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Soaps Interview

Exclusive: 'Neighbours' producer Richard Jasek shares show gossip, teasers

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Neighbours executive producer Richard Jasek

© Channel 5

It's been a year of change for Neighbours with new sets, new families and a string of returning characters all shaking up life on Ramsay Street in the soap's 28th year.

In the UK, we've seen the show go primetime with Toadie and Sonya's wedding day explosion, while more recently, the dramatic eclipse episode brought a number of big stories to a head.

For some gossip and teasers on what's next for Australia's longest-running drama, Digital Spy this week caught up with Neighbours' executive producer Richard Jasek. Read on to find out what he had to say!

We've seen lots of positive changes to Neighbours in the past year. How do you feel it's all going, and what are you most proud of?
"We are absolutely delighted with all the changes and additions including our wonderful new cast, the new backyards, interior sets and opening titles, and of course the stories which are coming through. The feedback we've had from viewers here and in the UK has been excellent and ratings have reflected this, so yes, we are very happy."

Having overseen a pretty major transformation of the show, what are your next aims?
"Looking ahead it is about ensuring all our characters continue to evolve, and this will certainly happen with a number of huge story arcs we are plotting and filming at the moment."

There's been a great response to the various returnees we've seen in recent months, and the fans are always keen to see more! Are you planning to keep bringing back faces from the past?
"Yes, absolutely - watch this space…"

Is there a dream returnee you'd have on the top of your wish list?
"Oh gosh, that is a hard one because there are so many wonderful characters from the past, so it's very difficult to single out anyone - and I don't want to give anything away!"

With the teen car crash, the wedding explosion and the eclipse, you've brought us quite a few 'must-see' episodes in the past year. Are there any more episodes in the pipeline which will have that 'event'-style feel to them?
"Absolutely, we have a fantastic 'whodunnit' coming up and I can't say anything more than that, but it will throw everyone."

The marquee explodes.

© Channel 5

An explosion rocked Toadie and Sonya's wedding this year.



We've seen a strong balance in terms of the age groups recently, but with the arrival of the two new families, the fans seem worried that the show could become too teen-focused again. Can you reassure them?
"I can certainly assure fans that won't be the case. Don't forget that with each of the new families, we have their parents, and in the past year we have introduced Georgia Brooks and also Sheila Canning, so we are very conscious of keeping a balance with each generation."

When the remaining Kapoor family members leave, Number 24 will be empty. Does this mean you might have plans to introduce another new family?
"We are very happy with the number of families we have at the moment and our goal is to develop them all. But there are certainly plans for Number 24 which will involve our existing characters."

The new backyard sets have really helped to improve the look and feel of Neighbours. Are there any other particular changes you'd like to make to the show's sets and production values?
"We're always on the look-out for ways to improve Neighbours - whether it's the lighting, sets, music or any of the host of elements that go to make the show what it is. It's always a juggling act to make changes within the restrictions we have of schedule, budget and equipment. That said, I'm very happy with what we have achieved so far."

The new backyard of Number 22 in Neighbours

© Channel 5

The new backyard at 22 Ramsay Street



The Neighbours explosion episode was one of the highest-rating episodes in the UK for years, in part due to the hour-long 10pm screening. Would you like to see more of these special screenings in the future, or even do a special late-night episode for the UK audience?
"We are absolutely delighted and very grateful for the attention that Neighbours receives from Channel 5 and any way we can help them with special screenings, we certainly will!"

Neighbours' 30th anniversary is still a while away, but as storylines need so much planning, have you already started brainstorming any ideas for it?
"It's still a way off for our story team, however like all milestones, we'll certainly be looking at something exceptional."

Are there plans for any more webisodes after the Steph prison ones seemed to go down well?
"Yes, definitely. We have a great team in our digital/social media department who have some terrific ideas to support upcoming storylines."

