All Saints: articles

All Saints gets an extreme makeover

It’s more substantial than a cosmetic lift, more extensive than a round of nipping and tucking. The Seven Network’s head of drama, John Holmes, says that the changes to the hospital series All Saints represent major surgery.

The 2004 season of the six-year-old show will see the action in All Saints Western General Hospital shift from its familiar base at Ward 17 to the Emergency Department. New characters will be introduced, and a few familiar ones will be checking out. The changes, which will be seen on air from April, were initiated by Holmes and Seven’s script executive, Bevan Lee. They are designed to give the show a new lease of life and stem the drift of viewers that afflicted it last year.

Back in May 2003, Holmes recalls, “We were seeing the scripts and watching episodes and we were feeling that there was a little bit of a sameness in it. We started to think, ‘Don’t know about this. Sixth year. Maybe we’ve had a few too many people come through the door of Ward 17 on a trolley and had the ‘Hi, I’m Von, I’m your nurse. Room Three, thanks Sterlo’.”

As Holmes notes, although medical and police series are a TV staple, there’s a fundamental difference between police-station stories and hospital ones: “A police show like Blue Heelers goes out to a case every week. On hospital series like All Saints, the stories come into the wards, so there can be a bit of a sameness about it.”

Initially, Holmes and Lee thought the way to go might be a spin-off series, using All Saints as the foundation for a franchise in the style of Law & Order or CSI: Crime Scene Investigation. They considered an Accident and Emergency All Saints.

But they decided instead to focus on revitalising the existing show. One of the considerations, perhaps, was the reality that it’s harder to launch a new drama and build a loyal audience than it is to change, and hopefully improve, an existing one. This is especially true given the climate over the last couple of years, which has been largely inhospitable to fledgling local dramas but easily accommodated changes to an existing one like Stingers.

The key, of course, is not to destroy the essence of the show, the attributes that have earned it a devoted audience, while still injecting enough vitality to make it attractive to potential viewers. “We’ve gone into it and said, ‘What are the strengths of the show? Which bits would you slice off? Which bits really work and which don’t?’ So it’s not just a cosmetic lift,” Holmes explains. “We’ve gone right down into the fibre of the show and looked at where we’re going to shoot it, and how many days of the week we shoot, and the emphasis on the stories we tell.

“So it’s been a real rework, but, with all of these reworks, the one thing that you don’t want to chuck out is the heart and soul of the program. We believe that we’ve kept that intact, and I put that down to the strength of the program.”

In addition to a shift from Ward 17 to a new focus on the activities in the emergency department, there have been changes to the staff roster. Out go Martin Lynes (Dr Luke Forlano), Jenni Baird (Dr Forlano’s on-screen love interest, Paula Morgan), Henry Nixon (‘Sterlo’ McCormack) and Fletcher Humphrys (Alex Kearns), although Lynes’ character might return in guest spots.

In come a handful of regular and semi-regular cast members, including John Howard, recently of Always Greener, who has signed-on for three years to play Dr Frank Campion, staff specialist, and head of the emergency department.

Also joining the cast are newcomers Wil Traval, as intern Jack Quade, and Adrienne Pickering who at this stage has been contracted for a 10-episode stint as nurse Sophia Beaumont, younger sister of Charlotte (Tammy McIntosh). Zoe Naylor, who plays an emergency department nurse, and Alexandra Davies (Young Lions), who plays an ambulance officer, have also signed on.

“We’re losing some cast, but we’re doing that for various reasons,” Holmes explains. “One or two of the actors didn’t want to continue. With a couple, we decided that the characters hadn’t worked. And we also needed to create space for some new characters that we’ll meet in the emergency department.”

Attention has also been paid to the plight of Nurse Terri (Georgie Parker) and it appears that her period of mourning over the death of her long-time love, Dr Mitch Stevens (Erik Thomson), might be drawing to a close.

“We’ve got a new love interest for Nurse Terri, and I think that that was lacking last year,” says Holmes. “We were damned if we did and damned if we didn’t with that. With the death of Mitch, if we’d put her together with someone else, the audience would never have believed it and they would’ve resented Terri. But we’ve also been damned in that, really, without that relationship driving the central focus of the show, we’ve lacked an ingredient and we’ve not given Georgie enough material to put her centre stage often enough. Our first preference would have been not to have lost Erik, but he wanted to go off and do movies.” So a new chapter is set to open for Parker’s popular character and viewers can also expect some sparks between the nurse and the head of emergency.

Such a radical makeover of an established show is always a gamble as it runs the risk of alienating loyal fans. There’s always the possibility that such substantial alterations will further weaken an already ailing program, although a failure to make changes could be equally damaging if the show continues to decline. The staff at Seven are hoping that the new-look All Saints will survive and thrive, and make a rapid return to the healthier ratings it has enjoyed in the past.

All Saints screens on Tuesdays at 8.30pm on Channel Seven.

By Debi Enker
February 19, 2004
The Age