteran John Wood.

With a career that's spanned more than four decades, including 12 years at the helm of Blue Heelers, John Wood has seen them all. So despite the axe hovering over the long-running drama throughout the second half of last year, the television veteran was quietly confident the cast would return to film a new series after their summer holiday. He was wrong.

Just a few weeks later, in January- Friday the 13th, appropiately enough- Seven announced production would cease on Blue Heelers. The close-knit cast and crew of the Melbourne-based series had spent their last day on set, although they hadn't realised at the time.

"Most of us really did have a sense that we'd be back," Wood recalls of the show's final day of production last December. "There was an option to do a further 12 episodes and on the word around the network we felt we would actually be doing them. But a lot of the younger ones were very concerned. There was bit of emotion but not as much as there would have been had we really known."

As it was, Wood felt deeply let down when he was officially informed the show would not be renewed. "I am disappointed at what I percieve as a certain lack of loyalty from the network after 12 years," he says in his characteristically forthright manner. "A lot of the crew will be out of work for a long time. the industry is really depressed at the moment, right across the nation."

"I can't see anybody making much in the way of new drama in the future. Channel 7 pass drama off as supposedly being expensive then spend $780 million on football rights (AFL) for five years. They could have made an Australian drama like Blue Heelers for 70-odd years for that money. So to say that drama is expensive is not quite the truth."

Despite his anger over the death of locally produced drama, Wood admits he was also "relieved" when the sword finally on the fictional crime-fighters of Mt. Thomas. "I'm really glad not to have the responsibility of being Tom Croydon anymore, You do a show like that and you feel like you are at the center of a universe and you suddenly finish and realise you've actually locked yourself away from an enourmous amount of potential for 12 years. I look forward to the fact that I'll always have something to go to, even though it doesn't pay as well."

But viewers have not seen the last of Blue Heelers just yet, with the final 11 episodes beginning this week- although with Prison Break now in it's old Wednesday night timeslot, Heelers has been relegated to Saturday evenings. "I don't know what sort of audience we'll get or what sort of audience they're aiming for," Wood says, "I presume that in Melbourne that we'll be up against Aussie Rules, which won't do us any good, but beyond that I really don't know, Hopefully there's a fairly loyal audience out there that will care enough to watch. I'm not a programmer, I don't pretend to understand."

Wood says the final series- in which Tom Croydon falls seriously ill- is not to be missed. "I think the story arc from when Tom discovers he's ill thorugh to the last episode is actually a terrific story. Episode 500 (airing April 8) is one of the best episodes we've ever done and some of the best work I've ever done in my career I reckon."

"I would like to have had the opportunity to work with people like Rachel (Gordon) a bit more because she's tremendously talented. All these characters who were introduced (in the last series) were like a breath of fresh air and I would liked to have seen them go on a bit longer. It's very disappointed for young guys like Danny Raco and Sam Tolj who haven't had a chance to really get their teeth into something. But in all honesty I think the final 11 episodes are terrific and I think people will be very pleased with their opportunity to send the series off."

Capping off a remarkable run, Heelers will make history when it's final episode- number 510- goes to air in June, equalling Homicide as Australia's longest running weekly drama. "Whether we actually beat Homicide or come level with Homicide, it's an amazing achievement," Wood says. "You would fill a page of your article just listing the shows that have come and gone in the time that we've been on air. The longevity of our show is just astounding really."

"I'm very proud of what we've all done over such a long period of time. Over 12 years we've told some pretty good stories and some pretty relevant stories. We've entertained well over one million people every week for over 12 years. We've consistently been the highest rating Australian drama- give or take a few times we've lost to McLeod's Daughters and the suspect figure of All Saints on the back of Dancing With The Stars."

With Heelers behind him, Wood, 59, insists that retirement is the last thing on his mind. For one thing, there are still bills to pay. "I don't really have any dough," he says. "It sounds stupid after 12 years but I've got a lot of money tied up in my business (a gourmet cafe-delicatessan in Melbourne) and any spare cash has gone into that and renovating the house. It's not as if we're millionares or anything- in fact we're in more danger of having to sell the house than not at the moment."

"I've got mates the same age as me and they're retired after 25 years as school principal, and they're loving it. But I can't imagine not working. It's anathema for an actor not to work, I think.

"The whole nature of the industry keeps you young in a way," he laughs. "Keeps you alive and vibrant and using your brain.

Blue Heelers, Saturday, Seven, 8:30pm

Sarah Le Marquand

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* FIRST she took on reality TV in Dancing With The Stars and now Seven newsreader Chris Bath will make a guest appearance in the hospital drama All Saints. This time, however, she'll just be popping up in the background in a news story that will affect at least one of the show's regulars.

- Sun Herald, 16 July 2006

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