Dramatic plot for Neighbours

Last updated 05:00 13/08/2010
Neighbours

BIG EVENT: Neighbours is pulling out all the stops to celebrate its 6,000th episode.

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Neighbours is pulling out all the stops to celebrate its 6,000th episode.

Producers are planning a fairytale wedding, plotting an attempted murder, bringing back an old favourite and outing their first openly gay male character.

There'll be enough drama and romance during the week of the milestone episode - which coincides with a record 25 years on-screen - to keep any daytime soap fan happy for years to come.

"The clever thing about the storyline at the moment is that the 6,000th episode is not just about one story, it's actually about three stories all coming together at the same time," says Alan Fletcher, who plays Dr Karl Kennedy.

"It's like the street is in upheaval in many areas. Paul Robinson has a very big story which culminates around that time and then continues on after it, Libby Kennedy has a massive story and the way Toadie Rebecchi is affected by that is really interesting too. It's really good human drama."

Margot Robbie, who plays fashionista Donna Freedman on the soapy, says she's feeling the pressure of expectation about her on-screen wedding.

Producers are hoping her marriage to Ringo Brown, played by Sam Clark, will recreate the magic of Scott and Charlene's 1987 wedding which remains one of the most-watched Neighbours episodes of all time.

"People are saying that my wedding is this generation's Kylie (Minogue) and Jason (Donovan) wedding - that's big shoes to fill," says Robbie, who adds that she's currently working on her biggest storyline since she began on the show.

"But I'm quite honoured get to be a part of it, this a big milestone. I'm very flattered. It is a big deal.

"It's a big climax of a lot of storylines, they all come together and kind of blow up in everyone's faces."

At 20, Robbie says it's bizarre starring on a show five years older than her.

"It's really quite remarkable that any show could possibly run this long," she laughs, admitting she rarely watched the show before she began appearing in it in 2008.

Producers will be hoping the big week on Neighbours will help the show regain some ground in the ratings.

Viewer figures have been dwindling for years.

Respectable local viewing figures like 1.2 million in 1991 have dropped to low 600,000s in recent years - small potatoes for the near-prime time slot of 6.30pm.

And while Scott and Charlene's wedding attracted more than 20 million viewers in the UK, these days the numbers max out at around two million.

There are some reports the show will be moved to Ten's soon to be launched new digital channel to make way for a rumoured new current affairs program, but Ten refused to comment on the plans when contacted.

Robbie and Fletcher represent the two distinct types of actors that appear on Neighbours - the lifers and the launchers.

Fletcher - along with the likes of Ian Smith (Harold Bishop), Tom Oliver (Lou Carpenter), Ryan Moloney (Toadfish Rebecchi) and his on-screen wife Jackie Woodburne (Susan Kennedy) - is a bonafide lifer.

Dr Karl has appeared on the show for 15 years, surviving two affairs, a mid-life crisis, a professional negligence claim, a divorce and remarriage, three biological children and what seems like dozens more adoptive ones.

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The other Neighbours archetype, a launcher, is rarely on the show for more than two or three years.

Usually in their teens or early 20s, the stint on the soapy - which is syndicated to more than 65 countries - is almost seen as a schooling process.

After a couple of years of learning the ropes on a daily soap, these actors graduate and go on to launch their bids for international stardom.

Famous graduates include Kylie Minogue, Guy Pearce, Delta Goodrem, Jason Donovan and Jesse Spencer.

"It is the perfect stepping stone to bigger things," says Robbie, who has spent two years on the show and plans to head to the US to try and break into Hollywood sometime next year.

"So many people before us have done the same thing," he said.

"It's great because it's the only Australian TV show, other than Home and Away, that's internationally recognised. People in America don't watch it, but they know what it is.

"That's a step in the door and no other show will give you that."

Neither the lifers nor the launchers would be without each other.

"There are the senior characters that have been there forever and then there's us who come in, stay for a couple of years, learn everything, learn a great deal off them and then kind of move on again," Robbie says.

"It's sad when you leave, you're with these people all the time - you see them more than you see your family.

"Jackie and Fletch, who play Susan and Karl, they feel like mum and dad - when they're around you feel like you're at your mum's house."

Fletcher is equally complimentary about the young talent he has worked with over the years.

"(Casting director) Jan Russ just consistently casts wonderful actors who are perfect to go on and do other things," he says.

In fact, one of his favourite storylines was when Dr Karl had an affair with femme fatale Isabelle Hoyland, played by Natalie Bassingthwaighte who has gone on to find huge success as a singer and host of Network Ten's So You Think You Can Dance.

Fletcher can see how the show is a launching pad for some talent, but for him it's a perfect long-term job.

"It's a wonderful job in the country that you live in, but you can travel the world and be known elsewhere and do work elsewhere and have funny little things happen like when I was recently recognised in Egypt, all through central Europe and even in southern India in a temple complex," he says.

"It's kind of a lovely feeling to know so many people know your work and know what you do."

- AAP

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