All Saints: articles

Costs catch up with Seven's All Saints series

IT HAS won an impressive nine Logie Awards, a couple of AFI Awards and consistently cracks the million-viewer mark in the prime-time ratings war.

So how is it that All Saints will be no more when the credits roll on Tuesday's episode of Australia's longest-running medical drama?

"An audience shift and increased production costs are behind this decision," Seven Network head of programming Tim Worner said.

The network had attempted to rejuvenate All Saints by upping the action element of the show. Renamed All Saints: Medical Response Unit, the outdoor locations and stunts made it increasingly costly to make - about $500,000 an episode.

All Saints disappears in much the same fashion that Seven's other long-running drama, Blue Heelers, left our screens in 2006 after 13 years.

Heelers was drawing respectable ratings at the time, but Seven decided it could not continue to support both Heelers and All Saints.

All Saints won that battle because executives felt it had greater artistic and commercial prospects.

During the past 12 months, however, the show has been overtaken in popularity by another Seven in-house drama, Packed to the Rafters.

Veteran actor Judith McGrath, who has played the show's stalwart registered nurse Yvonne "Von" Ryan since episode one knew that the show was coming to the end of its cycle.

"In the back of my head, yes I did," she says.

"Every TV show has its life and you hear things about new shows being started and they take shows to make room for the new. So yes, it was looking to me very much that perhaps that would happen.

"I'm sorry for the show, as you say it's still rating, and it still had life, but that's a mahogany row decision isn't it?"

John Howard, who has made a striking impact as Frank Campion in the medical drama, is philosophical about its demise.

"It's been six years and the longest job I've ever had," Howard says. "Technically it's as good as any show in the world. It sold to 38 countries or something, so it stacks up pretty well.

"If I have a criticism is that it became two shows (rescue and medical drama) ... what was the show trying to be? In the end the greater expense and audience not growing was the death knell for it.

"The audience is very disappointed. They look at me and say, 'What are you going to do', and I say, 'Well, I don't know, I might have to run across the freeway naked every day until someone takes notice of me I suppose'. They say, 'I'm sure you'll get another job' with this sadness in their eyes and I try to explain I've been in the business 30 years and it's all happened before."

McGrath would blanch at the thought of Howard, or any of the cast members for that matter, running naked across a freeway, but she is sympathetic to the fans.

"People have stuck through it to the end - well, hopefully they stay through it to the end - but they were very disappointed. People get so used to people and characters being there in their lounge room," McGrath says.

Fellow cast member Virginia Gay, who plays nurse Gabrielle Jaeger, says the bonds also extend to the actors and crew involved. Many lifelong friendships have developed over the show's history.

"Wil Traval and Andy Supanz have become two of my closest friends; they're just wonderful boys, generous and loving and hilarious," Gay says.

"Ella Scott Lynch and Mirrah Foulkes - beautiful girls, relatively new to the cast but we've become very close. And the gorgeous Celeste Barber who plays Bree the ambo girl on the show for four years. The poor sweetheart barely gets a look in from episode to episode but she is an absolute delight to have on."

Howard, however, in some ways reflective of his on-screen persona, reveals no sense of such trauma about friendships being broken and regrets.

"God, not for me ... are you kidding? I no longer have to get up at sparrow's, in the dark, to go out to Epping (studios). As for the cast and crew, they are a great bunch of people, but we're just moving on and doing other things," he says.

"I definitely had cabin fever from time to time and from that sense I don't regret it's finishing at all. Six years was a long time for me."

The nature of series TV is that actors only ever get to display their depth of talent in spurts. For Howard, one of the great moments of acting involved the subject of depression.

The scene began with the usually abrasive Campion counselling a patient suffering from the illness.

"Churchill," Campion said, "called it the black dog. It comes unexpected, uninvited, sniffing at your front door.

"So you lock your front door and try to hide inside, but of course it gets in there and sits beside you in the dark. You can't touch it, you can't grab it and kill it no matter how much you'd like to, so eventually you just give up and lie down, but it lies down with you".

Howard takes pride in knowing the episode was effective in adding to community understanding of the illness.

He pauses, takes a deep breath, then reveals the real-life pain suffered by the show's cast and crew as a result of depression.

The show was rocked last year by the suicide of cast member Mark Priestley. Dealing with Priestley's loss was tough for Howard on a number of fronts.

Howard had arrived at work knowing his friend and colleague had taken his life. Adding to the trauma was that Howard was not in a position to break the news to the show's crew.

"It was difficult because I knew but the crew didn't and I had to film this scene in which I was talking to Mark's character on the phone - while we were waiting for the producer to come down (to make an announcement).

"In these sorts of situations, you just have to cope the best way you can.

"And as a leading actor on the show, I had to be the public face. It wasn't easy, but these things just have to be done.

"It was the second death on the show, the other being a member of the crew who suicided and that was extremely surprising because he was much-loved but we had no clue he was in any way depressed.

"We had an idea Mark was, but still, these things are always a shock.

"I was able to become an ambassador for Lifeline ... those things are a privilege to be involved with."

Howard confesses he had once reached a point in life where he was drinking too much and had suicidal thoughts.

"We all go through happy or less happy periods of life. In my own case it was a matter of things not being able to get any worse," he says.

"I was drinking too much, simple as that. You are down on yourself, can't get work, think you're crap.

"I've never been suicidal, even though I might have thought about it. It was a question of slowly changing my habits, making them healthy habits.

"Instead of disappearing up my own navel, I decided to look out at what other people were doing and not spending too much time alone. It (recovery) was a combination of these things, getting good advice, too - getting proper treatment from dispassionate, but professional people who could say, 'Look John, these are your habits at the moment and this is how to change the situation'."

By Darren Devlyn and Geoff Shearer
October 20, 2009
The Courier-Mail