With Rani and Ajay leaving, diversity within the show is currently a hot topic of discussion among the fans, with some feeling that going back to an all-white cast could be seen as a step backwards. What are your thoughts?
"We have a colour blind casting policy. If the character doesn't require specific cultural distinction, we cast the best actor for the role. A recent example is Remy Hii, a NIDA graduate who is of Vietnamese/Australian origin and an exceptional young actor, who we cast in a significant recurring role as an elite swimmer. Cultural diversity among our characters will always be a major consideration."

When we asked for reader questions, we were flooded with ones about Chris as things have been pretty quiet for him! Does he have some good stuff coming up?
"Definitely, watch this space. Chris will be at the forefront of a major storyline about to unfold over the coming months."

Neighbours actor James Mason on set

© Channel 5

Chris actor James Mason on set at Neighbours.



Would you ever give Chris a long-term love interest, or even have a regular as his boyfriend?
"Yes, definitely! But of course with all our characters - gay or straight - it does keep things interesting when their love life is in a state of flux…"

Can you tell us what we can expect from the Turner and Willis families over the coming months?
"All the teens are involved in major storyline which will test their loyalty to each other. And as for the parents, let's just say the past will catch up with all of them at different times."

The Willises have mentioned another child named Piper. Do you have any immediate plans to bring her in?
"Not yet. Establishing the five new teens is our focus at the moment."

Lots of fans have been asking about whether you'd delve into the Willis family history by allowing Pam and Doug to pay a visit. Would you consider this?
"Anything is possible!"

Can you tell us what's coming up next for Susan and Karl? Would you consider doing anything special for their 20th anniversary in the show next year?
"As the voices of reason on Ramsay Street - well, some of the time! - we find Susan and Karl inadvertently entangled in the issues of a number of characters, particularly the Willis family and Georgia. And yes, we have some great ideas leading up to their 20th year on Neighbours."

Karl and Susan share a kiss.

© Channel 5

Susan and Karl.



What's next for Toadie, Sonya and Callum?
"Toadie will struggle to maintain his professional identity when a returning character crosses the line with his family. You'll see how far he will go for Sonya and their children."

How about Lucas and Vanessa?
"Well, finally things are coming together for this couple who have been through so much over the past year. That's not to say things will go perfectly smoothly for them. but we will see some good times ahead."

Is there any hope for the Mark Brennan fans who are hoping we haven't seen the last of him?
"All I can say is we do listen to our fans - and definitely watch this space."

Recent episodes airing in Australia have hinted at a spark between Lou and Sheila. Would you like to see them have a romance?
"That's an interesting one and still up for discussion. We have certainly thought of putting them together - it's an obvious direction to go in - however I think the best humour comes from their constant sparring with each other and some of their stories coming up are just hilarious."

Colette Mann as Sheila Canning in Neighbours

© Channel 5

Colette Mann as Sheila.



What's coming up for Paul?
"Paul really is at a crossroads in his life. Aside from Kate, his children, nieces and nephew are all pursuing their own lives away from Erinsborough and after Priya, he is left wondering what his future is. However, he doesn't ponder too long before he makes his next move - one that will of course benefit Paul Robinson - and there will be victims!"

There's been a positive response to guest characters like Rhiannon. Are you ever tempted to take that on board by promoting guests to regulars?
"That is always a consideration when we have these great guest characters and they really resonate with viewers. We have seen it with Kyle Canning, Chris Pappas, Sheila Canning and Ajay Kapoor, who all started as semi-regulars.

"I have to say, we really enjoy how our semi regular and returning characters, such as Steph Scully and Mark Brennan, can be woven in and have such an impact on our stories. A major consideration for us is also balancing these against the size of the regular cast so as not to dilute their stories through an over-abundance of characters."

> Read more 'Neighbours' spoilers and news

Neighbours airs weekdays at 1.45pm and 5.30pm on Channel 5 in the UK, and weekdays at 6.30pm on Eleven in Australia.

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